India's first online auction house, Saffronart, hit a major milestone this year: It held its 200th auction last month. The latest auction notched up impressive sales of $11.4 million (Rs 75 crore), which included a record Rs 26.4 crore (approximately $4 million) for modernist painter Tyeb Mehta’s iconic Untitled (Kali), 1989. Saffronart was set up by husband-wife duo Dinesh and Minal Vazirani 18 years ago and has since grown into the country’s leading auction house with a market share of around 27%, according to a report by KPMG and FICCI. Fortune India spoke to Dinesh Vazirani, co-founder and CEO of Saffronart, about the auction and the art market in India. Edited excerpts:
How was the response to the auction?
The Indian art market has come back in a strong way after it went through a downturn after the financial crisis . It has come back in a very different avatar where fewer speculators and more actual collectors are buying. Now it is fundamentally more grounded.
There is a level of convergence of all technology. Everything is converging on our mobile phones. After doing 200 auctions, to see that technology is such a fundamental part of success in this market was encouraging for me and Minal.
Who were the buyers in the auction?
The majority of the buyers would be in the (age) bracket of around 30-50. There were established buyers who were buying art for building private museums. But there were also many young buyers for the contemporary artwork... So, this time the market saw a variety of good collectors and different buyers across modern and contemporary art. That was very encouraging, especially since contemporary art was the hardest hit after the financial crisis.
Are online auctions the next big thing?
In the art market, India has grown up with online auctions. Saffronart was launched in 2000 and so Indians have been comfortable with online auctions.
How has the art market evolved?
The art market cannot grow without certain things. Like more interest in public and private entrepreneurship, auction houses, museums, galleries, biennales, etc. In the last decade what has happened is that they have become institutionalised. All the infrastructure which is needed to build a viable and commercial market is there right now. Also, people have gone through the experience of a downturn, so now they have come in educated and are aware of things. They do research, compare prices and then take decisions. It is a much more mature market with a lot more awareness.
What is your opinion of the Christie’s exit and the entry of Sotheby’s into India?
Christie’s exit from India was a purely global decision. With Sotheby’s coming in, it is great to have strong international players in the market. They have 200 years of experience. I am very positive of them coming as the market can grow only as a collective; a singular player cannot do it.
What are you doing next?
Our focus is going to be on technology and one key competency that we have built over the years is to innovate across categories, website, markets, etc. As long as we are innovating, there will be progress. You will see a focus on building a world-class and technology-oriented innovative organisation.