Sunday, December 20, 2009

Confessions of a Collector !

Let me start with a true story on the importance of collectors in the Indian contemporary space. I was invited by my very good friend Swapan Seth, who is maybe the most prolific collector of contemporary art in this country today to view a panel discussion that he was part of. This discussion was on Video Art at Gallery Espace, a gallery I think has done a wonderful job with a lot of art initiatives including the one on promoting video art and even the recent exhibition. Swapan was part of a panel and the discussion started at 6 PM in the evening, there were some of the poster boys & girls of Indian Contemporary Art curators and critics on the panel with him.

I got up at 7.30 PM finally because I realised that most of the people on the panel just loved their own voice and was bored to death ( except 1 speaker who was really good). Swapan finally got a chance 15 minutes later after hearing others for a good 1 hour 45 minutes !, now this is a collector who is keeping Video art alive and one of the most appreciative collectors for young artists. I asked some people who stayed back and they loved the last part only !

This is a clear example of how the art world needs to change with the focus on collectors.Galleries and curators who will not adapt will just stand on the wayside as people move on. I will tell you what I love about Peter Nagy, Arvind Vijaymohan and Bhavna Kakar in New Delhi, they are interesting people with a view, they all are involved in the sales process but are not boring or full of themselves.

Let me also share a view that I hear about buying and selling of artworks. Meet any top artist represented by a top art gallery in India, now they only sell to serious collectors and please do not put the works in auction, my retort is why not ?

Answer :Well, because old collectors loved their art and never sold the works, they were genuine lovers of art.

Question : Really, how much did they pay for the works at that time ? 1 Lac for a Hussain ? ! Talk about paying 25 lacs for the work of a top contemporary artist and you will get the answer.

If a collector is taking financial risk because he loves your work, then he has the right to buy and sell, when Charles Saatchi says that, very few people have a problem but otherwise I hear this all the time. Now, I am not talking about flipping a work, I am against that or even being in the art world to just flip will get you nowhere but look at the costs of collecting today. What is the harm in consigning works to an auction to raise further funds so you can collect more ?

These are uncomfortable questions, ethics are sometimes meant for collectors only, in 2 specific cases this year and I am talking about galleries which are in the top 5 galleries in this country, the prices were revised downwards by 40 % in 24 hours of the show opening ! So much so for the love and appreciation of art.

So what did I buy this year ? Only what I absolutely loved ! ( Rule No.1 ) and also at the right value ( Rule No.2 ).
  • A Lovely 10 ft by 6 ft Seher Shah shown at Armory Show in New York and then being shown at the current solo in Nature Morte

  • A triptych by Prajwal Choudhary, the image is posted in the earlier posts on this blog at from Bhavna Kakar & Aparajita Jain's lovely show at the peak of the recession, great work at a fantastic value

  • A Sajjad Ahmed photography work from the same show, the value that he asked was ridiculous to say the least, till the gallery got him to understand some basics of pricing!
  • An absolute beauty of an installation by a young artist called Sidhartha Karawal called "My Generation is Silent" again featured on this blog from Project 88

  • Sarnath Banerjee's satirical graphic works, a set of 4 works on property dealers, really fantastic from Project 88

  • TV Santhosh's "Game Theory", absolutely brilliant work on canvas ( I think his canvas works are to die for !) from Guild Art Gallery
  • Shreyas Karle, a collection of 15 paperworks which I am yet to recieve ! from Guild Art Gallery

What did I sell ?

  • Arunkumar H G, the Nandi bull, lovely work but had to sell it to raise money.

Which Artists will I sell or not buy this year ?

I think I will avoid all middle rung contemporary artists this year, so if you have the money, please go ahead and buy

  • Thukral & Tagra
  • TV Santhosh ( Only Canvas)
  • Jitish Kallat ( Only Canvas)
  • N S Harsha
  • Mithu Sen ( Large substantial works only)
  • Seher Shah ( Large works only)
  • Jagannath Panda ( Large works, price needs to be right)

I think both Bharti Kher & Subodh Gupta are in a different league due to their association with Hauser & Wirth but collectors have lost money and hence considering my limited funds and risk aversion, I would stay away for now. Although, I would buy a great Subodh installation any day but considering the prices would need to be really lucky on the value front.

Now, for everyone else who is over the 2 lacs mark just research more and below the 2 lac mark, if you love the work just buy it. Simple rules for collecting art. Over 2 lacs, needs to be justified, I loved Aditya Pande & George Martin at 2-4 lacs and would have happily sold them at 8-10 lacs without batting an eyelid. The Value perspective needs to kick in especially in the environment today, otherwise you are being taken for a ride. Now collectors I know were buying them at 10 lacs, which according to was just pure speculation because there was no way that they could command such prices logically. Would I buy both of them at more reasonable valuations, absolutely yes!

So what about all the wonderful artists over 2 lacs, well just watch if they are going anywhere, if you love the work , then please keep it otherwise just consign to an auction, no harm with that. I have 3 artists I have mentioned on this blog earlier who have now moved to my sell list for this year as I believe they are doing nothing exciting and have reached a value threshold. So I need to sell to sustain my collecting frenzy!

I would rather buy a Sajjad Ahmed, Prajwal Choudhary & Sidhartha Karwal for under 2 lacs or less and enjoy my art, as all of them have the potential to make it big.

As for the 20 artists, who are sitting at 8-10 lacs price levels, ask them for the justification on their pricing and do your research, most of them would be in my avoid category.

Some very good art shows opened in Delhi in November & December, but most of them have been commercial disasters with illogical pricing and negligible sales. Pretty much like the Christie's auction which failed miserably as the estimates were too high, Saffronart scored with the right pricing and had better results with in line estimates.

Thank you for your support, encouragement and affection for making this the most widely read and searched blog on Indian contemporary art ( I am not saying this, Google is saying this !, over 1.2 lac search results for this blog!)

I will just try to be as frank and honest as I can be........

Merry Christmas and have a great New Year ! Happy Collecting !



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, December 16, 2009

Terror on Canvas

The recent article on T V Santhosh that I wrote in "Graphiti", the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph newspaper reaching over a million readers...........
This week I’ve chosen to zoom in and look at one artist in the Contemporary art space — T.V. Santhosh. He’s interesting for a number of reasons but I’d have to say one of the key ones is that he’s one of the few artists to have focused on the ever-challenging relationship between India and Pakistan.

Santhosh, who has shown at many of the important global art fairs like Art Basel in Switzerland and Armory in New York among others, started focusing on imagery and the aftermath of terrorism much before any other artist in this country began using it as a visual language. He’s really been way out in front on this difficult subject.

Santhosh, who picked up his Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Santiniketan and followed it up with a Master’s in sculpture — again from Baroda’s Faculty of Fine Arts, has also got an extremely distinctive style. He paints in vibrant hues — electric green, neon yellow and shocking orange. In fact, his bold use of colour and technique is so individual that once you see one of his works, you’ll instantly recognise them in any other show.

(From top) A watercolour by the artist; An untitled work by Santhosh; Game theory by Santhosh

The danger sometimes with artists focusing on such volatile topics like terrorism is that too much negativity can creep in. Also viewers can really get tired of looking at such imagery. But these precisely are areas where this Mumbai-based artist who’s from Kerala originally is able to score. There’s no tedium. His work looks visually arresting on the wall, helped by the subtlety of expression in his works so each one stands out. His images depict chaos and paranoia relating to media coverage of contemporary events and his exploration demonstrates a reality on the verge of explosion.

Another interesting aspect about Santhosh — and it’s something I profoundly wish other top Contemporary artists would emulate — is that he’s not overly prolific. So in a year, you can expect him to produce a maximum of eight to 10 canvas works. And because he’s not churning out innumerable works, this establishes room for more demand for his works by both a good Indian collector base and the international collector fraternity.

His sculptures and installations are also quite haunting and unique but I’d have to say in terms of international recognition, they don’t even come close to his fluorescent canvas works with their deeply saturated colours and fluid edges.

On the market front, his prices have displayed an enviable sticking power — a resilience which is quite unusual in the light of the downturn in most art values. In fact, Santhosh is the only Contemporary artist whose work in the period from September 2008 to now has not gone below his primary value — in his case Rs 25 lakh for a 6ft X 4ft work.

The lowest price one of his canvases recorded in the recession was around Rs 27 lakh in the Saffronart auction last December. After that no recent canvas works have featured in any auction. This clearly demonstrated that collectors were not willing to consign any good quality works to auctions and were happy holding the work. What got offered in most of the sales were his earlier works that did not compare to the visual language he’s been using in the last three years. But what’s remarkable is that even these older works sold well above their primary prices (the gallery price).

For collectors, the good thing that his gallery, Guild Art Gallery, has done is to keep his primary prices quite attractive — for a change the primary prices are much lower than auction values.

His latest solo show in New York opened on October 14 at the well known Jack Shainman Gallery and initial reports suggested that four out of the five canvas works were already sold a week before the exhibition opened for public viewing. The primary prices were revised upward to Rs 40 lakh, which is steep but in his case, demand for his works have always outstripped supply even in recessionary times. These financial details are important because these values are high and it’s important that due diligence is exercised even if you might fall in love with one of his works.

Now, coming to a question that I have been asked quite often: how about his watercolour works that are available for a fairly affordable Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh? Well, I was never a fan of his watercolour works but I must admit that the quality of his watercolour works has gone up tremendously in the last year or so. Generally my answer would be a rule that’s critical to buying art: “Buy what you like and buy the best, look for works which are significant” and those without a doubt are his unforgettable canvas works. But as this could be a bit of a stretch, I would be tempted to collect one of his watercolour works like the one shown here (in picture) just for the brilliance of expression.

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.