Sunday, May 31, 2009

Clouded Canvas !

Dear All,

Thank to your overwelming support over the last couple of months when I opened this blog for public viewing, I will now be writing a column on Collecting & Investing in Indian Contemporary Art in the "Graphiti" Sunday Magazine of The Telegraph newspaper. The Telegraph Sunday edition has a circulation of over 5 lac( 0.5 million) readers and hence our views on being careful and collecting the right artists will reach more people. I would also like to thank the Deputy Editor of The Telegraph newspaper Mr. Paran Balakrishnan for actually going through this blog and giving me this opportunity to share my learnings with more people. He has also taken the time and effort to edit and improve on what I am trying to convey. Thank you Paran, without your support and encouragement, my journalistic venture would not have ben possible !

Here is the article which appeared last Sunday on the 31st of May in "Graphiti" produced here for the international readers of this blog and also for those who missed it,the article was called "Clouded Canvas" ! My next article in Telegraph newspaper comes next sunday in "The Graphiti " magazine, which is the 14th of June.

Enjoy the article and as always, comments are more than welcome, we now average 50 new unique vistors to this blog everyday !

The Article starts from here.....................

The Indian art market is a bit gloomy now but there is a silver lining, says Kapil Chopra

Phantoms X1 by Thukral & Tagra

Indian contemporary art has experienced a roller-coaster ride over the last three years. The boom began towards the end of 2005 and values started getting more astronomical by the day, hitting their peak in 2008. Now, with a major correction going on in the art market overheated values are slowly coming down.

Artists who made it big overnight are being more realistic and the quality of work being turned out is improving. In the boom, quality came under pressure with often similar works being churned out.

In value terms, let’s look at some examples of how severe the correction has been in the prices of top contemporary artists. Subodh Gupta went for a record Rs 5.1 crore for a canvas in the Saffronart auction last year. This year the value for a canvas that was nearly the same size had plummeted to Rs 79 lakh.

The same phenomenon has been seen internationally with top contemporary artists like Damien Hirst failing to make any major sales after September 2008 — when the global financial crisis really started biting. The current Christie’s sale in New York had scarcely any Hirst works in fact!

During the boom some artists turned into overnight stars. It seemed that suddenly Indian artists had become the flavour of the decade. The rush to buy of course was fuelled by higher disposable income coupled with the greed of galleries and collectors. All this sent prices soaring.
In December, T.V. Santosh, who’s a visually appealing artist with his fluorescent hues, went for Rs 27 lakh for a 6ft by 4ft canvas in the Saffronart auction. However just three months earlier, the same piece was going for over Rs 80 lakh.

Suddenly, works of prominent contemporary artists like Atul & Anju Dodiya are just not visible on the auction calendars and collectors who had bought them at over Rs 50 lakh a canvas have been stuck with no exit routes.

The galleries which make anything from 33 per cent to 50 per cent as commission on pieces were happy to prop up prices. So were the artists who were able to mark up their prices every couple of months. Then the bubble burst, the liquidity that had pushed the market evaporated and prices crashed.

When Your Target Cries For Mercy by T.V. Santosh

The Art Tactic Indian Contemporary Art Confidence Index, which tracks the top contemporary art collectors, is now down 63 per cent from October 2008, highlighting the severity of the fall. And with art being what is called an “illiquid asset” — this means with such a strong fall, there are virtually no buyers even for some of the best works. So is it all gloom, boom and doom in the art market or is there a silver lining to this cloud? I’d say that if you’ve just started collecting contemporary art, then it just does not get better than this.

Why this optimism?

The prices are more realistic and works are much more available now as compared to six months ago. At that time, if you wanted to buy a Thukral & Tagra or a Shilpa Gupta work you wouldn’t have been able to get one. Now you’ll find the galleries much more accessible and realistic with their prices. So you can now not only buy quality but also get it at the right price.

The valuations for younger emerging talent are becoming quite appealing in some cases. I bought a nice triptych by Prajjwal Choudhary a couple of weeks ago. For a work which was high on quality and content, the price for a 9ft by 4ft work was Rs 1.75 lakh which was a real bargain.

But still beware. Some galleries and artists haven’t realised the good times are over. I went to an emerging young artist show in New Delhi and saw a 8ft by 6ft canvas priced at Rs 12 lakh. This artist had never been featured in any auction for me to be able to form a proper estimate of the work’s worth. He had only one solo show in Munich to his credit. So guess what happened? Predictably enough, he hardly sold anything. He was finally forced to drop his prices by 40 percent but still had no takers.

This kind of unrealistic pricing is happening with reputed established galleries. Shows are still being launched at unrealistic prices and then being revised downwards. Galleries should wake up and smell the coffee. And if they don’t, market trends will force them to take corrective action which is good news for buyers.

As galleries and artist come to grips with the new realities of the art market, another positive is that we’re seeing the better works being turned out with more detail. There’s a real effort to make each piece different. This is thanks to the fact that artists are under the threat of not selling. The pressure to churn out more works of the same series is definitely out and new ideas and craftsmanship is back and that can only be healthy for the art market.

The dividing line between quality and mediocrity is more evident than ever before. Log onto for the results of their latest auction and you’ll see that nearly half the auction works were not sold as collectors didn’t make any bids even at the lower estimates mainly due to the mediocrity of works and lack of confidence in the market.

So do make that visit to the art show that you wanted to go to and also send your gallery a list of artists you enjoy and would like to buy. I will in the coming articles take you on a journey of how to value that piece of contemporary art that you always wanted to buy. Enjoy your art — but definitely not without investment and price rationale!

Kapil Chopra is a senior hospitality professional and an art collector. He writes a blog on investing in Indian contemporary art on

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Astaguru Gone & Saffronart Coming ! - An Auction Analysis

Let us talk about the art market right now, Astaguru the auction house set up just a year back concluded its second sale recently in May, now that is a really brave thing to be doing an art auction in May, the end result was worse than they would have expected with close to 50 % of the lots failing to sell. Now, it was not a sale of exceptional works but it was fine if you were looking to buy well priced art and some of it was not bad, I was a buyer of Rashid Rana's famous veil series which has a "Burqa" or a Veil made up with tiny photographs of hardcore pornography and looking like a veil, that is the first time such a controversial work was sold in an Indian auction catalogue, although Sothebys did sell a larger version last year and also the Schandra Singh ( she has never shown in India and represented by the Rare Art gallery in New York and Galerie Bertrand & Gruner in Switzerland), both the works went close to the higher estimates and I stayed away.

The problem with the auction houses as I see it as that it is important to do a sell and quality honestly has not gone up, look at the TV Santosh in Astaguru, very bad work and Saffronart comes up with a watercolor ! now when you can't even manage a decent canvas then why do a contemporary auction ? Look at both the catalogues, no good TV Santosh Canvas, no Thukral & Tagra Canvas, no Bharti Kher work, No substantial NS Harsha work in the established category.Both the auctions did not really show some of the real good emerging talent but stuck to the artists they promote, they deny it but look at Rahul Choudhary and Jagannath Mohapatra for Astaguru and Sudhanshu Sutar ( they have flogged him to death !) and Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi for Saffronart, no one buys them outside this forum. Phaneendra had a work in Astaguru which was a 5 by 5 feet work only for 1 lac and it failed to sell !

Saffronart is fortunate that the stock market has moved up, confidence is back and art markets which generally lag the stock markets may finally pick up, that is when the real test comes, I sincerely hope this time around people will be logical and more careful in their selection. So what would I be looking at in the upcoming Saffronart auction and the price points that I would look at making a buying decision, how much more transparent can I get ? !

Lot 12 A Ramachandran for 1 lac would be a steal ( not from an investment perspective, I love the work !),


Lot 20 Surendran Nair 35.5 by 27.5 inches at 10 lacs is a fantastic deal, I like the work and its good investment


( The quality of TV Santosh and Shilpa Gupta works is not good enough to be in an auction, Jogen - Lot 49 Value at 35 to 45 lacs is ridiculous according to me )


Lot 59 -N S Harsha ( please view this work in high resolution and read the line, I just love this guy, he is really the best, I am buying him even right now !) Although not one of his best works but still I love the line on a bleeding artisan with blood coming from the clown's nose, I would go till 2.25 lacs for these 2 works.


Lot 64 - Justin Ponmany is a nice work but the estimates of 20-25 lacs are way too high, I will only half this price for a Justin ( he has now failed to sell in a number of auctions )


I must admit that some of the modern works in this auction are really nice but that is something beyond the scope of this blog, just one comment,do buy the lovely V S Gaitonde ( Lot 38) at 1 crore if you have the bucks !


Happy reading and lets see if some of the good cheer has worked its magic on the art world as well ! My advise is that you should definately start buying some of the established conteporaries and the younger emerging lot otherwise you may have miss a good buying opportunity, just be prudent and follow the rules as underlined in this blog earlier. Do visit both the websites at and to download the upcoming auction catalogue from Saffronart and the auction results from Astaguru and then go through this blog note, it will help you in the analysis.

Thank you all for your support and my apologies for the delay in responding to some of your comments on, keep them coming !


Kapil Chopra

Do visit all the earlier posts, comments and recommendations for investing on my blog at

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sydney Art Review & What I am buying now!

Well, Delhi is getting hot by the day ! and I am back from a lovely week in Sydney where the Australian winter is just setting in ! I was in beautiful Sydney on business and I always take out time for my favourite passion which is art, so the free time I can squeeze in goes in educating myself on the art scenario in the country.

We were fortunate as in an event at Intercontinental Sydney, Fred Matti, the GM did a wonderful job of organising an event banquet where the sights of Sydney and the food of Sydney was brought into the hotel, it became my first interaction with Australian art where I met Brenda Colahan who is an Australian art advisor and she gave me a great run down on Australian art and here it is for you, the two most important living artists in Australia are John Olsen and Tim Storrier. John Olsen is the top artist and his large canvas is priced at around 80 lacs and a good large Tim Storrier at around 60-65 lacs, the size being 6 ft by 8 ft works or close to that.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of meeting my good friend Bradley Cocks with Collette Dinnigan, Australia's top fashion designer and having boutiques in London and Paris. I had an opportunity to share a Rose wine with her at their lovely residence covered by Vogue and then took me to meet Tim Olsen son of the legendary John Olsen, Australia's top artist. Tim runs two wonderful galleries in the posh Paddington area of Sydney. The galleries were simple but exquisite in their appearance with natural light coming in and lighting up the whole space. There was a show by a young artist called Paul Davies and honestly coming from the overheated Indian market, the prices were really unbelievably low which made me remark instantly as to how reasonable the prices were. To put it in perspective, Guy Maestri recently won the Archibald 2009 award for a portrait of the singer Yunupingu as shown below, it is Australia's top award and carries a prize money of ASD 50,000 (approximately 18 lacs now compare this with some of our awards instituted most of the time by galleries who make tons of money and give a prize money of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000).Tim who represents him had a canvas of 8 ft by 6.5 ft for close to 6 lacs that is close to 12,000 a sq ft and this artist won the top prize, I can tell you scores of artists in India who haven't even won a significant award and are quoting at double these valuations.
(Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu)

An interesting thing I noticed was the focus on aboriginal art in Australia and the attention that is drawing, that could be a pre cursor to our own tribal art really taking off, so be on the lookout for that ! The other thing I noticed when I went to the Museum of Contemporary art in Sydney was the number of children who had come in to have a look at the art with their parents, now this convinces me on the future growth of this market as children grow up appreciating art. I also saw one of the most inspiring installation shows by the famous lady Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, it was mind blowing and her installation for someone born in 1929 was more contemporary than the younger lot !

Well, back in Delhi, I was quite impressed with Bhavna Kakkar and Aparajita Jain's new show at Travancore space in Delhi called Re-claim/Re-cite/Re-Cycle. I went on the last day of the show as the invite was very inspiring and I was curious to have a look. Bhavna curated an exceptional show and one of the best shows that I have been to this year. I walked in not really being ready to buy anything and was just blown away by a work by Prajjwal Choudhary who had a very interesting piece on recycling of art, I bought this piece shown below which is actually matchboxes with prints of Damien Hirst's Skull,Jogen Choudhary's works, Ravinder Reddy and many more, the matchboxes are arranged to say " Who Will b next " in a triptych,its a huge work and has a lot of profound thoughts on the matchboxes and merged with the art. So this is what I have bought in the last 10 days. It was a pleasure to have met Prajjwal at the show also, I was very impressed with his detail and idea with which he approached the whole subject of recycling and how the same art was being created in a different forms by other artists and the question was " Who will be next to be cloned ?". I felt his take on the whole subject was great. So I applied my buying principles which are I liked the work, it was a significant work, the artist was backed by an excellent gallery Project 88 and that his value for a huge triptych which was 2 by 12 feet at around 1.75 lacs was reasonable for this work. I made a buying decision and actually love the work, this is not a promotion for you to buy Prajjwal but I think he is interesting and you can look at his last solo in the past exhibitions section of Project 88 and do some research on him before you make your own buying decision.
Till then enjoy the summer sun, take a break and track the Astaguru auction at for further trends on the art market.


Kapil Chopra

Disclaimer - As usual, please assume I have a vested interest in all I say ! Please do your own research and apply your own buying principles before you buy a work of art and only buy if you enjoy the work !