For a group of entrepreneurs in Mumbai, there is no better time to open a new gallery, though the Indian art world has been hit hard by the effects of the global economic downturn.
Bose Krishnamachari, Devaunshi and Dia Mehta and Yash and Avan Birla last week opened Gallery BMB, hoping to kickstart the sector by showcasing the best of Indian and international contemporary art under one roof.
AdvertisementThe first exhibition, "The Dark Science of Five Continents", features India's Riyaz Komu, Brazilian Tunga, Britain's Jake and Dinos Chapman, Jon Kessler from New York, Nigeria's George Osodi and China's Wang Qingsong.
Most of the installations, photography, video and sculptures have never been shown in India before.
With six to eight shows planned each year, Krishnamachari, the gallery's artistic director, likens it to Indian Premier League cricket and European football, which both attract the best stars from around the world.
"I'm giving them the ball and letting them play," he told AFP.
Although there are now signs of recovery, the global economic downturn has seen the art world hit by gallery closures, the cancellation of art fairs and drastic reductions in the number of works for sale and their price at auction.
Britain's The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported in January that contemporary art sales at Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips de Pury and Co. fell from 1,064 lots in February 2008 to 437.
The value of art sold through the auction houses dropped from 204 million pounds (334 million dollars) last year to 48.3 million pounds, with the average lot estimate also falling from 234,000 pounds to 102,000 pounds.
The chief executive and co-founder of Indian auction house Saffronart, Dinesh Vazirani, said there had been a 60 to 80 percent drop in value for contemporary art and between 30 and 50 percent for modern art across the world.
But after a period of massive investor speculation, creating unsustainable prices, collectors were now coming back, bringing much-needed stability into the market, he added.
"It's a very important correction that needed to happen," he told AFP.
For Krishnamachari, Gallery BMB aims to be a London- or New York-style blue chip gallery that will focus more on artists, students, connoisseurs and collectors rather than investors out to make money.
"It's not a good time (to open) but art is always created in recession," he told AFP. "At this period of time, a lot of galleries are closing down. But for me that's the time that you should show your strength."
India has a legacy of artwork dating back 9,000 years but has lacked the infrastructure and institutional support to develop its potential on the world stage.
The country has only a handful of prominent galleries for thousands of artists and only a few crumbling museums, most of them built during the British colonial period. Art schools and public funds are also lacking.
But with India looking to follow the lead of China and win international acclaim for its domestic art, Vazirani said new spaces like Gallery BMB could pave the way.
He predicted that at least half a dozen new galleries could spring up in the next few years, with backing from people like the Birlas and Mehtas, whose families are part of India's business elite.
"In the next five years, we will see a very different market where there are actually public displays of art on a continuous basis. That was lacking during the boom period," he said.
"During the boom period, it was all about prices, investment and money. I think the next five years is going to be all about infrastructure building and art for art's sake, at least we hope that."
Riyas Komu, who has exhibited around the world, including at the Venice Biennale in 2007, said he was excited to be part of the inaugural show, agreeing with Krishnamachari that "artists always work in recession".
"There's a lot of things happening in Indian art now, regardless of the economic position of the country. I think it (the gallery) is a complement to that. It's very timely... a new space and new agenda," he told AFP.
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