Sunday, December 20, 2009

Confessions of a Collector !

Let me start with a true story on the importance of collectors in the Indian contemporary space. I was invited by my very good friend Swapan Seth, who is maybe the most prolific collector of contemporary art in this country today to view a panel discussion that he was part of. This discussion was on Video Art at Gallery Espace, a gallery I think has done a wonderful job with a lot of art initiatives including the one on promoting video art and even the recent exhibition. Swapan was part of a panel and the discussion started at 6 PM in the evening, there were some of the poster boys & girls of Indian Contemporary Art curators and critics on the panel with him.

I got up at 7.30 PM finally because I realised that most of the people on the panel just loved their own voice and was bored to death ( except 1 speaker who was really good). Swapan finally got a chance 15 minutes later after hearing others for a good 1 hour 45 minutes !, now this is a collector who is keeping Video art alive and one of the most appreciative collectors for young artists. I asked some people who stayed back and they loved the last part only !

This is a clear example of how the art world needs to change with the focus on collectors.Galleries and curators who will not adapt will just stand on the wayside as people move on. I will tell you what I love about Peter Nagy, Arvind Vijaymohan and Bhavna Kakar in New Delhi, they are interesting people with a view, they all are involved in the sales process but are not boring or full of themselves.

Let me also share a view that I hear about buying and selling of artworks. Meet any top artist represented by a top art gallery in India, now they only sell to serious collectors and please do not put the works in auction, my retort is why not ?

Answer :Well, because old collectors loved their art and never sold the works, they were genuine lovers of art.

Question : Really, how much did they pay for the works at that time ? 1 Lac for a Hussain ? ! Talk about paying 25 lacs for the work of a top contemporary artist and you will get the answer.

If a collector is taking financial risk because he loves your work, then he has the right to buy and sell, when Charles Saatchi says that, very few people have a problem but otherwise I hear this all the time. Now, I am not talking about flipping a work, I am against that or even being in the art world to just flip will get you nowhere but look at the costs of collecting today. What is the harm in consigning works to an auction to raise further funds so you can collect more ?

These are uncomfortable questions, ethics are sometimes meant for collectors only, in 2 specific cases this year and I am talking about galleries which are in the top 5 galleries in this country, the prices were revised downwards by 40 % in 24 hours of the show opening ! So much so for the love and appreciation of art.

So what did I buy this year ? Only what I absolutely loved ! ( Rule No.1 ) and also at the right value ( Rule No.2 ).
  • A Lovely 10 ft by 6 ft Seher Shah shown at Armory Show in New York and then being shown at the current solo in Nature Morte

  • A triptych by Prajwal Choudhary, the image is posted in the earlier posts on this blog at http://www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com/ from Bhavna Kakar & Aparajita Jain's lovely show at the peak of the recession, great work at a fantastic value

  • A Sajjad Ahmed photography work from the same show, the value that he asked was ridiculous to say the least, till the gallery got him to understand some basics of pricing!
  • An absolute beauty of an installation by a young artist called Sidhartha Karawal called "My Generation is Silent" again featured on this blog from Project 88

  • Sarnath Banerjee's satirical graphic works, a set of 4 works on property dealers, really fantastic from Project 88

  • TV Santhosh's "Game Theory", absolutely brilliant work on canvas ( I think his canvas works are to die for !) from Guild Art Gallery
  • Shreyas Karle, a collection of 15 paperworks which I am yet to recieve ! from Guild Art Gallery

What did I sell ?

  • Arunkumar H G, the Nandi bull, lovely work but had to sell it to raise money.

Which Artists will I sell or not buy this year ?

I think I will avoid all middle rung contemporary artists this year, so if you have the money, please go ahead and buy

  • Thukral & Tagra
  • TV Santhosh ( Only Canvas)
  • Jitish Kallat ( Only Canvas)
  • N S Harsha
  • Mithu Sen ( Large substantial works only)
  • Seher Shah ( Large works only)
  • Jagannath Panda ( Large works, price needs to be right)

I think both Bharti Kher & Subodh Gupta are in a different league due to their association with Hauser & Wirth but collectors have lost money and hence considering my limited funds and risk aversion, I would stay away for now. Although, I would buy a great Subodh installation any day but considering the prices would need to be really lucky on the value front.

Now, for everyone else who is over the 2 lacs mark just research more and below the 2 lac mark, if you love the work just buy it. Simple rules for collecting art. Over 2 lacs, needs to be justified, I loved Aditya Pande & George Martin at 2-4 lacs and would have happily sold them at 8-10 lacs without batting an eyelid. The Value perspective needs to kick in especially in the environment today, otherwise you are being taken for a ride. Now collectors I know were buying them at 10 lacs, which according to was just pure speculation because there was no way that they could command such prices logically. Would I buy both of them at more reasonable valuations, absolutely yes!

So what about all the wonderful artists over 2 lacs, well just watch if they are going anywhere, if you love the work , then please keep it otherwise just consign to an auction, no harm with that. I have 3 artists I have mentioned on this blog earlier who have now moved to my sell list for this year as I believe they are doing nothing exciting and have reached a value threshold. So I need to sell to sustain my collecting frenzy!

I would rather buy a Sajjad Ahmed, Prajwal Choudhary & Sidhartha Karwal for under 2 lacs or less and enjoy my art, as all of them have the potential to make it big.

As for the 20 artists, who are sitting at 8-10 lacs price levels, ask them for the justification on their pricing and do your research, most of them would be in my avoid category.

Some very good art shows opened in Delhi in November & December, but most of them have been commercial disasters with illogical pricing and negligible sales. Pretty much like the Christie's auction which failed miserably as the estimates were too high, Saffronart scored with the right pricing and had better results with in line estimates.

Thank you for your support, encouragement and affection for making this the most widely read and searched blog on Indian contemporary art ( I am not saying this, Google is saying this !, over 1.2 lac search results for this blog!)

I will just try to be as frank and honest as I can be........

Merry Christmas and have a great New Year ! Happy Collecting !

Cheers

Kapil


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Terror on Canvas

The recent article on T V Santhosh that I wrote in "Graphiti", the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph newspaper reaching over a million readers...........
This week I’ve chosen to zoom in and look at one artist in the Contemporary art space — T.V. Santhosh. He’s interesting for a number of reasons but I’d have to say one of the key ones is that he’s one of the few artists to have focused on the ever-challenging relationship between India and Pakistan.


Santhosh, who has shown at many of the important global art fairs like Art Basel in Switzerland and Armory in New York among others, started focusing on imagery and the aftermath of terrorism much before any other artist in this country began using it as a visual language. He’s really been way out in front on this difficult subject.


Santhosh, who picked up his Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Santiniketan and followed it up with a Master’s in sculpture — again from Baroda’s Faculty of Fine Arts, has also got an extremely distinctive style. He paints in vibrant hues — electric green, neon yellow and shocking orange. In fact, his bold use of colour and technique is so individual that once you see one of his works, you’ll instantly recognise them in any other show.





(From top) A watercolour by the artist; An untitled work by Santhosh; Game theory by Santhosh


The danger sometimes with artists focusing on such volatile topics like terrorism is that too much negativity can creep in. Also viewers can really get tired of looking at such imagery. But these precisely are areas where this Mumbai-based artist who’s from Kerala originally is able to score. There’s no tedium. His work looks visually arresting on the wall, helped by the subtlety of expression in his works so each one stands out. His images depict chaos and paranoia relating to media coverage of contemporary events and his exploration demonstrates a reality on the verge of explosion.


Another interesting aspect about Santhosh — and it’s something I profoundly wish other top Contemporary artists would emulate — is that he’s not overly prolific. So in a year, you can expect him to produce a maximum of eight to 10 canvas works. And because he’s not churning out innumerable works, this establishes room for more demand for his works by both a good Indian collector base and the international collector fraternity.


His sculptures and installations are also quite haunting and unique but I’d have to say in terms of international recognition, they don’t even come close to his fluorescent canvas works with their deeply saturated colours and fluid edges.


On the market front, his prices have displayed an enviable sticking power — a resilience which is quite unusual in the light of the downturn in most art values. In fact, Santhosh is the only Contemporary artist whose work in the period from September 2008 to now has not gone below his primary value — in his case Rs 25 lakh for a 6ft X 4ft work.


The lowest price one of his canvases recorded in the recession was around Rs 27 lakh in the Saffronart auction last December. After that no recent canvas works have featured in any auction. This clearly demonstrated that collectors were not willing to consign any good quality works to auctions and were happy holding the work. What got offered in most of the sales were his earlier works that did not compare to the visual language he’s been using in the last three years. But what’s remarkable is that even these older works sold well above their primary prices (the gallery price).


For collectors, the good thing that his gallery, Guild Art Gallery, has done is to keep his primary prices quite attractive — for a change the primary prices are much lower than auction values.


His latest solo show in New York opened on October 14 at the well known Jack Shainman Gallery and initial reports suggested that four out of the five canvas works were already sold a week before the exhibition opened for public viewing. The primary prices were revised upward to Rs 40 lakh, which is steep but in his case, demand for his works have always outstripped supply even in recessionary times. These financial details are important because these values are high and it’s important that due diligence is exercised even if you might fall in love with one of his works.


Now, coming to a question that I have been asked quite often: how about his watercolour works that are available for a fairly affordable Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh? Well, I was never a fan of his watercolour works but I must admit that the quality of his watercolour works has gone up tremendously in the last year or so. Generally my answer would be a rule that’s critical to buying art: “Buy what you like and buy the best, look for works which are significant” and those without a doubt are his unforgettable canvas works. But as this could be a bit of a stretch, I would be tempted to collect one of his watercolour works like the one shown here (in picture) just for the brilliance of expression.




Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Photo Finish - Article Published in The Telegraph

The latest article published in The Telegraph newspaper Sunday magazine " Graphiti" on contemporary photography for all readers of this blog. Be glued onto the upcoming Saffronart auction for market trends on the 9th and 10th of December and before that Christie's Asian Art sale on the 30th of November........
A leading Indian photographer was once asked why people should pay high prices for photographic works considering that anyone could click a pretty picture. His matter-of-fact retort was: “Everyone can paint so why pay for a good painting.”

But the thought behind the question illustrates one reason why photography is not top-of-mind even for veteran collectors.

Internationally you have photographers like Richard Prince whose photographs can cost between Rs 2.5 crore and Rs 3 crore. Closer home there’s Rashid Rana with his iconic Veil series which is a collection of hundreds of pornographic images that form a veil. Also, his Red Carpet series is a collection again of hundreds of images of an abattoir that make a red carpet. Some of his works can sometimes cost almost Rs 2 crore a piece.

An untitled work by Richard Prince

Still, with a few exceptions, most people are still uncomfortable about collecting photography. Perhaps it’s time to change our pre-conceived ideas and open our minds to the wonderful world of top-class photography.

It’s important to divide the world of photography into two distinct parts. There is, on one hand, documentary photography which captures images of scenic landscapes, city life, everyday life and situations. Then, there’s message-based photography in which a photograph conveys a message or is a satire on our times, thinking or attitudes.

Artist Shilpa Gupta is perhaps the best example in the message-based category. She had people carrying bags wrapped in white canvas with the words “There is no explosive here” printed on them. She then photographed these people in different situations like at a metro station or getting out of a car in London. This was a clear satire on how everyone after the London metro blasts carrying a bag was treated with suspicion.

No one has captured the Indian scenario — whether it’s the Taj Mahal or just a beautiful landscape — better than the acclaimed photographer Raghu Rai. One of his medium-sized prints could cost you close to Rs 3 lakh, but the effect is magical. Then, there’s Dayanita Singh, who captures the moment and brings us the beauty of everyday life and also the magical Prabuddha Dasgupta. If you wish to see any of these works, just do a search in Google Images.

Raghu Rai's Dust

Ajay Rajgarhia runs a contemporary photography gallery Wonderwall and he recently held an exhibition of 31 photographers. I figured that the sheer number of photographers on display was a good reason to go — after all you don’t often get the opportunity to see the works of 31 lensmen under one roof.

Men at Work by Ajay Rajgarhia

I was surprised pleasantly by the quality of the works and felt that this was one of the better shows I had been to this year. The photographs that captured everything from landscapes to a dump for old scooters were all engaging, and I immediately felt the urge to collect that I only get when I see quality.

The other thing which was commendable was that most of the works were priced between Rs 12,000 to Rs 40,000 and framed and ready to be hung in your home. This is the kind of initiative that’s needed to make people take up collecting photography seriously. The other thing which appealed to me was that there was something for all tastes and all spaces.

My two favourite works from the show were a nice large work by Rajgarhia, who is himself a photographer, and has opened Wonderwall to promote contemporary photography. The picture titled Men at Work showed a group of men working at a site. I loved the scale and the size of the work (24in x 75in).

The other work I liked was a 22in x 34in photograph titled Old Scooters —Jodhpur, by Ramona Singh who went on a trip to Jaisalmer but, for some reason, couldn’t find anything to shoot. Then, she travelled to Jodhpur and while walking through the city’s back lanes came across a scooter dump. I just loved the treatment and the visual appeal of this work.

Old Scooters — Jodhpur by Ramona Singh

So you if you want to see the holy men of Varanasi or get a new angle on the Jama Masjid, do take a look at the photographs available. It will be there for your viewing pleasure and it won’t burn too big a hole in your pocket. What’s more, as prices are quite low at the moment, it will definitely appreciate in value — but that’s just a bonus with a thing of beauty.


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Asian Hues

Well, My experience at ARTSingapore and views on the art market in Asia shared for the benefit of the readers of this blog. This article was published in "Graphiti" the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph Newspaper with a readership of close to a million readers. Your views as always are most welcome !
Hot on the heels of the Indian Art Summit has come ARTSingapore in the island city. ARTSingapore is a Contemporary art fair, which has been around since 2000. It’s a genuine art initiative for true art fans unlike some fairs which have started up in the past few years that aim merely to exploit rising values of Contemporary art.

Chen Shen Po, director of this fair and a real art lover, brought together quite a spectacular display of works. What really caught my eye was the selection of Korean Contemporary art. The Korean art space has evolved in a very sophisticated manner and some of the artists are brilliant.

Dream of Maewha by Korea’s Hong Kyung Tack; (below) Korean artist Yoon Byung Rock’s Autumn’s Fragrance

Normally, given the importance of China, it’s tough for artists from other Asian countries to generate a lot of interest. But the Korean artists grabbed a great deal of deserved attention. I loved the work of Hong Kyung Tack shown by Seoul-based CAIS Gallery that falls into the new genre of eye-catching patterned art with bright motifs.

Kim Dong Yoo, represented by Leehwaik Gallery, also had a spectacular display with a large 8ft x 6ft work with small miniature images of legendary Hollywood beauty Audrey Hepburn coming together to form a large image of Hepburn again. The different shades and subtle strokes were a delight to behold. Kim’s works of this size generally fetch around Rs 75 lakh at big auctions as he’s a popular, established artist.

Audrey Hepburn vs Audrey Hepburn by Korean artist Kim Dong Yoo

Also what was particularly rivetting was a work by Yoon Byung Rock, represented by Simyo Gallery from Seoul, in which I felt the apples were literally about to fall off the canvas.

I was also quite impressed with how Indonesian Contemporary art is shaping up. The works are good and the prices for large works were under Rs 2 lakh — a very reasonable sum given the quality.

At the booth of SIGIarts, an Indonesian gallery, I was also taken with a work by Ketut Moniarta and his innovative take on recycling. Indonesia is clearly bustling with ideas and a lot of new galleries are being set up which shows that their market is starting to take off.

Netto by Ketut Moniarta of Indonesia

I must make a point about sculpture and installations I saw at the fair. The finishing and quality were excellent. (Note to Contemporary Indian artists — especially the younger ones: this is something you need to work on).

There were also a slew of informative talks with Low Sze Wee, deputy director of the National Art Gallery. He chaired a panel on Singapore’s top artist, Cheong Soo Pieng, and his works focusing on the Malay lady and his blending of East and West that’s made him a pioneering artist of his generation. There was a talk on photography where internationally acclaimed Chris Yap chaired a discussion on how the artistic frontiers of photography keep being pushed out.

There was also a presentation on Indian Contemporary Art, The Road Ahead that I presented and the discussion revolved around India’s top Contemporary artists like Subodh Gupta, N.S. Harsha and the average 74 per cent slide in prices in the Indian Contemporary art market from last year.

I also attended a thought-provoking group conversation with Bali-based Swiss artist Richard Winkler based on his unique distinctive depiction of Balinese women on large canvas formats that was a fair highlight. He had 10 large works, all priced at Rs 50 lakh and I noted eight had already been sold on the penultimate day.

From an organisational standpoint, as a first-time fair visitor, what struck one was the way it all seamlessly came together. The advantage in Singapore is the infrastructure. The Suntec City convention is expertly designed and easy to get around which made a huge difference to the fair’s look and feel. Also, crowd management was excellent and the booths were generously spaced so people could get a long, expansive view of the art.

What, though, I must say was truly regrettable was that last year there were eight Indian galleries at the show and this year there were none. I realise some galleries feel a need to tighten belts in these straitened times. But it’s coming at the price of sacrificing the chance to attract new collectors and spread the reach of Indian Contemporary art. It’s a short-term approach.

The fair was packed and on Saturday afternoon, I saw works all over the fair sporting red dots. Some galleries had sold out completely — even the extra works they’d brought in a day before the fair ended were gone. The lack of Indian galleries really was a lost opportunity for Indian Contemporary art whose artists should have been showcased in the heart of Asia.



Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Splashed in Red - September Auction Analysis for Indian Contemporary Art

Here is the article published in "The Telegraph" posted here for the International readers of this blog....... Check out the auction analysis with help from Art Tactic and figure out if there is really a recovery ........
You could say that the ‘Indian art season’ has kicked off. In September, there were three major auctions — Saffronart, Sotheby’s and Christie’s — and the results are a pointer to which way the art world will be headed in coming months.

So what can we look forward to? The modern art market looks strong — but the same can’t be said for Contemporary art.

The star of the season so far is one of the old masters, Tyeb Mehta. Even in this market , he notched up Rs 6.4 crore for one of the Mahishasura canvases.

He wasn’t the only one to make a splash. A rare but good-sized 57in x 92in Jagdish Swaminadhan went for close to Rs 2.75 crore at the Christie’s auction. This really goes to show that — as always — there are buyers willing to pay a premium over market prices and even market conditions for good quality art.

At the Sotheby’s auction, I was impressed by the nice Rs 3 crore figure for a V.S. Gaitonde canvas. Now, Gaitonde was one of the least prolific artists of his times and very few works are available. This was a 65in x 40in work and it’s typical of the abstract work he was known for.

This untitled Manjit Bawa work fetched a stunning Rs 1.27 crore at the Saffronart auction


In the Saffronart auction nearer home, both Akbar Padamsee with a value of close to Rs 1.87 crore and a stunning Manjit Bawa at Rs 1.27 crore were standout performers.

Yes, the top lots did do well. And this has lent weight to those who argue that the Modern art market has recovered.

But let me give you an interesting set of statistics: There were a total of 161 lots of Modern art at these three auctions and out of these, 107 — or close to 70 per cent — sold at the lower end of the estimate or did not sell. So the recovery was mainly in exceptional works of Tyeb Mehta, MF Hussain, S. H. Raza, F. N. Souza and Gaitonde.

Tyeb Mehta notched up Rs 6.4 crore for this Mahishasura canvas

Meanwhile, the Contemporary art scene was disappointing to say the least — and the picture looks even bleaker if you compare it to the Contemporary art sales last September.


Both Modern and Contemporary art prices have fallen this year; As the second graph shows, 81 per cent of the contemporary lots are selling at the lower end of the estimate or failing to sell

Last year, at the three September auctions, Contemporary art worth Rs 58 crore was sold. This year that figure fell to a pitiful Rs 4.5 crores — at all three auctions combined. That includes a very surprising performance of close to Rs 1.8 crore for a lovely Jitish Kallat work, Dawn Chorus — 7. Kallat has, over the last one year, failed to sell at a number of auctions, so this new sale record was a pleasant surprise.

With this exception, I didn’t see one result in the entire Contemporary space that merited. In fact, the sad truth is none of the three auctions had much quality work. The reason: collectors aren’t dispatching their best works to auctions because they fear the works will fetch less than their purchase price.

Looking through the sales figures drills home the fact how even seasoned collectors get carried away during good times when there’s too much money chasing art which isn’t always the best quality.

During the boom Atul Dodiya held a famous water colour show with some 40 of his works on display at Bodhi Art gallery in Mumbai. Each work was on sale, at the time, for about Rs 20 lakh — there weren’t many buyers at that price even then. But two of the same works came up for sale at Sotheby’s. They sold finally for about Rs 6 lakh.

The same phenomenon has struck many other collectors who have lost close to 70 per cent of their buying price. Art should be bought because you like the work and you relate to the work and it strikes an instant chord. Art bought for investment will never yield the right returns. Also, the price point is the key and you can burn a deep hole in your pocket if you get carried away and don’t do your research.

Similarly, a Surendran Nair canvas failed to sell in the second consecutive Saffronart auction despite decent estimates, showing there is no genuine collector demand for his canvas works at the current price points.

The ArtTactic Indian Auction Indicator for the Contemporary market is standing at 19. This implies 81 per cent of the contemporary lots are selling at the lower end of the estimate or failing to sell, indicating estimates could fall further before market equilibrium is attained.

Going ahead, I’d like to see the auction houses come up with better works. Let’s see some good significant works by artists like T.V. Santhosh, N.S. Harsha and Bharti Kher in the coming auctions. Let’s see some of the young artists who are doing cutting-edge work and being shown at some of the world’s important art fairs. I believe the next few months will be a great time to be buying exceptional art by some of the top Contemporary artists.

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Views on the Art Market in Bloomberg TV Interview at ART Singapore

Dear Friends,

Here is a link of my interview with Bloomberg TV at Art Singapore and views on the art market. I will also be putting my presentation ' Indian Contemporary Art - The Road Ahead" which was presented at Art Singapore for download in my next post as promised in my talk. I thank all those took out the time to attend the presentation at Art Singapore. Also, a note of thanks to Shen Po, the Director of ARTSingapore who gave me an opportunity to share my views and invited me for the talk to her lovely fair!

More on that with the presentation and exclusive images for the readers of this blog in my next post!

Cheers
Kapil Chopra

video

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Conversation With Art Collector Kapil Chopra by Invitation at ARTSingapore



In April 2009, the Art Tactic Confidence Indicator fell by 63 % from October 2008. Valuations in the contemporary space have dropped by close to 60 % from last year and are now near the bottom. Meet avid art collector Kapil Chopra, who will share with you some insights of his strategies and join him in this exciting presentation that will take you through the roller coaster ride of Indian Contemporary Art and also highlight the current and future stars of the Indian art world.
Known for his frank, unbiased and critical take on artists and valuations of artworks in his blog, http://www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com/, Kapil Chopra is a passionate art collector of Indian contemporary art. He also writes for publications such as "The Telegraph ", "Mail Today" both newspapers and “First City” magazine in New Delhi. As Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, he runs one of India's most spectacular hotels, Trident. Gurgaon, New Delhi National Region and is also opening Asia's most luxurious hotel, The Oberoi,Gurgaon, which will further set new benchmarks in hospitality.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Broader Canvas - India Art Summit - Reflections

Dear Friends,

Here is the latest article published in "Telegraph" newspaper for your reading pleasure!

The India Art Summit 2009 is over but memories of the event that drew some 40,000 visitors will linger for a long time to come. For a start, it must be said that this has been the first really successful art fair in India. There were over 55 galleries taking part including 18 international ones, which is a record. On show were works by the legendary Pablo Picasso and our own Mumbai-born Anish Kapoor, the sculptor well known for his large public works.

Top class international galleries like London’s Lisson and Arario from Beijing were also in attendance at the summit, which was spread over three sprawling halls at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan.

Visitors at the India Art Summit 2009

The art on display was in some cases exceptional, especially the Moderns. Both Delhi Art Gallery & Dhoomimal gallery exhibited very good collections of S.H. Raza and F.N. Souza. They had good quality works from all the important time periods on display.

By contrast, the Contemporary part of the Summit was a bit lacklustre. The major galleries in the Contemporary space did not put on show their ‘A’ list of artists. Instead they featured a lot of emerging artists and in some cases trotted out for the summit their second and third lists of artists who had not sold in recent shows.

Subodh Gupta’s Alibaba (2009, oil on canvas, 6.5ft x 12ft) at Trident,Gurgaon show

Nevertheless, the art summit was a laudable initiative even if some of the galleries insisted on thinking short-term, trying to flog art which was not the best they had to offer. This attitude will need to change in the future if the India Art Summit is to move up from here and be considered a truly serious international-level art fair.

Still I was impressed with the roster of opening and collateral events from Anant Art Gallery, Talwar Art Gallery, Gallery Seven Art and also a fantastic opening show at the Devi Foundation in Gurgaon. These events kept the fair busy and exciting.

Interestingly though, I was even more impressed with the international galleries. Arario, the powerful Beijing gallery, actually showed a big installation by L. N. Tallur, the promising Korea-based Indian artist and a large Jitish Kallat canvas. I also took to the fact that international galleries had really a very eclectic range of art to show. They seemed to be quite serious about their display and were looking at the lucrative potential of acquiring a new Indian collector base.

Turning to the speaker forum, the organisers had put together a very good mix of top artists, galleries, curators and collectors. Frank opinions were aired and there were some heated debates on the commercial aspects of art. Amrita Jhaveri, who runs an art advisory spoke about all the stakeholders in the circle of collecting art and the conflicts of interest that they sometimes have. Nitin Bhayana, one of India’s top collectors, shared his insights on how to build a great collection.


Bharti Kher’s The left-over DNA of a little mouse that the cat ate (2009, bindis on painted board, 72in x 96in) at Trident, Gurgaon show

Peter Nagy of Gallery Nature Morte was clear on his views from a gallery perspective and stressed he always was particular about the collector who was buying the work in order to promote genuine collectors and discourage speculators. Finally Anders Petterson from ArtTactic, the research think-tank, said stated categorically that, in his view, we are close to the bottom in both the Modern and Contemporary art space price-wise, according to his surveys in the Western world and even in the Indian space. He feels, however, that real recovery is still 12 months away for the Contemporary art space.

From the quality of Contemporary art presented, Nagy from Nature Morte saved the best for the last, with his show, Realisation of all Possibilities, at the Trident Gurgaon, which hosted the VIP Closing party (I must state an interest here as I was the show’s host).

The roster of artists were the best in the Indian Contemporary art space and the scale of the works was exceptional and not seen often with a 12ft x 6.5ft canvas by Subodh Gupta, a 8ft x 6ft canvas by Bharti Kher and a 6ft x 5ft work by Bharat Sikka.

Also there was a 12ft x 8ft canvas by Bari Kumar and a towering 14ft Transformer sculpture by Thukral & Tagra, and a 10ft x 5ft work by New York-based Seher Shah, which was also shown at The Armory Art Fair in New York. The scale and size of works from such important Contemporary artists in one show has not been seen in at least a year.

In the wake of the huge crowds that turned up for the summit, many commentators suggested that it showed the art market was on the road to recovery. I wouldn’t put big bets on that yet, but good quality art will always have buyers. So until you get that exceptional piece of art, hold your purse and don’t get carried away!

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Friday, September 11, 2009

India Art Summit VIP Closing Party at Trident Gurgaon!

Dear Friends,

Here are some images of the party that we at Trident,Gurgaon hosted with some spectacular art in the background. Just click on the images to have a look ! Great art, Lovely Louis Jadot wines and exquisite cuisine all for a great summit and a fitting finale!


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Painted with Passion !

Here we go, with the article published in "Graphiti" the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph news paper, published for the international readers of this blog. The Magazine has a print run of 0.5 million and a readership of close to 1 million. An update on the India Art Summit follows soon .......

Let me talk about some art initiatives and how some people in our country are trying their best to promote Contemporary art which will make the genre all the more sought after in years to come. A lot of private individuals are doing their bit by taking private initiatives to further the cause of Contemporary art.

Anupam Poddar took a fantastic initiative with the Devi Art Foundation by opening his collection with curated shows in the heart of Gurgaon to all. He has had students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) come and curate a show which involved the community in the art world.

On a much bigger scale, Rakhi Sarkar has an ambitious plan to create a 10-acre museum in Rajarhat called the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art. This is being designed by the acclaimed Swiss architectural duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. The project, backed by passion, will contribute to the larger cause of promoting art.

We have a history of arts and culture but if you go back before 2004, most of the earlier artists hardly had any money and what kept them going was just a love for art.

As passion, creativity and talent sometimes get blurred in a haze of commercialisation, it is refreshing to see some galleries encourage new talent just fresh out of college. Bhavna Kakar from Latitude 28 has done a show for the graduating class of Vadodara earlier in the year which featured interesting works from Shreyas Karle, Sandip Pisalkar, Bhavin Mistry and others.

Rajesh Ram’s ‘Pothi padhe padhe jag mua pandit hua no koi/ Dhai akshar prem ke padhe so pandit hoye’


I was also very impressed with what Sree Goswami is doing at her gallery Project 88 in Mumbai. In these recession-hit times, I see the galleries shying away from doing shows to keep costs low. But Goswami went ahead and did First Look 2009. It was a brave decision, without an eye on the bottom line.

She showed five artists from the graduating class of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Art college at a time when even well-known Contemporary artists are finding it tough to sell their works.

I was curious and went and had a look. I was extremely impressed with an eloquent work by Sidhartha Karwal that carried the inscription, “My generation is silent! A sign of our times as we live sometimes not saying anything till it affects our life and not speaking out for what is right”. A strong message conveyed using an installation and canvas.


My Generation is Silent by Sidhartha Karwal

This is very different art with a limited following. Art on canvas or paper still is the first choice for most collectors. This whole installation was sold for Rs 50,000 which just about covered the cost of the work.

We need many galleries like this with a genuine love and enthusiasm for art to keep shows going, downturn or no downturn. Also accolades only come with risk which may be one of the reasons that Project 88 will be the only gallery representing India at the prestigious Contemporary “Frieze Art Fair” in London.

One of the most notable initiatives without any financial gain in the art space has been Indian Art News. It started out as a simple website which delivered art news directly to your e-mail. The site sent out daily information on what’s happening in the art world — and that too on a daily basis without a subscription charge. Deepak Shahdadpuri, who is an avid collector, then took it to a larger scale by revamping the website and creating a social network indianartnews.com.

Today it has over 2,500 members exchanging views on a minute-by-minute basis, discussion forums and event updates.
If I ever want to know the latest auction results at Sotheby’s or any of the other auction houses and even information on what the atmosphere in the auction room was like, then just checking the discussion forum is the easiest and the most reliable way.

It’s a great service to the Indian art world and it helps to educate both collectors and upcoming artists. I have met so many artists on the forum and actually connected with them on buying their works and even discussed the logic behind their art.

Next week we will take a look at the recently concluded India Art Summit, where the action has been thick and fast.

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts. He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at http://www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com/. He also writes for "The Telegraph" newspaper Sunday magazine "Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi he has written for the "Mail Today" newspaper and "First City" Magazine.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Indian Contemporary Art - Market Perspective

Well, it has been a quiet summer for the Indian art market and the market conditions have not helped much. Whenever I meet gallery owners, the only thing everyone is really praying for is recovery of the contemporary art market. Now, the approach to a recovery is not sincere enough and there have hardly been any initiatives that I have seen which will aid this process.


Now, we had a big show in Arco Madrid where a lot of Indian galleries did participate but after that lets look at the Indian representation in the top international fairs where the top collectors from all over the world to come and have a look and spot the next talent in line. In Art Basel, we only had Nature Morte & Bose Pacia, in Frieze ( in October in London) we only have Project 88 with Sarnath Banerjee, Chemould in FIAC in Paris and again Bose Pacia in Art Basel, Miami because it is in the US and they have a gallery in New York.




This is really poor representation and when I quizzed a leading gallerist as to why the participation in key fairs is so low, his response was that the shipping bills from last year were yet to be paid. Now it is natural to cut costs but in any business in the world, if marketing costs and the search for acquiring new collectors is cut by not participating or investing in a fair, then we could be looking at darker times ahead.How many new shows can you keep on doing and selling to the same collector base ?



Also, look at some of the prices that galleries are launching new shows at they are still removed from reality, in some cases a premium of over 20 -30 % of the last auction price, well this is like the stock market for a new issue, if you are not going to leave anything on the table for the collector and peg your price higher. The only way then is to do a show nearly every month, sell 2-3 works from each show and hold the rest in stock and then pray for the markets to recover and also the speculators to come back. I believe this short term vision is really hurting the market.




The other thing which is really funny is the number of art advisors that we have now, most of them lack any depth and knowledge and are happy signing you for an annual fees or taking a 10 % of whatever you buy and what they recommend, just google Indian art advisory and see the results. In such a shallow market, where in the primary space you have everything to choose from and data is available if you are ready to invest some time, build relationships with galleries and artists, get involved and enjoy the process of collecting, where does the art advisor fit in ?



I would visit galleries and shows, read a lot,sign up for a couple of good blogs, buy an Art Tactic report, speak to a couple of top galleries and before that see whether I really appreciate a work or not, instead of losing my 10 % to an art advisor in a buyers market where not only can I choose but even dictate the price to a certain extent. Now there are a couple of top notch art advisors who are good but again of all them can see the 5 best works in an auction and advise you to bid, then what is the point, better educate yourself and learn in the entire process.


Internationally access to a top gallery and a top artist was really tough in the last couple of years and an influential art advisor would open the gates for you.Here you can meet the top gallerist and drop him an email and you will have a response within 24 hours regarding your query.Yes, that may not be the same going ahead so why not build your relationship now. The thing about investment in our country is that at any moment there are more fly by the night operators than genuine sincere people, hence you hear of a financial fraud everyday. One of the art funds launched in India is already in trouble and the NAV ( Net Asset Value) figures of the most talked about and the largest are not trusted at all, how is that for a developing market !



This is not a gloom doom post but a reality check, there are people with immense levels of knowledge and depth, there are a couple of art advisors or maybe only one that I know who is sincere about what they bring on the table, look out for those beacon of lights if you must go to an art advisor to build a collection.



Then in all this, there is Saffronart,it is always difficult for an auction house to have a clean reputation but what Dinesh & Minal have achieved in the last few years is indeed commendable, now there are chinks in every armour but what they have done to introduce price transparency in the market is not an easy job. Prices change without logic in a day and that also at the top galleries, but here is a website where you can research 4 years of auction data, look at price comparisons and take informed decisions,I have not bought much from them, but when I did, it was a clean transaction and professionally handled.




So welcome to the world of Indian contemporary art, it is definitely interesting for sure, may not be very transparent with dealers and advisors not leaving an opportunity to make a fast buck,but what the heck,I still love collecting !


Cheers


Kapil

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts and writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian contemporary art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com and a fortnightly column in the Sunday Telegraph magazine "Graphiti" reaching over half a million readers.He has also written for "The Mail Today" in New Delhi and for "The First City" magazine.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Different Strokes !

It is really funny as to how similar things are, if you ever get the pleasure of meeting Mr. P.R.S. Oberoi, Chairman of The Oberoi Group of Hotels and ask him what is the one key thing for a person to be a good hotelier, his response is "passion". Now, even in the world of art, the best artists are the ones who are passionately committed to their art. The question could be "Are all artists not passionate about their art?" and the answer is "NO". In the earlier times, artists survived just on passion,they hardly had any money or commercial success so the work that you saw was produced with heart and soul in it and without the scores of studio assistants! I get to meet a lot of artists and honestly today people make works with more commercial focus on their minds than what their heart tells them to make. Galleries are also happy keeping the equation intact so that the sales don't suffer although creativity,individual brilliance and passion sometimes get lost in this haze of commercialisation.

I get a lot of mails on indianartreview@gmail.com and some calls on sometimes people getting upset about what I say about the artists they represent, my counter to that is that I never started this blog for winning a popularity contest for being the best art critic or the best blog on Indian contemporary art. I am not qualified to be an art critic but I have learnt quite a lot in my few years of being an art collector and I always say this that I maybe have the best access in this space to the best artists,top collectors and the best of the art galleries worldwide. That combined with my experience of being an art collector just gives me a really good perspective as to what is happening in our art space. As I am a rank outsider in the art world, I can afford to be frank and honest about my opinion which can be quite refreshing for some people, 629 emails on how people love this blog to be precise, that is reward enough for me. I am not a curator or a critic who has to be very nice to a gallery otherwise I will not get my next show from the gallery. I do this writing out of passion and have a busy day job running what many people, myself included(Biased opinion!) believe is one of the best hotels in the Asia-Pacific region, Trident,Gurgaon and writing this blog and doing all my art research is a night job!

This blog is for the collector and the aspiring collector, it is not for the speculator although there is nothing wrong in selling either in an auction or to a gallery, I am selling when I want and buying a work every month for the last 4 months. As a collector, you buy what you like as long as the value is right. It is actually very enjoyable to buy in a recession, galleries spend more time with you and are able to differentiate real collectors from the speculators.

So read on, about 2 artists I talked about recently in my last article in "The Telegraph", Mithu Sen is someone who reminds you of an era where art was only about passion and she scores the highest marks for being a very passionate and talented artist.

This is the 4th article that I wrote for the Sunday edition of "The Telegraph" newspaper in the Magazine section of "Graphiti". Reaching over 0.5 million readers, this is being posted on the blog for the reading pleasure of the international readers of the blog who do not get a copy of the Telegraph...........................

I’ve been reading a lot about the recently concluded Sothebys auction, which set a new record of about Rs 2.9 crore for a stunning work by Jogen Choudhary. Many writers have concluded that the Indian art scene is reviving.

Are we jumping the gun slightly? The auction figures were very good but I think it showed one thing above all — that good quality work will always sell, especially ones by the modern masters. That brings us back to a point which I’ve made earlier: always buy an artist’s best and most significant works. The Jogen Choudhary canvas was a 1979 masterpiece and one of his best works. Quality always pays sooner or later, boom or recession.

The contemporary art market for artists with works produced after the year 2000 is yet to recover though. This is a blessing in disguise as irrational exuberance is out and only good quality art will sell — and I reckon that prices will, in some cases, be 50 per cent lower than last year.

That then becomes a reasonable price to follow your passion and still end up making the right collecting and investment decisions. So let’s look at one artist who’s making waves internationally and another new artist who’s just waiting to be discovered.

Mithu Sen did her Masters at Santiniketan before she went to the Glasgow School of Art in UK on a Charles Wallace India Trust fellowship. Mithu is a multi-talented artist, a painter turned sculptor and installation artist who also does multi-media video photography as part of her works.

I’ve always been intrigued by her art — it’s as unique as it gets. These aren’t canvas-based works but she does thought provoking art which is sometimes controversial. She caused quite a stir in Korea and more recently in Japan with works which had a different take on sexuality in society.

Also, I wasn’t able to appreciate what she did for a long time because her best work is mostly outside India and out here I would just get to see pieces from her installation but not the whole body of work. Her art focuses a lot on the human body and bones and the skeleton. There’s also her series on Icarus.

I also admire Mithu because at the peak of the art boom in April 2007, she kicked off a project called the “Free Mithu” project. She invited select friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to send her a “letter with love” in exchange for a free artwork by her in a medium of their choice.

This was a brave move because at that time even her small works were valued at between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 2 lakh. It was courageous of a young artist to say that the commercial aspect did not matter, and that she would gift a work with a personal authentication that you could even sell. Most of these were small but nice works.

I’d suggest that you take a look at Bose Pacia’s website out of New York and Suzie Q out of Zurich to get a better idea of Mithu’s art. There aren’t too many artists who’ve done solos in New York and Zurich, shown at a couple of museum shows in Tokyo and Korea and are now preparing for another one in Vienna — and all this in 18 months.

She’s a potential superstar who’s passionate and committed. But you have to be in love with her art to get one of her important works. I feel it’s best to only look at works which are a minimum of 30in by 40in and cost between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh.

Her larger works at Bose Pacia, which are around 42in x 82in, sell for around Rs 8 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. A work from the same series went for Rs 40 lakh at last year’s Saffronart auction.

(Nothing lost in translation,an installation at The Musuem of Modern Art,Tokyo)

Yati Jaiswal is an artist, who’s still building his reputation. I was introduced to his work by the “KAVA 4”, an award given by Kochi’s Kashi Art Gallery. I’ve always looked carefully at the KAVA 4 winners because Kashi Art puts in huge amounts of research before giving out its awards. Yati Jaiswal was one of last year’s winners and I started checking him out the moment the winners were announced.

I discovered a young and talented artist. Yati is humble and passionate about his art and not very prolific. He sent me some images of his really lovely canvas works that appeal from an aesthetic and emotional perspective. The canvases are an eclectic mix of the ancient and modern with a focus on machines in a time warp.

Some pieces have a three-dimensional quality and the machines and characters seem to be coming out of the canvas. The values of between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh for significant works are also very reasonable for an award-winning artist of his potential.
(Into Hibernation and Self Preservation)


These two artists are at very different stages of their career —one has already made the jump into the international arena; the other has won an important award and may break into an entirely new orbit soon. Take your pick and enjoy your art!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Class acts

Here is the 3rd article in my series on Contemporary art that I am writing for " Graphiti" the Sunday magazine for The Telegraph newspaper every fortnight reaching over 0.5 million readers. This article was published last Sunday and is reproduced here for you on the blog in case you missed a copy!

As I’m focusing on the contemporary art space and more specifically on the artists who have produced a majority of their works following 2000, I’ll now detail some of the most interesting artists you should take a look at. I feel they’re the best in their class, all very unique in their own way.


Uniqueness is extremely important to an artist’s work. A lot of artists now copy styles or are significantly influenced by another artist. For instance, I was looking at a contemporary art auction catalogue from Philips de Pury for their London sale and some of the similarities between works by established international artists and some new upcoming Indian ones is quite striking.

In this article, we’re going to cover an artist who’s very good with canvas, an artist who specialises in prints on a very different medium like matchboxes and an installation artist who’s also a photographer. Each has exhibited at prominent shows internationally and their work is stunning in its own way. Now let’s get down to examining these three mediums and our exceptional artists.

T.V. Santosh: He’s an exceptional artist, very humble and down to earth. His canvas works come across with nice fluorescent hues and are stunning to look at. Santosh focused on terror, terrorism and also the religious divides that exist in the world today much before other artists even started looking at such themes and his canvases portray them really well.

Now it’s expensive to own a T.V. Santosh canvas. Even in this depressed market one of his large canvases will cost you around Rs 25 lakh. He shows in the US in October and had shown in March at Grosvenor Vadehra in London. His watercolours which are in the Rs 3 lakh range are more affordable and actually, I felt earlier the quality was not as good as it is today.

I have seen stunning watercolours now but I would still recommend that you go for a smaller canvas as those are a visual treat for the senses and our rule has always been to buy the best work or the most significant work.
Scars of an Ancient Error-I

Shilpa Gupta: Photography can be classified into two fields — one is documentary photography and there’s also what I call message-based photography. Documentary photography will cover the landscapes of Ladakh, an event or an image of the sunrise over the ocean or sunset in the mountains.


Shilpa Gupta does not do documentary photography. She does installations and she’s a video artist and her photographs are usually a part of her installations. Her message-based photography is maybe the best we have in this field. But, in fact, it’s her photographs which command high prices.

She conveys important messages through her art. Take a look at her visual which has a banner running through the sky that says there’s no border here, borders are on the ground between war-torn nations and others but you can’t divide the sky! This was originally used in her installation Here There is No Border.

She has done another interesting series called There is no explosive here in which she had people carry bags wrapped in white canvas saying that there were no explosives in the bags. This was a reference to the London Underground blasts after which everyone with a bag was viewed with suspicion.

If you go through her resume, you’ll find that there’s hardly any country or museum that she has not shown in. She’s an exceptional artist and can be quite prolific. Try and get the work shown here which is in an edition of 10. There is no explosive here with a red background on a metro station is the best work in the entire Explosive series. This is an edition of six.

In fact, when I had to buy her best work, I had to buy it a long way from home at the Gallery Volker Diehl in Berlin — now that’s a real international artist. Her editioned works are priced between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 4 lakh.
An untitled work by Shilpa Gupta

Prajjwal Choudhury: He’s a young emerging artist from Calcutta who studied in Baroda and he works with a very unique medium — matchboxes. Yes, your normal everyday matchboxes. He prints his own images and pastes them on the matchboxes so that they deliver a message.


He had a solo with the gallery Project 88 in Mumbai and is quite exceptional. He uses images of works by other artists and puts them on a matchbox. It’s a visual delight to watch his work and in this work, Who Will Be Next, he takes all the images that established artists have made internationally and takes a dig at them saying, it’s all the same stuff presented in a different form and that what you see today will again come in front of you just presented differently.


Prajjwal comments on this recycling of art and conveys a message that the art being shown today has already been shown earlier and will again be recycled to be shown again with some changes. His satirical approach to the recycling of art through his medium of handmade matchboxes joined tog-ether for a huge collage is unique and interesting.


Bhavna Kakar & Aparajita Jain from Latitude 28 Gallery and Seven Art in New Delhi showed him recently at a show in Delhi which got rave reviews. His work is available at between Rs 75,000 and Rs 2 lakh.

Everything has been done before but we like to go back and begin all over again

In our next article, I will discuss some more of our contemporary stars who are redefining our art landscape.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Art of Buying !

Well, we are really getting active on this blog, with frequent posts and thank you all for your deluge of emails, my apologies in some cases where my response has been delayed. If you have had the good fortune of reading the article on contemporary Indian art in the "Time" magazine, it clearly outlines the fact that values for contemporary art are down to 25 % of what they were a year back, we have been commenting on this all along that the contemporary market that we cover is still a long way from recovery. Sothebys on 16th June in London in their Indian art sale set a new record by Jogen Choudhary but unfortunately a lot of contemporary artists failed to sell.

As you are aware that I write an article every fortnight in the 'Graphiti' magazine which comes with the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, here is the article which appeared on the 14th of June for all the international readers of this blog.

One of the biggest issues faced by collectors involves the valuation of art which is a minefield. As we’re talking in this column about contemporary art we’re just focusing on artists who were selling commercially post 1995 — not about the F.N. Souzas or M.F. Husains. If you already own a significant work of modern art like a Ganesh Pyne or an S.H. Raza, count yourself lucky as values have soared, especially between 2005 and 2008.

But when everything’s on the rise, even insignificant contemporary works shoot up as people jump on the bandwagon. Studio assistants for some of the biggest names churn out more works, art dealers and galleries join in and whoosh go the prices. Also artists start eyeing their contemporaries and mark up prices. Then there’s a crash and values become more realistic but still many art figures refuse to accept the market realities. So how do you know now if you’re getting a good work of art for the right price? Here are some pointers:

First rule is buy what you like! This is one of the oldest rules in the book but it’s worth repeating. Don’t race to buy a work because someone has told you its price will double in two years. Aesthetic appreciation is the key factor. Investment comes a distant second.

That being said, realise your tastes will evolve. Also have people around you who can explain and guide you and try to approach pieces with an open mind. The first time I saw an Aditya Pande work, for instance, I didn’t like it because it wasn’t typical canvas art. But then as I looked at his work more I saw he used computer graphic lines to great effect, merging them with enamel paint and the finish of an inkjet on a paper to come up with distinctive and unusual pieces. The moral is: don’t be afraid to change your mind. The fact that Pande’s work is overpriced is a separate matter! But if you follow this rule, welcome to your journey as an art collector!
An untitled work by Aditya Pande

Study the artist’s biography in detail, which college they attended, which awards they’ve got, where they’ve had shows and which gallery is promoting them. I went to the India Habitat Centre for a Shiv Varma show last year. Why? He’s won the Kashi award and also the IHC-Art India award — two prizes I respect. I needed to see his works, although his forte is sculpture. I liked one canvas and bought it for Rs 2.5 lakh — a 6ft x 6ft work — and which from a value perspective suited me.

Also, I went through Shiv’s biography, met him, spoke to him and understood the philosophy behind his art. This all took less than an hour but such due diligence will help you as an art collector. And once you decide to buy purchase significant works. Try to buy the best work on show!

Pay attention to the promoting gallery. The top galleries will usually get the best artists and mentor them. Also they’ll be exhibited at the right spaces and shown at key international fairs — broadening the collector base. In the contemporary art space, it’s key for an artist to be represented by an influential gallery. India’s top artist Subodh Gupta is now represented by Hauser & Wirth, a powerful European gallery with an enviable set of collectors. They’ll ensure he gets placed in the right collections and the right museums internationally — all this adds value. So look for the key galleries. I’m always inclined to see those featured at Nature Morte and Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi, Sakshi and Chemould in Mumbai, Kashi in Cochin and Aakriti in Calcutta for the “Generation Next” series they have on display.

Get the pricing right for emerging talent. Let’s assume you walk into a show or a friend tells you to buy a particular art work. Do you take an instinctive decision or you look at some of the data before you buy? The problem is there’s no pricing logic to younger artists’ works. I attend shows of artists just out of college or having shown at an insignificant gallery and starting prices are Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh for a medium sized canvas (36in x 48in). That’s totally incorrect pricing according to me. I don’t understand the logic of that price. Where did it come from?

As far as I’m concerned, if the artist hasn’t been in an international auction and doesn’t have a pricing record history (even auctions can be rigged so sometimes you need at least a two-year price history), then the benchmark price can be calculated as Rs 3,000 to Rs 8,000 per sqft. Art purists may scoff but this rule of thumb will save a lot of new collectors from being conned into buying art not valued properly.

I’ve bought nearly all of the new contemporary artists whom I believe have a great future at this price point. Now, this isn’t a strict rule but it will pass the test most times. I bought an excellent 5ft by 5ft Vibha Galhotra canvas. She’s a very talented contemporary artist and last year was shown as the top emerging talent at the Shanghai Contemporary art fair. The cost was Rs 2 lakh or around Rs 8,000 per square foot for an artist who was showing internationally and also was one of the highlighted artists at a fair of significant importance. This was bound to move up and now it’s maybe close to Rs 4 lakh, so do try and identify artists with potential.


Introspection by Vibha Galhotra


I also place a premium on artists who try and keep in touch with their collectors. An example is New York-based Seher Shah, who always sends an update to her collectors when she is showing somewhere or giving a talk in a museum.


Projective-1 by Seher Shah

Also critical is looking at the number of artworks an artist produces. Younger artists and even the top contemporary league are quite prolific. The logic last year was to make hay while the sun shone. Today, the values of many artists have fallen to 20 per cent of where they were a year ago and this is among the really top league. They were talented but over-productive.

Atul Dodiya, excellent by any standard, showed 40 watercolours at the Bodhi show in Mumbai last year and had scores of prints in editions of 20 from a Singapore workshop too. The market doesn’t have enough collectors to absorb such large numbers and his market crashed. Buying at the right price is the key. The bottom line is: do your homework.

Kapil Chopra is a senior hospitality professional and writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian contemporary art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com and a fortnightly column in the Sunday Telegraph magazine "Graphiti" reaching over half a million readers.