Saffronart: Future of Art

Online Auction Houses Are Taking Over  


Saudi Gazette

Established in 2000, Saffronart has now become India’s leading online auction house. Saffronart reportedly set the record for highest value for a single piece of artwork auctioned on the internet worth $2.2 million canvas in 2010, and one of the highest auction bids placed via a mobile app worth $1 million in 2011. The success of the company was explored in the subject of a Harvard Business School case study and prompted art giants to look further into the Asian market. Even with offices in New York and London, they focus on Indian art but have ventured into Western art with works from Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, and more in previous years. Saffronart recently conducted its 2017 online summer auctions and more than 70% of the contemporary lots were sold, they reported.

Some of the leading artists in history belong to India and Art Dubai is home to new and recognized Indian artists who have a huge following in the Middle East. This week Saudi Gazette caught up with Saffronart’s CEO, Hugo Weihe, also the former International Director of Asian Art at Christie’s.

SG: Tell us about Saffronart, its significance in the Middle East and the relevance of the Middle Eastern collectors for Saffronart?

Hugo: Saffronart was founded in 2000 as an online auction house. At the time, the art market in India was in its infancy. We wanted to bring transparency to the process of buying art, and provide accessibility and information to buyers around the world. We published prices of sold artworks, and provided high resolution images and condition reports to empower buyers to make an informed decision. Saffronart is now India’s leading auction house. We witness enthusiastic participation in our auctions from around the world, including the Middle East.

The Middle East has had a history of collecting and supporting Indian artists. Qatar welcomed M F Husain, a leading Indian modernist, to settle in the region. In 2007, the first Gulf Art Fair was held in Dubai, which hosted fifty of the world’s top art galleries, including several that represented Indian artists. Works by artists including M F Husain, Atul Dodiya, Ravinder Reddy and F N Souza, among others, have been showcased in Dubai. Notable Indian artists were also recently represented at Art Dubai earlier this year.

SG: Can you tell us about how you’ve seen the art market and its trade evolve in the past decade in India?

Hugo: The market for Indian art has grown steadily over the past decade. Blue-chip artists such as Husain, Souza, S H Raza, Vasudeo Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta see a lot of interest. Apart from staggering record prices being achieved at auction, more and more Indian artists are being represented at leading museums, art fairs and biennales around the world. Nasreen Mohamedi’s retrospective at the Met Museum, Bhupen Khakhar at the Tate, and Gaitonde at the Guggenheim all provide validation to the talent of these artists.

Saffronart is pushing boundaries by adding in new categories to its repertory. In August, we turn our attention to Asian Art. This auction includes works which are not only rare, with a unique story of collecting behind them, but are also significant as they illustrate Indian influence and the historic exchange of ideas and trade within Asia.

SG: We have reached a point in history where international art has become synonymous with global culture. How does globalisation of the art market affect how Saffronart functions in India or internationally?

Hugo: Art is a universal achievement that speaks to everybody. The market for Indian art has become increasingly international. At Saffronart, we look to be the primary purveyors of Indian art and culture, in India and beyond.