Sunday, March 29, 2009

Young, Emerging and Established Artists - A Perspective

Well, here is the post that I promised, been to Berlin and then to lovely Moscow in the last few days, finishing the week with two art shows that I attended this week. Berlin is a lovely city with a lot of history and with Nature Morte, Bodhi ( now closed) and Volker Diehl ( they are a fantastic gallery both in Berlin and Moscow) there is enough on Indian art happening there. In Moscow, Russian art has been going through the roof, I stayed at the lovely Ritz Carlton hotel facing the Kremlin and guess what they have a gallery below the lobby level, open only by invitation. The gallery houses European masters and some of the works are over a 100 years old and valuations could be upto 10 million USD.It is managed by a private art fund called Aurora and I met one of the partners who was really passionate about what they did.

Now, why this post ? the main reason is that like all other asset classes even Indian art like Russian art has gone through the roof. So when everything in a market moves, insignificant works by contemporary artists also go through the roof as no one wants to miss out, studio assistants for some of the real big names start churning out more works, art dealers and galleries join in and start marking up the prices. More than the galleries, artists start thinking that they are really worth much more. Then there is a market crash and values sometimes become realistic but most of the people especially the one who have just arrived on the scene and also some of the older ones who never really made it refuse to accept market realities. So here are some of the key pointers to buying Indian contemporary art from artists who have never been in an international auction or do not have a price record history....

  • Pricing record - Let us assume you walk into an art show at one of the galleries or a friend reaches out to you and tells you that you should really buy this art work, do you take an instinctive decision or you look at some of the data before you buy ? The problem is that there is no pricing logic in the works of younger artists, I went to a show recently and saw this nice work which was 8 feet by 8 feet and the artist expected 12 lacs for the work, no pricing history, huge work but who do you sell it to later ? That is the problem, according to me the artist should have priced it at 3-4 lacs but here his price was 300 % above that and all he has to his credit is one international art show with a gallery that does not matter.

  • Artist Biography- Do go through in great detail on the artist biography, which college, which awards,which shows and which gallery is promoting the artist ? I went to India Habitat Centre for a Shiv Varma show, why did I go ? He has won the Kashi award and also the IHC-Art India award, so two major awards, his forte is sculpture but I loved a huge canvas which was 6 ft by 6ft and I was told that the price is 2.5 lacs which may look reasonable considering the size but his forte has always been sculpture. I liked the work but the value threshold was being crossed and so I offered a price of 2 lacs, the logic being if an artist has just come on the scene and even won some awards, the price for a new contemporary artist according to me should be in the range of 3,000 to 6,000 per square feet depending on the artist biography. Art purists may scoff at my financial transaction approach but it helps people not getting fleeced when buying art. I see artists with no background charging 15,000 to 25,000 sq ft for a painting and like many people I know, you would have a nice work of art but no investment value. Also, the younger lot is really getting carried away, they are not looking at who is collecting them and are just interested in the financial transaction at ridiculous values.

  • Initiative - Every couple of months, I get an email from Thukral & Tagra and Seher Shah, as to what is their next show and where are they showing next whether in India or abroad, gallery, Art fairs or museums. This gives me comfort as an art collector and also assures me that maybe I have taken the right decision, I only buy when I like the work, this just re assures me more. It is also a lovely touch by the artists to keep in touch with people who are collecting their art, even in these tough times its quite tough to get a T&T canvas but they still continue with this information.The buying process does not get over with the sale closure but you become part of a collector circle. All artists like these will weather this downturn better than our other friends who have not bothered to update their existing collectors of what is happening next.

  • Number of Artworks - This is another critical point, younger artists and even the top contemporary league are quite prolific, the logic last year was to make hay while the sun shines, today, values have fallen to 20 % of what the values were a year back and this is the real top league, talented but over producing. Atul Dodiya, an excellent artist by any standard showed 40 watercolours at the Bodhi show in Mumbai last year and had scores of prints in edition of 20 from STPI in Singapore also. The market just does not have enough collectors to absorb such numbers and his market crashed. Everyone who had a Subodh Gupta canvas just started putting all the works in auctions and the price crashed from 5 crores to 80 lacs and there is still enough works in the market which has more to do with art dealers ( on a personal level, Subodh is the most talented and the most humble numero uno artist you will ever meet ). Thukral & Tagra and TV Santosh have been better in this regard as they did not produce that much and are slow in getting works out of the studio, so they are safe but if you got carried away in the boom and bought a TV Santosh at 80 lacs and T&T at 60-65 lacs then you have still lost 50 % but again buying at the right price is the key. Give me a good TV Santosh canvas on terror at 20-25 lacs and I am a buyer !

Well, these are some of the points you should look at, both exhibitions that I attended last week were overpriced and I don't think would have sold more than 2-3 out of the 20 odd works.That will be art you love but please don't spend your money on something that gives you joy but no appreciation because of illogical pricing !

Cheers and till my next post !

Kapil Chopra


Nivedita said...

Didn't know this blog ever existed :)) Nice article, honest. Guess this recession will set the record straight for all artists and buyers :))

Will be following your blog and come back for more posts.


Ps: Should you be interested...stop by my blog...follow,add,leave a comment...anything...would love to have a feedback.

anangsen said...

Hello there! First of all, my heartfelt congratulations to you for putting out such a well-articulated and relevant blog. This was a crying need, particularly the info on the realities of collecting and transacting in art. I am sure that there are still many areas in this where light must be shed and we look to you for more blogs on those.

Secondly, I would like to make a suggestion to you. Though you are dedicating your writings to the nitty-gritty of art transactions (very useful for newbies like me), and for giving info on the artists you feel are deserving, one area where I feel that there is a gaping lacuna is the area of candid reviews of a few major art exhibitions. This, admittedly, is not always a pleasant activity and I will completely understand if you do not want to associate your name with it, but should you pick up the gauntlet, you would be doing a great service to further correcting the market and bringing in some reality-based sanity. Though the downturn has corrected the hype a lot, many of us still are in the dark as to how to really find our way in the arcana of art elitism. A frank, well-rounded, and criteria-based review, along with inputs/interviews with the artists themselves will go a very long way in building a more responsible, knowledgeable, and mature art environment in India. One may wonder as to the validity of a personal opinion on the merits of a particular show, but it need not be just an opinion based review. Ideally, I would imagine that a good review would cover the reactions of others, a coverage of trends and materials and techniques, and most importantly a peek into the artist/s to allow us to go past the threshold of gallery hype and power-play, to view the works from less-intimidating and more personal points of views, and also provide us with a framework to start-off with.

I thank you once again for creating this wonderful blog.

I wish you all the best.

FINE ART said...

Dear Friend,

I will always wonder why the prima dons and donna of the Indian Art world still not blacklisted you.Buddy you are ripping the trade secret into shreds.

Your article reminds me of my folly when I bypassed Abir Karmakar and Kodana Rao thinking they are out priced when their works was being sold for few '000s.

But the truth is due to sky rocketing prices of few Masters the rest also started feeling they also deserve.

Thats ok.I will make it up.I have already identified couple of new talents.They are hot and totally focused.

Believe me all those artists I have placed my figure has shot beyond my reach today.

All that you have expressed is true to the T and in my case I do exactly what you have suggested.Due to this I have come across craps and the beauties.

Please come up with information.

I have bookmarked your blog and will be following it religiously.

Thomas Chacko said...

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