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

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