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 and a fortnightly column in the Sunday Telegraph magazine "Graphiti" reaching over half a million readers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Indian Contemporary Art - Recovery still a long way off !

Well, its auction season and two of them are already over, Christies and Saffronart have finished with their sales, so what are the results ? Let me give you a brief synopsis of how I see the market behind the veil, the truth is coming out albeit slowly !

First things first, the Moderns, Husain, Souza and Raza with Gaitonde are still going very strong, the appetite from good quality works from the masters is still there and they are selling well, not as good as last year but recovering. We as a blog focus on the contemporary space and that is still going through a deep and long but much needed price correction and I am really happy for that.

So how do I make a statement like that? Very simple, Subodh sold well at 94 lacs (I say well because it was higher than 79 lacs in the last auction!) and Rasid Rana at 1.3 crores for the Red Carpet means that appetite for his important works from the series like Veil and Red Carpet (where the images are actually from an abattoir and the blood makes the red carpet ) is still strong. These two gentlemen are anyway in a different league so what happens to the other lot or the 2nd tier of contemporary artists who till last year were hailed as the next big thing to be hitting the Indian art scene, well for some of them due to their greed and also the galleries and honestly most of the galleries need to have lessons in pricing art are down in the dumps!

So, lets talk about the three superstars, Surendran Nair, set a record of over 2 crores just a year back in the Saffronart auction, a work from the same series and a very well known work also displayed at the Hong Kong Art fair this time could not even match a lower estimate of 14 lacs! can you believe it, there was no one who even quoted 14 lacs for an artist who set a new price record of 2 crores plus last year, the work is here for you to see, as I said I was a buyer at 10 lacs but no one would touch it at 14 plus buyer premium plus tax, that is 18 lacs !


Second, contemporary star, Justin Ponmany, also showing at Art Basel the world's top art fair, we had mentioned a value point of again 10 lacs in our earlier blog post,now we are talking about a 10.5 ft work by 6 ft work, a good 65 ft work which just failed to sell again.Another one bites the dust, we said 10 lacs, the lower estimate said 20 so no value for money and Justin also goes down with no bids at that level !


Third, Contemporary star, Ashim Purkayastha, saw a lovely work of his at one of the exhibitions at my hotel, last year and the work was priced at 70 lacs! Again a huge canvas with a lower estimate of 14 lacs, failed to sell! What a fall!


Fourth, Contemporary star, Jagannath Panda, had a nice triptych which was again 10 ft by 6 ft so a 60 ft work which finally sold at 13 lacs plus buyer premium! Thank heavens for that. It will be interesting to watch his pricing at his upcoming solo at Nature Morte in August, will he like all the other artists mark his primary pricing over the auction price or will the best gallery in the country be more sedate with the pricing and follow public opinion !


So what is the moral of the story, for collectors like us it is important to be not carried away by the sweet talk that galleries are putting out and some of our contemporary artists are way beyond logical pricing levels. Also, galleries are still being completely illogical and high handed about prices, they claim to be in this for the aesthetic love of art but are very happy taking home illogical values home. I see young artists all the time with ridiculous pricing and my mantra on buying is very simple, young artists showing with a major gallery in a solo show for the first time and there are only 5-6 top galleries in the country should be priced around 1 lac for a medium sized canvas of 3 by 4 ft and 2 lacs for a 5 by 5 ft canvas, this is after you have had your solo with the real top boys. The problem is and I can give you countless examples of the first price only being 4-5 lacs, now that is setting up for disaster for a new collector.We do not even have 10 top contemporary artists who can guarantee a sale in an international auction and with such big boys failing to sell, be conservative with your buying for now.

Its time to have galleries price with a logic of building artists and collections, greed needs to be out otherwise we will be writing the obituary of contemporary Indian art. There are many collectors who own works from the wonderful artists mentioned above but are all stuck as they see their investment depreciating faster than any other asset class, love your art but be very careful, primary values have to be lower than auction values always ! That is my advise to all collectors otherwise just walk away, also remember that in odd cases auction values can be manipulated easily so always err on the side of caution.

I see more fly by the night operators in selling art than I see as a percentage in the stock market!

Buy what you love and that is the key, also at the price you want not what the gallery or the art dealer or consultant dictates !

Also, our predictions for the auction in an earlier post were bang on target as we said that the pricing was way too high for collectors to buy, please read our comments and I am pleased to see that people are not getting carried away for a change !



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