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Indian Art Witnesses Boom Times

Indian modern art is witnessing boom times as wealthy Indians increase investments in paintings. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi on the emerging Indian art market.

When a painting by Indian artist Tyeb Mehta was the first Indian work of art to fetch over a million dollars at an auction in 2005, skeptics dismissed it as a "one-off" sale.

Since then, more than 20 paintings have crossed the million-dollar mark at auctions as the Indian art market booms.

Arun Vadhera runs an art gallery in Delhi and is an adviser to international auction house Christie's. He says the market is being driven by a new generation of wealthy Indians both at home and overseas.

"It is a sign of people feeling for the first time far more secure than their fathers did or their grandfathers did," said Vadhera. "That was the time pretty much when people were establishing their businesses."

Prices have spiraled by an estimated 20-fold since 2000, with much of the rise coming in the last two years. Dozens of galleries, auction houses and websites have mushroomed to cater to the growing market for both well-known modern masters as well as lesser-known contemporary painters.

Art experts say the market began to grow with people who wanted to express pride in their cultural heritage.

Art dealers say interest is spreading beyond the Indian community. At recent auctions of Indian art by Christie's in New York and Hong Kong, foreign customers were among the buyers.

Indeed, sales are rising fast. They totaled $350 million in 2006, double the figure of the previous year. But Indian art still makes up just a tiny fraction of the $30-billion global art market.

Art expert Arun Vadhera says the Indian art market is still at a nascent stage. He compares it to the beginning of the information technology boom in India.

"I don't think Indian art is anywhere near its peak. On the contrary, it is at the same stage as technology was in the late eighties and early nineties. We have a long, long way to go," he added. "The buyer base is very small. Even so called 'investable' artists are also small in number."

Art experts are comparing the boom in Indian art to a similar one in China, which began a few years ago, fueled by a rising economy and a newly rich Chinese community.