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.

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