Tuesday, September 07, 2010

NY Times - In Old Societies, New Fashions Convey Power


India's Online Auction Pioneers

MUMBAI — The global art community is abuzz with news of the online-only V.I.P. Art Fair in January, for which several major galleries have signed up. But in the world of art auctions, a start-up from India recognized the Web potential of art a decade ago.
Christopher Burke
S. H. Raza’s Bhartiya Samaroh,1988, acrylic on canvas, from Saffronart’s Autumn Online Auction.
Founded in 2000 by the husband-and-wife team of Dinesh and Minal Vazirani, Saffronart specializes in the sale of modern and contemporary Indian art and claims to be the world’s largest fine-art online auction house. Based in Mumbai, with offices in New York and London, the company has rapidly elbowed its way onto the Indian art auction scene, alongside established veterans like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. While the company is not the only online art auctioneer in India, it pioneered the concept there.
Its fall auction, to be held this weekend, is offering 90 works by 43 Indian artists, including star lots by S.H. Raza and Jehangir Sabavala.
From a modest start of $126,000 in online art sales in 2000, Saffronart is projecting about $30 million in art auction sales this year. While this may be a relatively small portion of the global art auction market, the market for Indian art has grown exponentially since Sotheby’s held the first-ever auction of modern Indian art in 1995. The Indian art auction market has shot up from $3 million in 2000 to an estimated $120 million this year, Saffronart says. Saffronart alone grew 97 percent in compound annual growth terms from 2000 to 2008.
The company holds four auctions a year, each accompanied by a slick catalog. Over a two-day period, 200 to 250 collectors from around the world log on to enter their bids. Saffronart charges a 15 percent commission on buyers for works valued up to $500,000. The company has also ventured into jewelry auctions and luxury home sales.
As part of its efforts to increase visibility and credibility, the auction house curates shows of modern and contemporary Indian art outside of India, including past exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Hong Kong.
Driven by what they call a “personal passion” for art, the Vaziranis started Saffronart to combat problems they faced as young art collectors. “When we went out to buy art, we found two things difficult,” said Ms. Vazirani, 39, the president of the company and a former management consultant. “One was trying to figure out the price of a work, because you could walk into two different galleries and have a work by the same artist, in similar size and from a similar period, priced quite differently, sometimes as much as 30 to 35 percent. The other part we found hard was getting access. You might go into a gallery but you weren’t necessarily shown the best work.”
The Vaziranis said they embraced the Internet to reach the largest number of potential buyers around the world. They publish the prices of works on Saffronart’s Web site, an idea considered practically heretical in India 10 years ago. “It allowed for a transparency that hadn’t existed in the Indian art market,” said Ms. Vazirani. “Of course buyers were delighted, but the trade wasn’t as keen on it.” That soon changed, with dealers and galleries eager to consign works once they saw the response to online sales.
Continue reading this article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/08/arts/08iht-rartsaffron.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y 

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