Booming India Draws Foreign Art Dealers

India's biggest art fair opens on Friday, pulling in dozens of foreign galleries seeking to tap a new breed of buyers in one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Now in its third edition, the annual Indian Art Summit has expanded sharply in both size and

prominence, with 84 galleries taking part this year compared with 55 last time.

As well as offering rare global exposure for Indian artists, it also provides an exploratory platform for overseas dealers who feel India's booming economy is minting a sizeable pool of wealthy buyers interested in international art.

The number of participating foreign galleries has doubled from last year to 34, with exhibitors from

France, Germany, Canada, the United States, Singapore and Japan.

"From the start, our objective was to create a window into the Indian art market," said the event's director, Neha Kirpal.

"We wanted to facilitate the growth of Indian art and its market within India, and to create a consolidated platform of Indian art for the world outside."

The lack of both a vibrant museum culture and private funding for art events means public awareness, particularly of contemporary art, is still very much in its infancy in India.

But overseas interest, following a general slump in prices in 2009, is regaining momentum -- albeit with a strong focus on well-established artists.

Last year, a 1983 painting, "Saurashtra", by Syed Haider Raza sold for almost 2.4 million pounds at Christie's in London, setting a record for a modern Indian work.

"Serious collectors are there and this is backed with confidence in the Indian economy and with people investing as a hedge against inflation," said Dinesh Vazirani, owner of online auctioneer Saffronart.

For many years, conventional wisdom had it that Indian collectors only bought Indian art, and the vast majority of the 500 artists whose works are being shown at the New Delhi event are either Indian or of Indian origin.

But a number of foreign galleries, like the Frankfurt-based Die Galerie, believe there is an increasing desire among Indian buyers for foreign work.

"People here are eager, hungry and interested," said the gallery's owner Peter Femfert, whose booth boasted a number of pieces by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Salvador Dali.

"You can't just sit in your gallery and count dead flies in the window. You have to go out and find the customers," said Femfert -- a first time participant in the Delhi event.

"There are a few large Indian collectors of international art who have been buying abroad. It's time for the sellers to come to India and offer something in this country," he told Agence France Presse.

While the works offered by Femfert carry the recognition value that might appeal to wealthy individuals looking for an investment -- or the bragging rights that go with a Picasso in the living room -- other galleries believe there is also a market in India for new, less established artists.

"It may still be early, but in the next five years I think we're going to see a shift with Indian buyers looking outside India," said Paul Greenaway of the Greenaway Art Gallery in Australia.

"I'll be really disappointed if all those second-string Picassos and Miros are the works that get sold. I hope there are discerning buyers here who will look beyond that stuff for some new, interesting works."

At the last Indian Art Summit in 2009, held during a cooling market, more than half the works on display were sold, for a total of 5.4 million dollars -- an impressive sum that fuelled Kirpal's ambitions for putting the event on a par with established contemporary art fairs.

It also impressed Genevieve Levesque of the Ottawa-based Arteria Gallery, a first-time participant who admitted she had no idea what sort of response to expect to the works of the young Canadian artists she had brought along.

"It's a shot in the dark really, but a calculated one," she said.

"We feel there's a slice of the cake available for everybody and that includes a rising demand for good, affordable art."

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