30th Sept. 2002

  THE ARTS: SAFFRON ART From Virtual to Reality With the largest exhibition of modern Indian art in the US, a dotcom company sets a new trend By Anil Padmanabhan

Acrylic on Canvas
60 X 36 in.(152 X 92 cm.)

Oil on Canvas
23 X 23 in. (59 X 59 cm.) When Dinesh Vazirani and his wife Minal grad-uated from the Ivy League institutions of Harvard Business School and Insead in Paris in 1994, the entire professional world was open to them. The young couple however chose to follow their passion: Indian art. This gave birth to Saffron Art in April 2000-among the first-of-its-kind online sites for Indian art. Learning from the dotcom bubble burst, the duo quickly brought in an offline element to their business model, which turned out to be hugely successful: from a turnover of $400,000 at the end of 2001, the company's turnover went up to $1.7 million in March 2002. "Any business today needs to have an online and offline auctions," says Dinesh. Their objective of targeting an international clientele has paid off. Now, Saffron Art returns to the Big Apple with an exhibition and sale of 139 paintings from September 28 to October 1-the largest single sale of its kind in the US. The event will showcase works by 12 leading modernists, including some members of the progressive artists group such as F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain. Partnering Saffron Art in this venture is Pundole Art Gallery, which specialises in modern and contemporary Indian art. Founded in 1963, the gallery has maintained an exclusive stable of artists that include Hussain, Sakti Burman and Akbar Padamsee. The exhibition will be curated by Dadiba Pundole who owns and operates the gallery. The show can simultaneously be viewed online and purchases made at the company's website.
Akbar Padamsee
Mirror Image (Diptych)
Oil on Canvas, 1996
39 X 109 in. (99 X 276 cm.)
Sakti Burman
Oil on Canvas, 2002
46 X 35 in. (116 X 89 cm.) The business model followed by Saffron Art combines clicks and bricks-an offline element to go with the online. The annual worldwide exhibitions have also become a window of fiscal opportunity, besides stoking international awareness about Indian contemporary art. The collections at the online auctions have begun to move up and the company is now poised to achieve its objective of effecting two auctions a year. The paintings fetched $140,000 in December 2000 and $500,000 in May this year, with another auction slated for December. At the same time, they have progressively sold more paintings at the exhibitions. This year they have put up for sale art worth $1.5 million compared to $1 million last year. "We wanted to fuse technology and art, and to create a platform that can be accessed internationally. In 2000, the medium on offer was the Internet. When we realised that art needs a physical side to it, we started doing art shows the world over," says Mrinal. The Saffron Art experiment has also drawn a different demography of art buyers. According to Mrinal, a large chunk of the buyers are professionals and non-resident Indians in the age group of 28-45 years-a departure from the earlier disposition that it was largely the traditional Indian business houses that had supported art sales. Driven by the desire to make a market for Indian art, Saffron Art has commissioned a study (to be released in December) along with the Netherlands-based Rabo Bank focusing on Indian art as an investment opportunity. According to the Vaziranis, the study will focus on 15 to 20 artists and track their prices and contrast them with the movement of other comparative investments like international equity investments. In light of the dotcom collapse, the Saffron Art experiment could well prove to be the exception to the rule.  

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