As art went online due to the pandemic, artists and collectors suffered a blow limiting their experience. However, going online has turned out to be beneficial for auctioneers and authentic art houses.
Bengaluru: Auction houses and art antique stores stayed afloat amidst the pandemic by moving their businesses online. This allowed them to stay connected and engaged with their clients.
Traditional art, Tanjore paintings, miniatures, jewellery, antique daggers, books, prints, and photographs are but a sample of the many things auctioned at Bid & Hammer, an auction house in Bangalore. Although they are only at the beginning of 2021, their sales have started to pick up.
The auction house had started online auctions in the beginning of the pandemic. With the onset of a second wave of the virus, they don’t foresee conducting live auctions anytime soon.
“One has to adapt to the changes in the economic scenario and the circumstances that contribute to it. We would, however, love for things to go back to the pre-Covid days, as physical viewing and discussions are very important to collecting art,” said the media representative of Bid & Hammer.
However, for Imran Imtiaz, online auctions don’t tickle his fancy. An artist and art collector based in Assam, Imran has been collecting art pieces for four years. The pandemic has limited these transactions. “Art is rather personal,” he said, “Not attending fairs or being present at galleries at the moment is making it difficult for me to experience art.”
He believes that a deteriorating economy has also made it difficult for people like him to spend money on art. “Art isn’t a necessity,” he said, “It is also expensive, limiting access.”
Imran isn’t alone in his struggles. Harmeher Maini, an aspiring curator, feels that the pandemic has limited her work to mere research and archiving. “I need to be there in person, interacting with art, or at a gallery working and seeing paintings,” she said. “The Kochi-Muziris which got postponed due to the pandemic had a lot of international artists and galleries attending it.” She is disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to enjoy a festival celebrated among artists until next year.
Falcon Coins Bangalore, an antique coin house, shifted its operation online during the pandemic as well. Manav, the manager, said, “We do the transactions online through pictures. However, it is still very different.” It is hard to authenticate his customers’ coins through pictures. The online sales have increased, but walk-in customers were rare this year at the antique store. Manav sees hope in business being back as he said that people do come, just “slow and steady”.
Like him, artists also hope for things to go back to normal. “Art needs interaction,” said Rekha Rao, an internationally acclaimed artist. She said that since the pandemic, artists have been isolated. “Initially, we looked at the good side,” she said, “Beautiful nature that we had forgotten about because of our hectic lifestyle.”
However, she soon got tired as she said that art is not a story one tells but a “visual language” that requires all our senses. Going online is something she as an artist doesn’t look forward to. However, as it is the only option artists like her have for now as art galleries and bazaars remain isolated post the lock-down.
The Indian Art and Craft Bazaar at Chitrakala Parishath, a monthly affair, have lost its crowd since the start of the pandemic. The art galleries too stood empty. “Art market has been down, it will most probably take another eight to 10 months for it to pick up,” said Gangadhar, assistant faculty at Chitrakala Parishath.
Former art history faculty at Ashoka University, Sarada, said that the impact of the pandemic on art would come much later. From an educational standpoint, however, art has taken an “extreme blow”. She said that for aspiring artists, print-making and sculpting are skills that have suffered the most.
Education has also suffered from the limitations on the modes of teaching. “Flattening everything to 2D is very ridiculous – it completely defeats the purpose of art,” she said, “The digital divide has also limited art to particular social groups.”