It is no coincidence that the most significant artistic movements in history have occurred during times of change and social transformation. Art is also a reflection of the historical and social context of every country. India is no exception.
From nationalist outbreaks to the intense globalization and technological advances facing the country today, the 20th century brought to India new ideas and points of view. In cultural terms, the impact of this process can be seen in monumental architectural works, entire cities built by leading Western architects such as Le Corbusier and Otto Königsberger.
RAJA RAVI VARMA.
After decolonization, Indian artists also began an intense search for their own identity. Their main objective was to rid themselves of the traditional Western influence that dictated the style of their work during the early decades of the last century. Artists like Raja Ravi Varma—known for his oil altarpieces that showed beautiful Indian women—began, for the first time, to emulate Western techniques to depict themes of national identity. This was an invitation for more Indian artists to express themselves through works that often revisit old styles and merge traditional icons of Indian culture with Western trends.
Events such as the arrival of important auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Saffronart, Bid & Hammar, and Emami Chisel Art Apparao, opened channels to bring Indian artworks to the international market. Now, a growing group of Indian names are included in the list of the most coveted artists in the world.
(L) S.H. RAZA; (R) VASUDEO S. GAITONDE.
The development of Indian galleries is also an important factor. Although, primarily, Vadehra and Pundole had controlled the market, during the past five years, India has seen the emergence of new galleries in cities like New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.
Interestingly, most of the collectors are not wealthy Indians. Indian art has awakened great interest among Western audiences and is currently among the most sought after, even more than Chinese art, which until 2010 had rebounded strongly in auctions. According to experts, the success of Indian art lies in its authenticity and strong roots.
To mention just one example, this year an untitled abstract landscape by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde became the world’s most expensive work of Indian origin, when an anonymous American collector purchased it for $3.7 million. Meanwhile, the work of Tyeb Mehta, who died in June 2009 and whose austere style eventually aligns with the hardest minimalism, also stood out in the auction. The list goes on to include S. H. Raza, Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallar, Sodobh Gupta, NS Harsh, Shilpa Gupta, F. N. Souza, Arpita Singh, Bharti Kher and or course, Anish Kapoor, among others. ■