So far, China has been the emerging market worth watching in the art world. Now, the big boys are getting serious about India, too.

Christie’s said this week it would hold its first auction in Mumbai in December.

The international auction house has had a presence in India for 20 years through its office in Mumbai. It said in a statement:

The decision to hold auctions at this time is a reflection of the strong momentum in the domestic art marketplace, the increased international appeal of Indian art and the growing participation of Indian collectors across international sale categories.

“When we announced that we would be doing an auction in Mumbai, it’s not as if anyone in India was surprised,” said Steven Murphy, global chief executive of Christie’s. “If anything, we were met with a slightly bewildered response. Almost a “what’s taken you so long and why aren’t you here already”.”

india art market deloitte

India’s art market began to pick up in the second half of 2012 after two bad years following the global economic crisis, according to research from Deloitte. As auction sales improve, high net worth individuals in the country are expected to up their spending on luxury items.

In a recent poll, the researchers found 22 per cent of collectors expect the market to rise this year, while 15 per cent think it will fall and 63 per cent expect it to remain flat.

Interest has been reflected and helped along by The India Art Fair, which was held for the second time in February, and the country’s first biennale, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, held in Kerala between December and March.

The Economic Times reported on Thursday, that collectors and galleries responded to the slowdown by renting out artworks. It may reflect falling discretionary spending but it is also a sign that there is demand for luxury art in India. The paper said:

Corporate houses and hoteliers — who together account for nearly three fourths of the purchases of artwork in the country— have scaled back spending on art by nearly 60% in the last one year, leaving art dealers with little choice but to make it more affordable.

Christie’s says its client base has grown four-fold in India over the past decade.

“We feel that the time is right to hold an auction domestically,” Menaka Kumari-Shah, head of Christie’s in India, told beyondbrics. “There is great strength in this market and consumer appetite for fine art and luxury items.”

The announcement follows news that Christie’s will hold a sale in Shanghai this September, making it the first foreign house to work in mainland China – so far, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, its international rival, have operated in Hong Kong.

The Chinese art market tipped the US from the top to become the largest in the world in 2011 before suffering a sharp slowdown in 2012. Analysts say it may already have dropped from the top spot. Recent figures on the slowdown in Asia’s largest economy suggest the trend might continue.

Could India usurp China as the emerging market in the world of art?

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Paton in New York.

Related reading:
Beyond the samosas, FT
Christie’s and Sotheby’s deepen rivalry ahead of art sales, FT
China grants licence to Christie’s, FT
China art market: auction houses see slump in 2012 sales, beyondbrics

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