The VIP online art fair will take place in January (see our VIP blog here), but in the world of art auctions a start-up from India recognised the the web potential a decade ago. Founded in 2000 by Dinesh and Minal Vazirani, Saffronart claims to be the world's largest fine art online auction house. Based in Mumbai, with offices in New York and London, the company has elbowed its way into the Indian art auction scene, alongside established veterans like Christies and Sothebys.
From a modest start of $126,000 in online art sales in 2000, Saffronart is projecting around $30 million in art auction sales this year. The Vaziranis say the market for Indian art is growing exponentially, shooting up from $3 million in 2000 to an estimated $120 million this year, and that many artworks have crossed the million dollar mark, driven in part by the number of wealthy Indians worldwide. (Overseas bidders account for about half of the company's sales.) They had what they describe as their “wow” moment in June 2008 when an Italian collector they hadn't heard of purchased online an untitled 2006 oil painting by Subodh Gupta for $1.42 million.
The Vaziranis say they embraced the internet to reach the biggest number of potential buyers around the world. They publish the prices of artworks on Saffronart's website, an idea considered practically heretical in India ten years ago. “It allowed for a transparency that hadn't existed in the Indian market,” says Minal Vazirani.
Saffronart has come under fire from some quarters for partnering with galleries. They collaborate with prominent galleries, sponsoring exhibitions of emerging artists whose works are available for purchase on the Saffronart website. They are not worried by these concerns saying the company merely acts as a marketing platform and that prices remain the same with the gallery and Saffronart splitting the commission.
Image: Minal Vazirani, CEO of Saffronart, Mumbai