How digitisation is saving the day for the art market

Georgina Maddox
The Art Market in 2020, the year of the great COVID19 lockdowns, has shown remarkable resilience throughout these difficult times, despite the deferred art fairs, physical auctions and exhibitions. It has been a good market for established galleries and auction houses, but it has been an upward trek for mid-level players and the hardest for emerging players.
Record sales
Conducting online auctions has been something that global-Indian auction house Saffronart has been adept at ever since its launch in 2000. In September 2020 Saffronart reported a whopping sale of an Untitled 1974 Gaitonde at Rs35 crores — the second-highest price achieved for the artist for a work of Indian art in auction worldwide at Saffronart’s 300th auction ALIVE: An Evening Sale of Modern and Contemporary Art. It achieved a total sale Rs66.4 crores (USD 9.1 million)
V.S Gaitonde, Untitled, 1974 was recently sold online by Saffronart auction house
“The elite usually spend a lot of their disposable income on travel and expensive holidays and that has not been possible during the COVID lockdown. These funds have been diverted to purchasing art — which has always proved its worth as a good investment,” says Dinesh Vazirani, Director of Saffronart.
Early this month, Prinseps hosted virtual auctions of the Bhanu Athaiya and Atul Bose Estates. Both auctions broke records for the highest value works sold for both artists. Hosted live on Zoom by auctioneer Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil, the two auctions saw bids from across India, Dubai, UK and the US. The Bhanu Athaiya Estate Sale auction totalled
Rs88 lakhs and the Atul Bose Evening Sale totalled Rs1.64 crores. Athaiya’s Prayers was sold for Rs43 lakhs. Atul Bose’s Studio Corner, a 1926 oil on canvas, went under the hammer for Rs43 lakhs, almost Rs20 lakhs over the upper estimate.
“Prinseps created records for Bose and Athaiya, both first time artists in the auction circuit. This goes to show that there is a healthy appetite for well documented, historically significant, high quality artworks,” says Indrajit Chatterjee, Founder of Prinseps.
Tyeb Mehta, Kali, (Mahesh asuramardini) from Saffronart
Galleries go online
The galleries that support the primary market have been coming together through online formats like In Touch and TAP, featuring the leading names in the circuit. “The art market has continued to be strong during these challenging times. In fact, we have seen a surge of new collectors during lockdown, and seasoned collectors are also continuing to buy. Perhaps, this is because people are spending a lot more time at home and want to be surrounded by good art! Most galleries are reporting good sales,” says Roshini Vadehra of Vadehra Art Gallery.
On the other hand, however, many art fairs and live auctions are cancelled, and galleries must continue to innovate their digital approach to connect with their collectors. “We have started physical exhibitions at the gallery but at a slower space,” adds Vadhera.
In August, Latitude 28 was the first gallery to hold a physical exhibition, ‘We Are Always Working’, featuring works of Waswo X. Waswo. “Waswo’s exhibited works were sold to eminent collections, but we lost out on sales to collectors who prefer seeing the work in the gallery before buying it,” says Bhavna Kakar, Founder Director of the gallery and editor of TAKE on Art magazine.
Their second exhibition When is Empathy Too Much, the ongoing exhibition features works by four young artists; Abhishek Narayan Verma, Al-Qawi Nanavati, Shalina Vichitra and Yogesh Ramkrishna. “We had two well attended virtual walkthroughs during the exhibition and as the pandemic situation progressed the number of walk-in visitors increased,” reports Kakar.

Threshold Art Gallery, represented online at TAP and Abu Dhabi Art had an equal share
of triumphs and challenges. “The primary market for contemporary art has always been a struggle – more so since the 2008 slump. However, every crisis teaches us new ways of survival. The digital platforms have been very successful in terms of visibility for the artists,” says Tunty Chauhan, Founder and Director of Threshold.
“Overall, I would say the sales have been good, not dismal as one would think,” adds Chauhan. Abu Dhabi Art, an international art fair showcasing a global selection of galleries with an emphasis on Asia and UAE (19 to 26 November), helped the gallery gain popularity and sales. “I feel the second quarter of 2021 will be better. As the Kochi Muziris Biennale is also happening next November, we have a lot to look forward to in India,” says Chauhan.
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