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The Booming Asian Art Market- big business in the West

New York, April 19, 2007

Surinder Paul Singh

Last year in May, a London gallery closed M.F. Husain's show early "for security reasons," according to The Daily Telegraph, after protesters sprayed black paint on two of his paintings that portrayed two Hindu goddesses in the nude. It was a difficult year for M.F. Husain, a 91-year-old Indian artist. Husain's work remains in demand as that of one of the most celebrated contemporary Indian painters. At Sotheby's, an untitled canvas from the early 1960s — juxtaposing two women with a lamp, a symbol frequently found in Husain's works — sold for $486,400 to an Indian private collector, double the estimated price.

Last year, the total sales of Indian art in England stood at around 106 million pounds, and the figure is expected to double this year.

The director of one Art company said, "The auction market for Indian art alone was worth $150 million last year, up from $52 million the year before"

The Rich NRIs ( Non-Resident Indians ) are investing in Indian art market and it is one of the fastest growing in the West. Three to four years back, mostly the main buyers of Indian contemporary art were NRIs (non-resident Indians) but now because of the Indian economy is growing, it is estimated that about 85 percent of buyers for Indian art today are local. The current size of the Indian art market is about $350 million, up from $200 million in 2005, but only 1 percent of the world art market.

At a Christie's auction in 2005, Tyeb Mehta's "Mahisasura" sold for nearly $1.6 million, marking the first time an Indian contemporary painting crossed the $1 million barrier. Since then, a few other artists have joined the million-dollar club, among them F.N. Souza and S.H. Raza.

The New York Times reports in an article dated January 2007 about the recent climax of the contemporary Chinese art market. The article by David Barboza on In China's New Revolution, Art Greets Capitalism is rather factual and lists some recent record prices achieved at auctions in China and Hong Kong and mentions some of the best-known top money-maker artists like Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi, Wang Guangyi, Zeng Hao.

The rapid economic changes of the 1990s gave contemporary artists new themes - the desire to get rich quickly, competitiveness, the widening gap between rich and poor, consumerism, leisure. The collision of capitalist and communist ideologies also led to Political Pop and Cynical Realism styles.

Western galleries, especially in Europe, are rushing to sign up unknown painters; artists a year out of college are selling photographic works for as much as $10,000 each; well-known painters have yearlong waiting lists; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Pompidou Center in Paris are considering opening branches in China.

"When his work "Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 120" sold for $979,000 at Sotheby's auction in March, many art insiders predicted the market had topped out and prices would plummet within months.

But in October, the British collector Charles Saatchi bought another of Mr. Zhang's pieces at Christie's in London for $1.5 million. Then in November at Christie's Hong Kong auction, Mr. Zhang's 1993 "Tiananmen Square" sold to a private collector for $2.3 million.