Friday, November 27, 2009

Photo Finish - Article Published in The Telegraph

The latest article published in The Telegraph newspaper Sunday magazine " Graphiti" on contemporary photography for all readers of this blog. Be glued onto the upcoming Saffronart auction for market trends on the 9th and 10th of December and before that Christie's Asian Art sale on the 30th of November........
A leading Indian photographer was once asked why people should pay high prices for photographic works considering that anyone could click a pretty picture. His matter-of-fact retort was: “Everyone can paint so why pay for a good painting.”

But the thought behind the question illustrates one reason why photography is not top-of-mind even for veteran collectors.

Internationally you have photographers like Richard Prince whose photographs can cost between Rs 2.5 crore and Rs 3 crore. Closer home there’s Rashid Rana with his iconic Veil series which is a collection of hundreds of pornographic images that form a veil. Also, his Red Carpet series is a collection again of hundreds of images of an abattoir that make a red carpet. Some of his works can sometimes cost almost Rs 2 crore a piece.

An untitled work by Richard Prince

Still, with a few exceptions, most people are still uncomfortable about collecting photography. Perhaps it’s time to change our pre-conceived ideas and open our minds to the wonderful world of top-class photography.

It’s important to divide the world of photography into two distinct parts. There is, on one hand, documentary photography which captures images of scenic landscapes, city life, everyday life and situations. Then, there’s message-based photography in which a photograph conveys a message or is a satire on our times, thinking or attitudes.

Artist Shilpa Gupta is perhaps the best example in the message-based category. She had people carrying bags wrapped in white canvas with the words “There is no explosive here” printed on them. She then photographed these people in different situations like at a metro station or getting out of a car in London. This was a clear satire on how everyone after the London metro blasts carrying a bag was treated with suspicion.

No one has captured the Indian scenario — whether it’s the Taj Mahal or just a beautiful landscape — better than the acclaimed photographer Raghu Rai. One of his medium-sized prints could cost you close to Rs 3 lakh, but the effect is magical. Then, there’s Dayanita Singh, who captures the moment and brings us the beauty of everyday life and also the magical Prabuddha Dasgupta. If you wish to see any of these works, just do a search in Google Images.

Raghu Rai's Dust

Ajay Rajgarhia runs a contemporary photography gallery Wonderwall and he recently held an exhibition of 31 photographers. I figured that the sheer number of photographers on display was a good reason to go — after all you don’t often get the opportunity to see the works of 31 lensmen under one roof.

Men at Work by Ajay Rajgarhia

I was surprised pleasantly by the quality of the works and felt that this was one of the better shows I had been to this year. The photographs that captured everything from landscapes to a dump for old scooters were all engaging, and I immediately felt the urge to collect that I only get when I see quality.

The other thing which was commendable was that most of the works were priced between Rs 12,000 to Rs 40,000 and framed and ready to be hung in your home. This is the kind of initiative that’s needed to make people take up collecting photography seriously. The other thing which appealed to me was that there was something for all tastes and all spaces.

My two favourite works from the show were a nice large work by Rajgarhia, who is himself a photographer, and has opened Wonderwall to promote contemporary photography. The picture titled Men at Work showed a group of men working at a site. I loved the scale and the size of the work (24in x 75in).

The other work I liked was a 22in x 34in photograph titled Old Scooters —Jodhpur, by Ramona Singh who went on a trip to Jaisalmer but, for some reason, couldn’t find anything to shoot. Then, she travelled to Jodhpur and while walking through the city’s back lanes came across a scooter dump. I just loved the treatment and the visual appeal of this work.

Old Scooters — Jodhpur by Ramona Singh

So you if you want to see the holy men of Varanasi or get a new angle on the Jama Masjid, do take a look at the photographs available. It will be there for your viewing pleasure and it won’t burn too big a hole in your pocket. What’s more, as prices are quite low at the moment, it will definitely appreciate in value — but that’s just a bonus with a thing of beauty.

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Asian Hues

Well, My experience at ARTSingapore and views on the art market in Asia shared for the benefit of the readers of this blog. This article was published in "Graphiti" the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph Newspaper with a readership of close to a million readers. Your views as always are most welcome !
Hot on the heels of the Indian Art Summit has come ARTSingapore in the island city. ARTSingapore is a Contemporary art fair, which has been around since 2000. It’s a genuine art initiative for true art fans unlike some fairs which have started up in the past few years that aim merely to exploit rising values of Contemporary art.

Chen Shen Po, director of this fair and a real art lover, brought together quite a spectacular display of works. What really caught my eye was the selection of Korean Contemporary art. The Korean art space has evolved in a very sophisticated manner and some of the artists are brilliant.

Dream of Maewha by Korea’s Hong Kyung Tack; (below) Korean artist Yoon Byung Rock’s Autumn’s Fragrance

Normally, given the importance of China, it’s tough for artists from other Asian countries to generate a lot of interest. But the Korean artists grabbed a great deal of deserved attention. I loved the work of Hong Kyung Tack shown by Seoul-based CAIS Gallery that falls into the new genre of eye-catching patterned art with bright motifs.

Kim Dong Yoo, represented by Leehwaik Gallery, also had a spectacular display with a large 8ft x 6ft work with small miniature images of legendary Hollywood beauty Audrey Hepburn coming together to form a large image of Hepburn again. The different shades and subtle strokes were a delight to behold. Kim’s works of this size generally fetch around Rs 75 lakh at big auctions as he’s a popular, established artist.

Audrey Hepburn vs Audrey Hepburn by Korean artist Kim Dong Yoo

Also what was particularly rivetting was a work by Yoon Byung Rock, represented by Simyo Gallery from Seoul, in which I felt the apples were literally about to fall off the canvas.

I was also quite impressed with how Indonesian Contemporary art is shaping up. The works are good and the prices for large works were under Rs 2 lakh — a very reasonable sum given the quality.

At the booth of SIGIarts, an Indonesian gallery, I was also taken with a work by Ketut Moniarta and his innovative take on recycling. Indonesia is clearly bustling with ideas and a lot of new galleries are being set up which shows that their market is starting to take off.

Netto by Ketut Moniarta of Indonesia

I must make a point about sculpture and installations I saw at the fair. The finishing and quality were excellent. (Note to Contemporary Indian artists — especially the younger ones: this is something you need to work on).

There were also a slew of informative talks with Low Sze Wee, deputy director of the National Art Gallery. He chaired a panel on Singapore’s top artist, Cheong Soo Pieng, and his works focusing on the Malay lady and his blending of East and West that’s made him a pioneering artist of his generation. There was a talk on photography where internationally acclaimed Chris Yap chaired a discussion on how the artistic frontiers of photography keep being pushed out.

There was also a presentation on Indian Contemporary Art, The Road Ahead that I presented and the discussion revolved around India’s top Contemporary artists like Subodh Gupta, N.S. Harsha and the average 74 per cent slide in prices in the Indian Contemporary art market from last year.

I also attended a thought-provoking group conversation with Bali-based Swiss artist Richard Winkler based on his unique distinctive depiction of Balinese women on large canvas formats that was a fair highlight. He had 10 large works, all priced at Rs 50 lakh and I noted eight had already been sold on the penultimate day.

From an organisational standpoint, as a first-time fair visitor, what struck one was the way it all seamlessly came together. The advantage in Singapore is the infrastructure. The Suntec City convention is expertly designed and easy to get around which made a huge difference to the fair’s look and feel. Also, crowd management was excellent and the booths were generously spaced so people could get a long, expansive view of the art.

What, though, I must say was truly regrettable was that last year there were eight Indian galleries at the show and this year there were none. I realise some galleries feel a need to tighten belts in these straitened times. But it’s coming at the price of sacrificing the chance to attract new collectors and spread the reach of Indian Contemporary art. It’s a short-term approach.

The fair was packed and on Saturday afternoon, I saw works all over the fair sporting red dots. Some galleries had sold out completely — even the extra works they’d brought in a day before the fair ended were gone. The lack of Indian galleries really was a lost opportunity for Indian Contemporary art whose artists should have been showcased in the heart of Asia.

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary art at also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he has written for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine.