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The Thought Leader Series | Art: How the rise of nuanced collectors, digital access and social media democratise the art world

Once seen as ‘unapproachable’ and ‘esoteric’, the easy access of art experiences, auctions and sales on digital platforms is leading to new ways of making, exhibiting and enjoying art, and the emergence of museums as fun spaces powered by technology will help art reach bigger audiences.

February 13, 2021 / 08:30 AM IST
David Zwirner installation, India Art Fair 2020

David Zwirner installation, India Art Fair 2020

Prayer, from Bhanu Athaiya collection, Prinseps Prayer, from Bhanu Athaiya collection, Prinseps

Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director, India Art Fair

A life of collaborations: India’s art scene is vibrant, emerging and dynamic, offering immense opportunity and growth. There is a sense of a real scene built from the grassroots, which is not solely dominated by the art market. This is unique to our ecosystem and will eventually lead to artists, galleries and cultural entities creating new models that showcase and nurture art locally. While some may lose relevance in a post-pandemic world, artistic platforms and clusters with deeper roots will come back stronger.

Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director, India Art Fair Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director, India Art Fair

A significant opening up of access to South Asian art and artists online: This was long overdue, particularly for the international market. More collectors are becoming accustomed to online viewing rooms and auctions, while art enthusiasts are reaping the benefits of the diversity of content and resources –– exhibitions, talks, conversations, films and more –– made available in real-time and archived on gallery and museum websites, podcasts and social media platforms.

Greater price transparency has led to a more inclusive art market: Prices are easily available on gallery websites. People are beginning to work out affordability for themselves and benchmark. This has helped diversify the growing base of modern and contemporary art collectors, making it easier for established collectors to track the value of their investment and become less reliant on art advisers. The flexible pricing plans by galleries have been successful in attracting a range of art enthusiasts and young collectors from across the region and internationally. Newcomers to Indian modern and contemporary art are becoming better informed about the art market and its affordability.

David Zwirner installation, India Art Fair 2020 David Zwirner installation, India Art Fair 2020

Digital has somewhat levelled the playing field for Indian galleries: Whether it is the large, legacy galleries or the new ones, digital marketing and outreach is becoming the standard avenue. Many have refreshed their brand identities and upgraded their digital infrastructure and content strategies. This is particularly important to ensure that the art market does not become static. Galleries will likely move from brick-and-mortar spaces to pop-up commissions and shows, which will be supported by storytelling, workshops and programming online.

Collectors are prioritising spending: Knowledge-sharing during the lockdown has been our greatest asset. We expect artists and galleries to make significant sales at all price points to an established and a more informed generation of collectors, who will be important in shaping the art market of the future. There has been a stay-at-home binge in auction buying and although this will settle down, it won’t be a feast or famine situation.

India Art Fair will move to a new venue: While art sales across the board will be the key focus in 2022, we plan to take our extensive programme of events, including education initiatives, artist commissions, workshops and pop-ups to venues across our home city and country. We want to increase our India-wide outreach, along with contributing to the international conversation and collections of Indian and South Asian art. In keeping with the overall strategy, India Art Fair will move to a new home at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi.


Abhishek Poddar, Collector and Founder-Trustee, Museum of Art & Photography

Collectors look beyond the Masters: Collectors have been fixated on acquiring works by Indian masters, such as MF Husain, FN Souza, SH Raza, Raja Ravi Varma, Ram Kumar and Tyeb Mehta. This hangover of the Masters, in the business as well as part of curating aspects of the industry, is, in my opinion, on the wane. We are exploring works by younger artists who are doing exciting work. We will see more young collectors and art enthusiasts come into the market. I also see a pronounced interest in classical Indian art and the genre of photography.

Good work rather than recognisable names will interest collectors: There are two kinds of collectors: the first kind that falls in the investor category. These collectors not only wish to decorate their homes with the art they purchase or collect but also ensure that the artwork amounts to a certain value in the future. Most are fine flipping the artwork as and when the value goes up. The second kind of collector is the one who chooses to build a collection with quality artworks rather than focus on the value of the artwork and/or the artist. They, I believe, are beginning to look at living with their art for a longer period and, perhaps, choose to leave the art behind for their kids or donate it to an institution.

Museums will have to reinvent themselves: Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the museums have money to buy or acquire art. They are struggling and directing almost all of their resources to stay afloat. The pandemic has forced not only us, as human beings, but also institutions and museums to deal with mortality on a very deep level. Museums have had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant and draw in audiences, and so buying art has most definitely not been a priority in the past year.

Having said that, I believe the future of museums and galleries is promising. If the past year has shown us anything, it is that the arts, be it visual or performing, dance or music, have kept people sane. Museums need to educate audiences that art is neither esoteric nor elitist. Instead, it is one of the most fundamental needs, which enables a deeper understanding of the world we live in. Art is humanity.

Galleries are realising the limitations of the physical space: The physical exhibition, where a person has to be present to view the artworks, automatically reduces the size and reach of your audience. People in the industry understand the importance of digital platforms and online viewings.

I hope that viewing an artwork digitally never equals seeing it in the flesh. It would be a very sad day for art. There is a certain energy and magic that one experiences by being in the physical space and engaging with art in the flesh, which I don’t think technology can fully replace or replicate. It’s the same reason we go to the stadium to watch a match live or go to a concert to hear the music in person.

Smriti Rajgarhia, Director, Serendipity Arts Foundation & Festival 

Smriti Rajgarhia, Director, Serendipity Arts Foundation & Festival Smriti Rajgarhia, Director, Serendipity Arts Foundation & Festival

New mediums and innovative means of outreach: Institutions and entities are undergoing a tremendous transformation thanks to technology, and are recognizing the power of the internet to connect and engage with diverse audiences. Online events have always been around; our attention has just shifted to them in a more focused and exploratory fashion. I foresee cautious optimism in the art world, with physical events reinstated at a smaller scale, balanced with exciting online opportunities. Today, the internet plays an even more important role in our lives, and to see it as a space that can host festivals and similar outreach initiatives is exciting for us.

The way the audience will interact at art events has transformed: This is a challenge that most performing artists continue to grapple with. Despite circumstances encouraging artists to focus on alternate sites and adapt to the changes, the shift from physical to online is a difficult one. However, museums and galleries have opened their collections and shows and engaged with the audience and collectors by integrating technological tools and transformative viewing experiences, as well as through limited in-person viewing.

Serendipity Arts Festival, The Brewhouse Serendipity Arts Festival, The Brewhouse

The Serendipity Arts Festival will be a hybrid online-offline model: In the case of the physical festival, we will have to operate differently, adhering to the protocols laid out for public safety. In the past year, we hosted multiple digital events in the early months of the lockdown to support the arts ecosystem and keep our engagement with audiences alive. We have conceived Serendipity Arts Virtual in a bid to keep engaging with our audiences.

Ashish Anand, Managing Director & CEO, Delhi Art Gallery (DAG)

Ashish Anand, Managing Director & CEO, Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) Ashish Anand, Managing Director & CEO, Delhi Art Gallery (DAG)

Art is engendering a social revolution: More people have viewed art in the last year than at any other time in the past due to art getting into the digital space. We have finally reached a point where more people are accepting of the need and understanding of art in their lives. The digital phenomena have democratised art, and people from all walks of life want a part of it.

There has been a rise in the art market during this unprecedented crisis, indicating that art is perceived as a valuable collectable in terms of investment and for its ability to provide pleasure to a collector. This social revolution will act as a catalyst to spur on demand for better art infrastructure — exhibitions, events, galleries, museums, and the people needed to grow the industry. As galleries and museums start opening, organisers will combine the cyber and physical worlds to create immersive, enriching experiences.


And yet, putting in serious money will demand viewing art in the physical dimension: Art is a visceral experience. High-quality art will demand to be seen and experienced physically before people commit to large spends. Expect a greater degree of personalisation, allowing potential buyers to view works in more intimate environments than in public spaces.

Art funds and a system where liquidity and financial support can be guaranteed: More people are collecting art. But the term investment is very loosely used. Anyone with a handful of artworks is described as a collector. Some people buy art as an investment, but an investing climate can only come about once there is interest from the corporate and financial houses to create the right infrastructure for people to invest in art as part of a diversified portfolio.

Private and public-private museums: I believe several serious collectors have given thought to share their collections with the public, as Kiran Nadar did in the last decade. This may well turn out to be a decade for more private and public-private museums, and collaborations — all of which will continue to spur the art market.

Museums will transform into fun places with tech intervention: I see museums and galleries shedding the serious, intellectual tag to become fun and entertaining with some tech help. This doesn’t mean that the content will be diluted; just, that people’s expectations will need to be met and digitalisation may well pave the way towards that.

Sonal Singh, Managing Director, Christie's India

 Sonal Singh, Managing Director, Christie's India Sonal Singh, Managing Director, Christie's India

Rising interest in luxury categories and multi-collecting: There is an increased interest in luxury categories, including wines, watches, handbags and jewellery. In 2020, we set the highest price for a piece of jewellery sold online at above US$ 2 million. The luxury categories are attracting most of our younger buyers. While collectors want to experience fine art, we see a leaning towards multi-collecting or cross-collecting or the mixing of styles and categories.

Christie’s wants to present 50 percent of its auctions in the traditional format and the other 50 percent as online sales: 

More people and geographies will engage with us over the online sales platform. In 2020, we welcomed collectors and first-time buyers from 104 nations. A very high percentage of our traditionally buying clients have transgressed to online buying.

Contemporary Indian art will occupy a bigger headspace: The future for Indian art lies in contemporary art. We aim to present more international artistic positions in our important evening auctions for Post-War and Contemporary art taking place in spring and autumn, in New York and London.

Investment is not the key for collecting art: Before the Lehman Brothers crisis, the auction rooms might have been populated by some hedge fund managers buying art as an investment. Since their spectacular bankruptcy, art as an investment is no longer the truth. Most collectors buy for the pleasure of collecting and engaging with art. Some are spontaneous buyers and others are buying in a more considered and well-planned manner. We welcomed 35 percent of new clients in 2020.

Museums will continue to be important buyers: It is encouraging to see several museums can buy in our auctions or receive donations from important collectors. Over the past year, we have conducted several charity auctions to benefit museums and the last one in 2020 was the December bid for the Louvre auction.

New tools are being formulated to showcase art online: On 15 March 2020, a group of colleagues had to reschedule 160 planned live auctions. Two weeks later, we were able to present a first new auction calendar until May. Besides the logistics of planning of online auctions, the marketing department had to come up with new tools to showcase art online. We created the viewing rooms and enhanced our photography and virtual reality tools to offer clients a better way of engaging with the art on offer. Art fairs moved online and we helped La Biennale des Antiquaries and the African art fair 1:54 to exhibit on our platform. Online also helps us achieve our sustainability goals set out for 2023 by producing fewer catalogues and cutting down the need for business travel.

Michelle Poonawalla, Artist

Michelle Poonawalla, Artist Michelle Poonawalla, Artist

There is a strong appetite for physical exhibitions and biennales: Projects such as Kathmandu Triennale and Kochi Biennale have announced new dates for 2021. I think there will be a strong appetite for physical exhibitions, biennales and museum shows at a time people have been deprived of these experiences. There is no substitute for physically engaging with an artwork.

Art will transform into a source of inspiration and relaxation: Art has always been used to tell a story, spread a message or as a vehicle for positive change. During the lockdown, these aspects have gained even more traction as people turned to art and culture as a source of inspiration and relaxation. I hope to see more large-scale public installations or exhibitions in India.

Instagram as the way of reaching younger collectors: Platforms such as Instagram Live have given younger collectors a window into an artist’s studio or house, which they might not have had before. As an artist, I have increasingly produced work that can be shown digitally, either through online gallery exhibitions or dedicated platforms such as Sedition Art, who only exhibit art digitally.

Exploring new mediums of art: I have found my practice has become very meditative. I have also had the time to explore new mediums and formats I might not have otherwise worked on. For instance, I have produced a series of short films that came about, in part, through a requirement to make work I could easily share at a time when travelling and movement is restricted. One of these, The Circle of Life, was recently shown at the Mediations Biennale in Poland and it was amazing to continue showing work around the world under such difficult circumstances.

Sharan Apparao, Founder, TAP (The Art Platform, India) and Director, Apparao Galleries

Sharan Apparao, TAP, Burden Carriers Sharan Apparao, TAP, Burden Carriers

The very act of buying in private has transformed the industry: Collectors have realised they can access everything more easily. Those who were not buyers are no longer afraid to look. They have ended up becoming first-time buyers with no fear of being judged, buying in private and recognising that it is better to invest in the best, rather than buying many not so nice things.

Sanjana Shah, Creative Director, Tao Art Gallery

The desire for exclusivity and selective isolation is more pronounced: There is an observed increase in buying products to ‘feel good’. We have seen a rise in the sales of bags, home décor accessories, real-estate and art. People channelised the money saved for their annual travel into other purchases. I realised the value of my immediate surroundings during the lockdown and systematically re-thought investing in home decor products and other accessories that can infuse a heightened touch of luxury in my daily living.

Online auctions have sold art at incredible amounts: Some art auctions of 2020 have made some incredible sales, like the AstaGuru one, where the famous MF Husain painting, Voices, sold for a record-breaking Rs. 18.5 crore! There are demands and enough supply to meet this demand.

Content creation has adapted to fit with the new virtual reality: Virtual 3D shows focusing on contemporary digital art will take the forefrontBig collectors have become adept at virtual art auctions and there is less hesitation while purchasing such expensive art online.

Most Mumbai galleries, including my own Tao Art Gallery, were quick to create online viewing rooms. Brand building and connecting with audiences will primarily happen through platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. Interestingly, a recent study showed that social media has replaced art fairs as the third most successful sales channel for galleries in 2020.

Art galleries will continue to innovate in the online space to grab eyeballs. Virtual tours will have to be top-notch to ensure viewers feel they are in an actual gallery and experiencing the art from every angle. The replication of the same comfort, clarity and communication on-ground has to be built in these virtual platforms to retain viewers and generate sales.

The value of iconic art: While veteran collectors wish to invest in conceptual art, people are prone to making impulse purchases, purely driven by passion. Rare paintings auctioned at lower-than-usual prices are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors. For young buyers, this is the time for art education and awareness. During the lockdown, they finally had the opportunity to explore what it is like to live with art when you are stuck at home.

Nupur Dalmia, Director, Gallery Ark

Nupur Dalmia, Director, Gallery Art Nupur Dalmia, Director, Gallery Ark

Digital innovation will be the future of the art industry: The phrase “digital pivot” has become a recurring one for galleries and cultural institutions. The simpler early experiments have paved the way for more rigorous thinking about how to bring alive the myriad experiences of the art industry through digital channels.  

The growing appetite for affordable art: There is an increased appetite for art by young to mid-career artists, who come at affordable price points unlike what the big blue-chip names command. This buyer demographic is clear-eyed, willing to do the research and closely watch the growth of artists they invest in.

Instagram platforms focus on emerging and contemporary artists:  The opacity that the art world was notorious for, has to go. We are well on our way to a multi-channel or omnichannel approach. Galleries will look for creative ways to bolster their programme.  

Technology will power galleries: Galleries will find ways to incorporate technology into the white cube to add an interesting dimension — for instance, with the use of QR codes, dynamic and interactive digital elements, and applications that allow prospective clients to view coveted artworks in their homes through a phone screen.

Shilpa Gavane at Gallery Art Shilpa Gavane at Gallery Ark

The industry will share resources: There is a deliberate move towards collaborative models (InTouch, for example) of institutions, galleries and individuals banding together to share resources and offering artist support (Art Chain India or Carpe Arte’s artist support initiative). Such systems that came about in times of duress have led to the emergence of a new template.

Collectors look at Value for Money and a voice that matches theirs: Recent reports from events such as the Mumbai Gallery Weekend show that the industry is slowly recovering. While people are looking for VFM, they are also looking for resonance with their aesthetics and a narrative that speaks to them. I sense that collectors are trusting their instincts more, becoming more adventurous, and crossing artists or coveted artworks off their wish list.

The relevance of art fairs and biennales: Art fairs allowed us to revel in art in the company of friends. The very act of travelling to an art fair or a biennale became a sort of annual pilgrimage. Sites such as Venice or Kochi have a specific mood and allow curatorial interventions to blossom in ways that simply cannot be replicated in a digital-only format.

The Kochi Biennale and the India Art Fair, in many ways, are magnets that bring us together. They are likely to bounce back, hopefully, with a renewed vigour.

Tushar Sethi, CEO, AstaGuru

Tushar Sethi, CEO, AstaGuru Tushar Sethi, CEO, AstaGuru

V S Gaitonde continues to rule the roost: The auction market has stood its ground. One could consider the world record established for the most expensive modern Indian art painting in 2020 as a validating point. VS Gaitonde continues to rule the roost, considering that it was his untitled work from 1995 which previously held the record, while this year his painting from the year 1974 superseded his 2015 auction record.

Collectors at auctions are going beyond art: All segments such as collectables and antiques, ranging from sculptures, classic miniature paintings, fine writing instruments, luxury timepieces, celebrity memorabilia, vintage cars, aristocratic heirloom jewellery and exquisite textiles has seen an uptick. The most prominent shift in the buyers’ pattern is the inclination to invest in movable assets.

Brijeshwari Gohil, Auctioneer and Vice President, Prinseps

Brijeshwari Gohil, Auctioneer and Vice President, Prinseps Brijeshwari Gohil, Auctioneer and Vice President, Prinseps

Despite the uncertainty last year, art continues to show an upward trajectory: One is optimistic considering the price patterns in the art world through most of last year. Given the indications, the art industry will go from strength to strength. The one thing that will change: the way people access art. There is an increase in the number of online platforms to both, purchase art and engage with it. Museums have offered online conferences and webinars to remain relevant.  

Collectors will look at the heritage and finer details before putting down their money: Historic importance and provenance will be critical. However, the importance of a work of art in the artist’s oeuvre plays a critical role as well. The pandemic has focused attention on additional reading and research. There is a heightened sense of awareness when it comes to finer details such as the authenticity of an artwork. Given the number of works coming up in the market, it is imperative to have due diligence in place.

Platforms such as Kochi Muziris Biennales will serve as a platform to network: I suspect they will return with a vengeance. We can see that events such as Art Dubai are already being hosted. Gatherings such as the Biennale serve as a platform to network, meet and connect with like-minded people, much more needed at this time.

The convenience of online bidding will be balanced by on-ground experiences:

Traditional collectors and buyers, such as museums, are continuing their search for extraordinary works despite the worldwide turbulence. However, even with the wonders of present-day technology, the immersive experience of taking a trip to a gallery and falling in love with artwork will continue to attract us. The process of buying a treasured piece is multi-layered and complicated. Collectors and buyers are keen to view an artwork that they are interested in purchasing before the bid.

Sunaina Anand, Director, Art Alive Gallery

Sunaina Anand, Director, Art Alive Gallery Sunaina Anand, Director, Art Alive Gallery

The realisation that art helps soothe anxiety has set in: The meaning of luxury has undergone an immense change and people have come to realize that luxury is not only about looking outward, but also creating an atmosphere around them that enriches their lives.

For me, luxury has been living with hope, feelings of positivity and happiness; art gives it all. For many collectors, art is not only about reaping high monetary returns but also being offered a therapeutic and calming experience.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.