Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Indian Contemporary Art - Market Perspective

Well, it has been a quiet summer for the Indian art market and the market conditions have not helped much. Whenever I meet gallery owners, the only thing everyone is really praying for is recovery of the contemporary art market. Now, the approach to a recovery is not sincere enough and there have hardly been any initiatives that I have seen which will aid this process.

Now, we had a big show in Arco Madrid where a lot of Indian galleries did participate but after that lets look at the Indian representation in the top international fairs where the top collectors from all over the world to come and have a look and spot the next talent in line. In Art Basel, we only had Nature Morte & Bose Pacia, in Frieze ( in October in London) we only have Project 88 with Sarnath Banerjee, Chemould in FIAC in Paris and again Bose Pacia in Art Basel, Miami because it is in the US and they have a gallery in New York.

This is really poor representation and when I quizzed a leading gallerist as to why the participation in key fairs is so low, his response was that the shipping bills from last year were yet to be paid. Now it is natural to cut costs but in any business in the world, if marketing costs and the search for acquiring new collectors is cut by not participating or investing in a fair, then we could be looking at darker times ahead.How many new shows can you keep on doing and selling to the same collector base ?

Also, look at some of the prices that galleries are launching new shows at they are still removed from reality, in some cases a premium of over 20 -30 % of the last auction price, well this is like the stock market for a new issue, if you are not going to leave anything on the table for the collector and peg your price higher. The only way then is to do a show nearly every month, sell 2-3 works from each show and hold the rest in stock and then pray for the markets to recover and also the speculators to come back. I believe this short term vision is really hurting the market.

The other thing which is really funny is the number of art advisors that we have now, most of them lack any depth and knowledge and are happy signing you for an annual fees or taking a 10 % of whatever you buy and what they recommend, just google Indian art advisory and see the results. In such a shallow market, where in the primary space you have everything to choose from and data is available if you are ready to invest some time, build relationships with galleries and artists, get involved and enjoy the process of collecting, where does the art advisor fit in ?

I would visit galleries and shows, read a lot,sign up for a couple of good blogs, buy an Art Tactic report, speak to a couple of top galleries and before that see whether I really appreciate a work or not, instead of losing my 10 % to an art advisor in a buyers market where not only can I choose but even dictate the price to a certain extent. Now there are a couple of top notch art advisors who are good but again of all them can see the 5 best works in an auction and advise you to bid, then what is the point, better educate yourself and learn in the entire process.

Internationally access to a top gallery and a top artist was really tough in the last couple of years and an influential art advisor would open the gates for you.Here you can meet the top gallerist and drop him an email and you will have a response within 24 hours regarding your query.Yes, that may not be the same going ahead so why not build your relationship now. The thing about investment in our country is that at any moment there are more fly by the night operators than genuine sincere people, hence you hear of a financial fraud everyday. One of the art funds launched in India is already in trouble and the NAV ( Net Asset Value) figures of the most talked about and the largest are not trusted at all, how is that for a developing market !

This is not a gloom doom post but a reality check, there are people with immense levels of knowledge and depth, there are a couple of art advisors or maybe only one that I know who is sincere about what they bring on the table, look out for those beacon of lights if you must go to an art advisor to build a collection.

Then in all this, there is Saffronart,it is always difficult for an auction house to have a clean reputation but what Dinesh & Minal have achieved in the last few years is indeed commendable, now there are chinks in every armour but what they have done to introduce price transparency in the market is not an easy job. Prices change without logic in a day and that also at the top galleries, but here is a website where you can research 4 years of auction data, look at price comparisons and take informed decisions,I have not bought much from them, but when I did, it was a clean transaction and professionally handled.

So welcome to the world of Indian contemporary art, it is definitely interesting for sure, may not be very transparent with dealers and advisors not leaving an opportunity to make a fast buck,but what the heck,I still love collecting !



Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts 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.He has also written for "The Mail Today" in New Delhi and for "The First City" magazine.