Contemporary Indian Art Gains Stature on a Global Canvas ; the Average Price for Modern Paintings Is Now $50,000 to $70,000

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Call it a new fad, the lure of big bucks, or perhaps both, but Indian contemporary art, an insignificant genre outside the subcontinent until recently, is suddenly hot in the global art world.

Indian contemporary art is gathering record crowds at global auctions, and valuations and volumes have soared to levels that have forced major buyers to pay more attention to the Indian market.

The Sotheby's auction house, which closed its Indian office in the early 1990s, recently entered into an alliance with an art gallery based in Bombay "to build a bigger client base in India"; rival Christie's is reportedly returning to open an advisory office there, it says, to "develop the market's vast potential" just three years after shutting down its own Indian office.

That's not all: after a drought of about 25 years, Venice Biennale, one of the world's most prestigious art exhibitions, is showcasing Indian art in its forthcoming show through a dedicated exhibition called "iCon: Indian Contemporary."

"The market for Indian contemporary art is turning bullish and aggressive," says Anuradha Mazumdar of Sotheby's. "India is now recognized as a major growth market, forcing international auction houses to pay more attention to it."

Indeed, over the past two to three years, both the volumes and prices of Indian art on world markets have soared dramatically. Indian art has been offered in British and European auctions for years, but pieces often fetched very little money or recognition. Only recently has Indian contemporary art begun appearing in the US.

"The general rise in affluence amongst Indians and nonresident Indians over the past few years has allowed such collectors to spend part of their disposable income on art," says Yamini Mehta, head of modern and contemporary Indian art at Christie's. "There has been a marked growth in the number of collectors, thereby creating a greater demand for works while the supply remains limited."

Mehta says that ever since September 2002 - when Christie's sold an Indian triptych titled "Celebration" for $317,000 - Indian art has attracted the attention of the global art buyers. …