Kaushal Parikh took a leap of faith when he decided to quit his lucrative corporate job in 2006 to pursue photography. But his interest turned towards painting shortly before the pandemic. Today, he is a full-time artist-cum-photographer who earns his livelihood through online sales of his artwork and participation in events such as the Baro Market Affordable Art show. Held in April at Method, an art gallery in southern Mumbai, the Baro Market Affordable Art fair offered hundreds of contemporary, tribal and vintage artworks at throwaway prices. Works on display ranged from emerging artists such as Parikh to more recognisable names that included the likes of FN Souza and Jamini Roy. Yet, Parikh has grown a little weary of the blue-chip modern art scene. He believes that platforms like Baro Market offer an opportunity for ordinary buyers to appreciate art for its own sake, minus the elitism and exclusivity that often characterise high-end galleries and auction houses. “How will showcasing the same Souzas, Husains and Razas again and again help the art community grow as a whole?” the 52-year-old asks.
According to Parikh, the so-called gatekeepers of art have traditionally excluded middle-class patrons, but this is changing — gradually. “Have you ever visited any art gallery in Mumbai?” he asks. “Most of them are situated on the upper floor of a building and the doors are locked. You have to ring the bell to gain entry. All this can be very intimidating for a budget-conscious, middle-class customer.” In contrast, he points out that the Baro Market fair is designed to be more inclusive and welcoming to visitors.
Baro Market certainly provides a refreshing alternative to galleries and auction houses that deal with exorbitant art. The digital marketplace was created with the aim of “democratising art and making it accessible to all,” admits its founder, Srila Chatterjee. Initially a brick-and-mortar store in Mumbai, the brand transitioned to an online business model following the outbreak of the pandemic. Despite this shift, the Baro Market Affordable Art fair, now in its third iteration, still takes place in a physical setting. The nine-day event featured artworks and other objects at prices that ranged from ₹2,000 to ₹3lakh and drew a diverse audience that included both young students and seasoned collectors. “It was remarkable to see people engaging with not just arts but also crafts and other forms of aesthetics. Many of them were interested in hearing stories behind the artworks and wanted to learn more, which was extremely gratifying for me,” says Chatterjee, who, in 2022, partnered with Chatterjee & Lal gallery to establish 47-A, a space focussed on contemporary design practices situated in Mumbai’s historic Khotachi Wadi district.
Founded by Sahil Arora in 2019, Method is another cradle where one can discover new and exciting artists. A diverse selection of cutting-edge artwork by young practitioners from all around the world is available for sale. For instance, the stunning pop-infused digital prints by Amrit Pal Singh featuring the impressions of Yayoi Kusama, Andy Warhol and other modern masters are reasonably priced at ₹14,000. Photography enthusiasts can explore experimental works by Mumbai-based Zahra Amiruddin (priced between ₹8,250 and ₹11,200) or those with a little offbeat taste can opt for street artist Tyler’s original bricks for ₹4,999. At Method, original paintings start at ₹8,500. “We give artists complete creative rein to create their art and perhaps with that freedom comes the liberty to experiment and push boundaries at their end,” Arora says.
Affordability was the criteria for Rakhi Sarkar, too, for establishing the CIMA Art Mela back in 2008. The most recent edition of the art fair, held in March at the Visual Art Gallery in Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, exhibited over 1,500 works by 80 artists, including prominent figures like Arpita Singh, Paramjit Singh, Jogen Chowdhury, Lalu Prasad Shaw, and Madhvi Parekh, which were offered to art lovers at discounted prices. The idea for CIMA Art Mela was born in the aftermath of the art boom during the mid-2000s. Sarkar, who’s the founder of the Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA) in Kolkata, observed that the intelligentsia, a group that had traditionally patronised art, were distancing themselves from it. Lamenting this trend, Sarkar says, “During the 19th century, art was mainly supported by royalty, but in the 20th century, the intelligentsia became a significant patron of the arts. When we were young, it wasn’t the very wealthy who were buying art, but it was the intelligentsia. However, when art started disappearing from the homes of the educated classes that was the ultimate bad news and I felt something had to be done to address it. That was happening in India in a big way. Prices were skyrocketing, which was a good thing for art. But that was also creating a situation where the intelligentsia, which included bureaucrats, merchants, well-paid executives, professors, scientists, doctors and the professional elite, could no longer afford art. With CIMA Art Mela, I wanted to bring back this lost crowd.”
The CIMA Art Mela derives its inspiration from Rabindranath Tagore’s Nandan Mela, which began as a rudimentary idea in Santiniketan, in the 1920s and took its current shape in 1973 (partly as a homage to Nandalal Bose on his birthday and to aid student’s welfare mission). Tagore had envisioned a platform where students could exhibit their art to the emerging educated middle-classes. Though the fair still takes place in Santiniketan, it has reportedly lost its past glory. CIMA, on its part, collaborates closely with senior and award-winning artists, from across India to curate the annual fair. “We have a good relationship with senior artists who give us special rates because they trust us and are aware of our transparent approach,” says Sarkar. She adds that at CIMA Art Mela, prices typically range from a modest ₹5,000 per painting to ₹3lakh. “We offer authentic works of art, so whether you buy a patachitra piece for ₹500 or a Jogen Chowdhury sketch for ₹50,000, we ensure that it’s validated and authenticated. For us, this initiative is not just about earning profits, but it’s a badly needed service in our country,” explains Sarkar. CIMA Art Mela, which was initially established in Kolkata, has since expanded to Mumbai and Delhi. Realising the economic potential of the art fair, Sarkar is now eager to take the event to other cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bengaluru. Attributing CIMA Art Mela’s success to its transparent pricing, ethical sourcing and careful curation, she says, “We present art in a salon-style format, where everyone is welcome to come, touch, feel, and see the pieces before making a purchase. It’s an inclusive experience.”
Speaking to a cross section of people in the art sector, it becomes evident that the term ‘affordable art’ is no longer an oxymoron it once was. More than a decade ago, the art boom attracted corporates to use art as a savvy investment opportunity. However, it seems the professional elites and expanding middle-class audiences are yet again turning back to art to elevate their everyday lives. Galleries and fairs across India are eager to cater to this market and even nurture young collectors from the middle-class and upper middle-class social backgrounds. Affordability was very much in the air at the 14th edition of India Art Fair (IAF) that took place in Delhi early this year. As one of its press statements reminded us, “You don’t need a huge bank balance to purchase art. You can start small with pieces from young contemporary artists whom you love and admire.” In cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, platforms aimed at nurturing a new class of young art collectors are steadily on the rise. Two of the most notable names in this field are Art Incept and Cultivate Art.
In 2019, Gayatri Singh founded Art Incept in Gurugram with the aim of not only supporting younger artists, but also creating a market that would sustain them. While working with her mother, Geeta Singh, the founder of Art Pilgrim gallery in Delhi, Gayatri noticed that art colleges were producing thousands of young artists every year, but there was no market for them to sell their work. She quickly realised that supporting the voices of the next generation was as crucial as investing in a network of young collectors. “They both grow together,” she observes. Interestingly, the collector base for Art Incept is emerging from unexpected quarters, including writers, filmmakers and professionals from the creative field. Architects and interior designers are also becoming important influencers in the art world, as they help their clients source just the right art for their new homes and offices. Gayatri says, “Some buyers may not initially understand art, but they trust the opinion of their architects or designers and over time, they develop their own opinions about art and become art connoisseurs themselves. This trend is beneficial for the entire industry, as it contributes to the creation of a more diverse art world.” Since its inception, Art Incept has collaborated with a range of upcoming artists, such as Viswanath Kuttum, Parul Sharma, Santanu Dey, Abhishek Dodiya and Savitha Ravi. Their exhibitions showcase artworks that begin at ₹10,000, reflecting the gallery’s commitment to affordability. “For us, affordability is a key factor but we also ensure that the artists receive a fair deal,” says Gayatri, who established the Inception Grant in 2021 to provide further opportunities to artists who faced financial challenges following the Covid-19 lockdown.
Meanwhile, Farah Siddiqui Khan, the founder of Cultivate Art, refrains from using the term ‘affordable art’ and instead, favours the phrase “art by younger or emerging artists”. “That’s because it is difficult to define affordable in our business,” she argues, adding, “My mother introduced me to the world of art and her first advice to me was, ‘You collect with your eyes. You don’t really need to have money to see art.’ That said, I have to admit that art has become both an aesthetic pleasure and an economic investment in contemporary times. So, we have to strike a balance.” Cultivate Art serves upwardly mobile professionals and couples aged 32 to 45 who, as Siddiqui says, are “well-versed in art and willing to take risks.” She is also the founder of the Young Collectors’ Weekend, a pop-up event in Mumbai and Delhi that seeks to foster the growth of the next generation of artists while simultaneously building a new community of collectors. Siddiqui believes that the Indian art world is still in its early stages compared to the West. A recent Grant Thornton report reveals that in the financial year 2022-23, the Indian art auction market achieved a record turnover of ₹1,145.5 crore ($144.3 million) through the sale of 3,833 artworks. “Just think about it — this is the price of just one piece by Western artists such as Andy Warhol or Mark Rothko,” she exclaims. Khan is optimistic about the future of Indian art, noting that we are on the verge of even greater opportunities. As she says, “We are just a small drop in the vast ocean that is the global art market.”