Contemporary Art Market: Galleries in India profit from boom in interest

A BOOM in contemporary art is gripping India. According to Roshen Alkazi, director of Delhi's Art Heritage Gallery, there were two commercial art galleries in the Indian capital three years ago. Now there are 40.

Contemporary art galleries are opening in Delhi, Calcutta and Madras but the centre of the boom is Bombay, where new galleries are springing up almost every week.

Mrs Alkazi used to work with the Chemould Gallery of Bombay, run by Kekoo Gandhy, the long standing leader of the Indian contemporary scene. He is now working on a National Gallery of Modern Art for Bombay.

Red spots spattered the paintings on show last week at the two galleries that Mrs Alkazi runs in the Triveni Kala Sangam arts complex. She was giving a mini-retrospective to a well established landscapist, R N Pasricha, born in 1926 in Amritsar. He works in the Himalayas producing semi-abstracted mountain vistas in blazing colour.

His watercolours were priced between 6,000 and 12,000 rupees (pounds 120 to pounds 240), while similar vistas in oils and acrylic were priced at 21,450 rupees (pounds 429).

In her second gallery she was giving a young artist from Goa, Querozito de Souza, his first exhibition. He takes his inspiration solely from nature. However, there was no doubt that he had looked long and appreciatively at a variety of Surrealists. In his graphic work - drawings, pastels and lithographs priced between 1,350 and 3,750 rupees (pounds 27 to pounds 75) - he conveyed a vivid Surrealist vision of life on the Goan beaches. The oils, priced around 10,000 rupees (pounds 200), approached the same theme less successfully.

It seems a valid generalisation that contemporary Indian artists are better draughtsmen than painters. Given the current level of prices - which Mrs Alkazi claims have risen by 50 per cent a year for the last three years - there is a simple explanation. Paper and ink are much cheaper than canvas and oil paint; artists cannot afford extensive experiment in the latter medium.

The Sakshi Gallery, which opened in Bombay last month, offers a selection of the country's most fashionable contemporary artists in its first show.

Draughtsmanship was again to the fore; a brilliant study of a half-naked man on a bed and the head of a companion, titled Two Men, which was worked in ink and pastel, then lacquered, by Jogen Chowdhury, was priced at 50,000 rupees (pounds 1,000) while Girl with Cat, realised in oil with a simple linear outline and bright colours, by Manjit Bawa, cost 90,000 rupees (pounds 1,800).

The highest price recorded for the work of a living Indian painter is the one million rupees (pounds 20,000) paid at a charity auction three years ago for a work by M F Husain - India's equivalent to Picasso.

(Photograph omitted)