That art follows economic growth is no longer a theory. Its authenticity is being played out in the global scenario, where China has pipped both the traditional leaders of the global art market — the United States and the United Kingdom — to emerge with the largest market share of 33 per cent in the fine arts segment.

Just five years ago, in 2006, the US commandeered a whopping 46 per cent of the share, the UK 27 per cent, other countries 21 per cent, and China came a pale fourth with a modest 5 per cent share.

In the art and antiques market too, China has emerged the second after the US, capturing 23 per cent of the pie with the UK at 22 per cent.

India has also not done too badly as an emerging nation in terms of growth. It has been able to double its growth in fine arts, though its share is still negligible. Our current miniscule presence at 0.8 per cent of the global market share makes for a sad commentary, though it could offer an ample opportunity going forward.

China's success has been so phenomenal that the art market confidence index by calls it "an electroshock in the history of the global art market" and estimates China's fine art revenue at $3 billion in 2010, leaving the US second with 30 per cent of the global revenue.

It also points out that China was able to achieve this “without artifices such as art gallery figures (a more opaque private market than the public auction market) or even furniture or traditional Chinese art objects (the prices of which are shooting up worldwide).”

How China made the leap

How and why China has been able to take such giant strides in such a short period of time holds crucial lessons for India, if it were attentive enough to listen. According to art experts, it is simply a matter of widening your canvas globally, exposing the world to your art, creating awareness and pushing the envelope to include more and more domestic as well as overseas collectors. The Chinese government has consciously engaged in such an exercise, aided as it was by economic growth in the region and a host of wealth creators turning collectors and art investors from its own region. So much so, that in September the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) organised two collectors' events in Beijing and Shanghai in a single month. Hong Kong and Beijing are also being referred to as major art auction hubs for the globe.

Mr Ajay Seth, Chief Mentor at Copal, a research and advisory service on Indian art, recalls his visits to scores of art galleries in western countries where art was once at its buoyant best.

He points out that each and every gallery tended to have a section on Chinese contemporary art, while Indian art was conspicuous by its absence. Sheer visibility of Chinese artworks and their tendency to receive increased media coverage during auctions and exhibitions enlarged its following among non-Chinese collectors.

Chinese collectors also joined the fray, augmented as it were by regional and personal prosperity, helping to shoot up growth in both volume and valuations.

Hope for India

If India too follows a similar prescription, Copal's Chief Mentor is optimistic that it couldgain a larger share of the market.

He argues that India, unlike China which offers mostly contemporary artists, has to its credit masters such as Maqbool Fida Husain, Syed Haider Raza, Jamini Roy, Francis Newton Souza, Jogen Chowdhury, Tyeb Mehta, Manjit Bawa along with a host of others, who unfortunately have not had sufficient exposure in the global market.

However, of late, they have been breaking their own records and creating new benchmark prices. Prices of Indian artworks have moved up two to ten times, while topline global artworks have remained stagnant. These prices, however, are nowhere near those commanded by international artists.

Hence its undervaluation is only but obvious. According to Copal's estimates, Western and Chinese artworks command an average of 47 times and 3.6 times premiums respectively over Indian art. Of course, this also serves as an opportunity for art collectors who could own it at a fraction of the price.

Though Copal is committed towards assisting prospective collectors of Indian art and spreading awareness about it, it is the government that can give the Indian art market its real shove forward by a conscious policy to promote it. Apart from awareness campaigns and wooing overseas collectors, encouraging the corporate world to invest in art through appropriate sops could be a way forward, says the art world.

The capital gains tax to be paid on works of art is also considered a liability as it reduces market share from among domestic collectors and investors, both of whom make up the large chunk of buyers of Indian art.

Another factor that could encourage investment in artworks is the resilience the art market has shown in the face of a fresh recessionary trend.

According to TEFAF estimates, the art market in 2010 has advanced in value by 51 per cent to €43 billion (around $58 billion) after a serious downward swing in 2008-09 when it fell 33 per cent to €28 billion (around $38 billion).This of course brings us a full circle back to the emerging markets, especially China, the biggest growth driver. For India too, the art market could continue on an upward trajectory, though a push on the policy front would give it the necessary fillip.