Sunday, October 17, 2010

NDTV Interview on " The Indian Art Scene "



Dear Friends,

This is the link of a discussion on The Indian Art Scene on NDTV. It was a great discussing the intricacies of the Indian art scene with Pankaj Pachauri- Anhor for Money Matters on NDTV, Amit Sarup - President- Religare Art, Swapan Seth-Collector,Roshni Vadehra- Vadehra Art Gallery.

This discussion happened a couple of months back and is a 45 minutes show, so do have time on your side when you are viewing this !

Cheers


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti". In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

Greed Factor !

Dear Friends,

Well, my day job of running hotels is keeping me busy from posting more often on the blog, but here is my latest article in The Telegraph newspaper reaching over a million readers. It is critical to be careful lest you make a wrong decision in buying contemporary art at ridiculous valuations.

Also, it is quite disappointing to see this attitude from leading artists where works are being churned out like a factory, reminds me of real estate companies launching a new apartment complex every month. Such short term approaches are not healthy for the overall state of an already fragile market. So enjoy your art but be careful !


As autumn comes and brings cooler temperatures with it the activity in the art world picks up and it’s now time to take stock. We’ve just had the September autumn auctions by all three major auction houses — Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Saffronart.

With all asset classes, including real estate and stock markets, being close to all time highs, a lot was expected in the art market considering the excess liquidity sloshing around and the renewed interest in the modern masters like Raza, Souza and Husain seen in the past six months. However, the results were tepid for both the Modern and the Contemporary Art market categories.

For me, that was not surprising at all. In fact I was amazed that the party in the Modern Art market lasted as long as it did. If one was to combine all the Souza works in the three auctions, over 23 per cent did not sell and 28 per cent just managed to sell at the lower end of the estimates. So 51 per cent of all Souza works were not really attracting attention, signalling that the large supply in the last few months had finally taken a toll.



Last Howl from the Cross by F.N. Souza (1963)


The speculators in the Modern Art market are exiting and the private art museums bought what they had to buy so the market slowed due to buyer fatigue. You will still get an auction record when an exceptional work by a modern master hits the market but for more mediocre works, it will be a tough climb from here.


The common thread visible in all the auctions was the fact that most of the works were selling at the lower end of the price band given by the auction houses, so either the estimates were too aggressive or the buyers were just not keen on picking up mediocre works.


The contemporary art market was up 32 per cent in volume as compared to June 2010 but that was helped by the fact that six Subodh Gupta lots were up for auction and they contributed 50 per cent of the entire value of all auction lots. In terms of total value, the sale value was still lower by a whopping 73 per cent compared to the record values of autumn 2008.



an untitled work by Subodh Gupta (2005)


Frankly, I don’t see any recovery in the auction market for the top ten Indian Contemporary artists looking ahead. The reasons are simple. Most of the top Indian Contemporary artists that feature in the auctions with exception of one or two artists have no clue about art valuations and are pricing on the higher side driven by that old enemy of value — greed.

Also the contemporary art market for the so-called top artists is functioning like the real estate market that I see in the Delhi suburbs of Gurgaon and Noida. There is a new launch every week by the same developer who wants to milk the cow before it gets too late and the tide turns.

Why I make this comparison is simple. If you are a passionate artist, driven by quality, how can you possibly churn out three solo shows in three months in different countries, flood the market with supply, keep your prices high and still expect to sell? What you’re creating is just a factory which with the help of studio assistants is churning out art without any soul and trying to rake in the bucks. Most of our top artists are now doing exactly this, so there is a solo show every month and a couple of group shows in the middle.

The artist may benefit by selling more in the short term and so does the gallery owner who is happy with his commission on selling the work. Both of them have forgotten the collector who has everything to lose even if he buys one work from the exhibition as the prices coupled with so much supply will ensure that he loses money on every purchase.

Only T.V. Santhosh and N.S. Harsha in my top ten artists list have current values that are still below auction prices which means that if you buy a T.V. Santhosh work at Rs 40 lakh for a 6ft by 4ft canvas you are assured of a better price in the auction. In the other cases, except for these two artists, you would most likely end up a financial loser if you ever have to sell the work and that too by a good 30 per cent to 40 per cent.



T.V. Santhosh’s Scars of an Ancient Error-I (2006)


Someone needs to correct this and knock some sense into artists’ pricing. Otherwise my advice is to just save your money for some cutting-edge art by some very talented young artists instead of buying factory-made art with just a name and a fancy signature.

So in the coming months, go around some galleries or browse the net for some great quality art. You want art that is reasonably priced and will give you aesthetic pleasure besides appreciating over time.



Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Paradise Lost

Dear Readers,

My latest article in The Telegraph, Sunday edition reaching over a million readers, comments as always are welcome. Do log on to www.bestcollegeart.com, an initiative supported by me among others. We believe it gives the power to every artist to reach out to an aspiring collector and it is not for profit ! More on that in the next post ! I love Veer Munshi's latest show on Kashmir, maybe a bit too apt for the current developments in Kashmir !


When it comes to the creativity, I believe no place in India is as synonymous with art as Calcutta — the history, heritage and culture of the city are all redolent of art. Some of the most important galleries which started supporting Indian art long before people really began buying it, like CIMA, have been based here. But for the last few years, a lot of Contemporary Art events and also some of the most important shows have not been happening in the city. However, that looks set to change — especially with significant art initiatives like the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art (KMOMA) coming up in the city.


Shrapnel-Detail from Chamber, an acrylic on hand made paper pasted on board, by Veer Munshi


Other harbingers of a pick-up in activity are that India’s only gallery selected for the prestigious Frieze Art Fair in London, Experimenter, is from Calcutta. And I take heart about the art scene in the city from looking at the programming of key galleries like CIMA, Akar Prakar, Aakriti and see how everything is changing.

Also, what intrigues me is that a senior artist who has spent nearly all his painting career in Delhi and is originally from Kashmir, should go to Calcutta for his monumental solo show. But then, that’s the intrigue and mysticism of Calcutta in the art world. Veer Munshi, opens his show on August 3 at the Birla Academy of Art and Culture, curated by Ranjit Hoskote.

I had the opportunity to preview Veer’s show and you can see that the slightly older school in the Contemporary Art space follows the rules in what goes into making great art. The works are a reflection of the current times in Kashmir and Veer’s journey over the years in a place that he loves so much, where he grew up and that are all about breathtaking scenic beauty and “paradise on earth”.

His photographic series on “Pandit Houses” is reminiscent of the Hindu Brahmin architecture, but the desolate and dilapidated houses also point to the stark reality of the migration of Kashmiri Pandits who had to leave these magnificent homes behind due to terror threats. Veer travels around Kashmir to capture these haunting images of majestic houses just left as ruins in the beautiful landscape.


Pandit House, a photograph on archival paper, by Veer Munshi


Veer also draws your attention to works like Shrapnel that reflect the pain and angst of a generation caught between terrorist organisations and the government. That’s a sad reflection on what is happening in Kashmir today from someone who has lived half his life there. The works will strike a chord as it is art that reflects on the political and social equation and emotional trauma in Kashmir — all captured in Veer’s works and through his lens.

Turning away for a moment from Calcutta, another interesting initiative which has just been launched online is Bestcollegeart.com. Every year over 1,200 artists graduate from art colleges and only a handful of them make it to top galleries. Most abandon their dreams and due to financial constraints their talent comes to naught.

But now they are getting a new platform. Bestcollegeart.com is a collective initiative by some of India’s top art collectors, curators and gallerists to give everyone an equal opportunity platform to display and sell their art. (I must state a vested interest here as I am involved in supporting this initiative).

It’s not for profit and it allows any artist while in college or even someone who has graduated as long as a decade ago to load up to five works at prices decided by the artists. The quality of the art and the prices are reviewed by a curatorial board which urges the artists to price the works right so that collectors can buy.

We see excellent quality work uploaded by artists like Ashis Mondal, who paints a shirt which has been spoilt by ink leakage. This is actually a satire on the fact that a careless leakage without protection can also lead to AIDS.


A Little Negligence by Ashis Mondal

I always hear ‘we love art but can’t afford the prices’ and ‘how do we know that what we buy is authentic’. Well, the average prices on this site are below Rs 20,000 and no work can be priced over Rs 99,000. There are even works for as low as Rs 1,800.

The key is for all of us to support art in our country — either by visiting events or by acquiring art which is within our individual budgets. So whether it’s attending a heart-stopping show by Veer Munshi or supporting an online art initiative that could give you something very affordable to brighten your walls, this monsoon season is all about living with art!



Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hype and Reality !

Dear Friends,

My latest article in "The Telegraph" Newspaper reaching over a million readers for your reading pleasure, comments are welcome !


If you have picked up any newspaper in the past month, no doubt you’ve read stories announcing new record values for works of some Indian masters. But as they say, the devil lies in the detail and that is where a sensational headline can give people the wrong idea about the art market being on a new roll.

Let me make this easy for you so that you get a clear understanding of what’s going on in the art market. Take a look at the summer auctions at the major auction houses.

Starting with the modern art market, yes prices and volumes for some of the works by key artists — Hussain, Raza, Gaitonde, Souza and Tyeb Mehta — are back up at the peak levels witnessed in June 2008. This marks a significant recovery if you recollect that volumes in the modern art market had tumbled 63 per cent and prices fell 46 per cent between September 2008 and March 2009.

The key highlight in the summer sales was the auction of 152 works from the Souza estate through Christie’s which went at double their high price estimate. There were some very good works and it was an opportunity for people who had missed acquiring Souza works to buy them.

But is the excitement triggered by news reports of the record price of Rs 16 crore fetched by Raza’s Saurashtra justified? Well yes and no. Yes, because it was an exceptional work and no because what has sold in the auctions at higher prices are works which have been exceptional in terms of high quality, rarity and provenance, so it deserved the price but not the hype.

Artist S.H. Raza
Works which do not meet these criteria are still not selling or selling at much discounted valuations.

So be careful in this new market. I have started getting a lot of calls from my friends who say they would now like to acquire a work by one of the modern masters as the prices are expected to go even higher and their budget range of Rs 20 lakh to Rs 30 lakh will get them nothing that is even close to outstanding.

Jumping into the market now — unless you are very certain about the quality of what you are buying will only make the make a gallery richer and the collector or buyer poorer — saddled with a work that is tough to sell. I already know of someone who has bought a very ordinary Raza work at a valuation which should have been 50 per cent below what he has paid. Remember the “golden rule of significance” whenever you collect art — namely buy significant and defining works.

Now to the Contemporary Art market or younger artists as we know them. They had a 93 per cent correction in volume, as per Art Tactic, an independent art research firm, which means auction houses had very few people consigning Contemporary Art and the prices slid a massive 85 per cent between September 2008 and March 2009. Well, they are still down by 35 per cent from their peak. Volumes are better but not even close to what you saw in the boom times.

But you may have noticed that Bharti Kher set a new record of close to Rs 7 crore for her work "The Skin speaks a Language not its own" at Sotheby’s evening sale. The work was sold in 2007 at Art Basel and is her most defining work till date. The work according to international sources was sold again in 2008 at the peak of the art market at close to this current valuation. This means that the person who consigned this work having bought it when prices were at their peak in 2008 really has not gained much. Lesson: it never does pay to buy into the hype.

Bharti Kher’s work titled The Skin speaks a Language not its own

Interestingly Subodh Gupta has slowly been creeping up the charts again. I always get surprised when his paintings sell well because, according to me, Subodh is one of the most brilliant installation artists of our times, but when his paintings sell at higher prices it’s always a sign that people are again not buying significant works from his stable.

An untitled work by Subodh Gupta

His famous installation The Hungry God is a case in point and when it comes on the auction market it will set a new record for contemporary art in India. Again, though as some collectors get smarter, Bharti’s significant work sold at Sotheby’s and Subodh’s work — which was estimated to fetch Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 3.5 crore — did not sell.

The lessons from the summer auction are very clear, whether it is in the modern space or the Contemporary space, buy exceptional works, buy works that are significant of their times and have a good provenance. Do not be carried away and end up collecting or investing in high value art without research.

Also remember to analyse price patterns if you’re investing rather than collecting. One of the reasons for new records being established is also the fact that private museums being set up in India are buying. This is further adding fuel to the fire and prices for exceptional works from the modern masters are touching lifetime highs. Also I fear that market speculative forces are again back at work and it pays to be cautious. There is definitely some level of insider trading again visible in the auctions.

And of course, the final message to collectors, the most important golden rule —buy only what you love!


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

San Francisco Musings !

Dear Friends,

This is my latest article published in "Graphiti" magazine in The Telegraph newspaper reaching over a million readers. Enjoy !


The escape from scorching temperatures in New Delhi took me to San Francisco this summer for a holiday and my trip was perfectly timed. It was impossible to miss the hoardings everywhere for the 75th Anniversary celebration of the renowned San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA as it’s widely known.

San Francisco can be quite chilly with cold winds in the summer and I set off to the museum in nice cool weather. The great thing about museums in the US is the way they make it interesting with architecture, sense of arrival and also the ambience created. The museum shops are so attractive that you want to browse through them for ages. At SFMOMA the shop was well stocked and really huge and it was, in fact, one of the largest and best collections that I have ever seen in a museum shop.

Finally, on the second floor what awaited me was a visual treat and an art lover’s dream come true. Celebrating SFMOMA’s impact on modern and Contemporary art, the exhibition “The Anniversary Show” traces the individuals and the art that have made SFMOMA the institution it is today. Throughout the year, they will continue this effort of presenting a series of exhibitions illustrating the story of artists, collectors, cultural mavericks and San Francisco leaders who founded, built and have animated the museum.

The show was co-organised by Janet Bishop, SFMOMA curator of painting and sculpture, Corey Keller, SFMOMA associate curator of photography and Sarah Roberts, SFMOMA associate curator of collections and research who put together this collection of 400 works of art.

The show began with an introductory selection titled “San Francisco Views,1935 to Now”. It had images of San Francisco from 1935 to a poster by famous artist Martin Venezky titled San Francisco Prize Poster: Harvey Milk Plaza 2000. These works revealed the many ways the city has inspired artists over the last 75 years.

The other thing I admired was how top collectors and industrialists had donated their priceless personal collections to the SFMOMA. Industrialist and art collector Albert Bender’s gifts to the museums were in the next room and these included works by both Diego Rivera who has painted the magnificent murals at the National Palace in Mexico and also the work of his wife Frida Kahlo.

The next room was even more stunning with works by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. I have never seen such works by such exceptional artists under one roof and barely metres away from each other. Also, there were bronze works by Alberto Giacometti whose sculpture held the $105 million record as the most expensive piece of art ever sold till it was beaten by a Pablo Picasso work which sold for $106 million recently.

Going through the exhibition I was once again struck by the fact that art is reflection of the times we live in. The period from 1935 to 1945 also was a commentary on World War II with some haunting works.

Apart from the masters, I was most impressed by artists who deliberately disregarded traditional boundaries between media like Robert Rauschenberg who died in 2008. As early as 1954 he did an untitled stunning work which in which he used oil, newsprint, fabric and 3D wooden and metal objects on canvas!


An untitled mixed media work by Robert Rauschenberg


Such creative use of mixed media took place more than 50 years back — and it’s still not very prevalent in the Indian contemporary space and that for me is the mark of a genius. The section was very aptly called “Pushing Boundaries”. Rauschenberg and the others featured in this section dared to engage in a new medium and move in their own direction when it was not conceivable. I was also attracted to an artist who redefined the contemporary art space with his works. On show by Andy Warhol was a unique work that was very different from his usual celebrity portraits. This was Self Portrait done in 1967 and was an acrylic and silkscreen enamel on canvas.



Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait

The most photographed piece in the entire exhibition because of its stunning visual appeal was a sculpture of Michael Jackson with his monkey Bubbles and it looked amazing in the centre of the hall. It was a ceramic work in life-size dimensions and with glaze and paint which made it shine, giving it a very nice finish. In the background of this work, was an untitled piece by Christopher Wool with just the words ‘adversary’ written in three lines. The combination effect of viewing these two works together really made you think about the life and times of Michael Jackson.



Michael Jackson & Bubbles by Jeff Koons


Overall, as I walked out after viewing the best in modern masters and the best of International Contemporary art, I was humbled by how everyone in society had come together to do their bit to share their collections and create such a magnificent institution in a great city.

I wait with a lot of anticipation to welcome something as magnificent in India so that we can pass on great art in our country to the next generation !


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Art from the Heart !

Dear Readers,


My latest article in The Telegraph newspaper reaching over a million readers, for your reading pleasure. Now get instant updates every time a new blog post is written by either becoming a follower of this blog or putting in your email address on the top right hand side of this blog.


I love watching children drawing what they see around them. The doodles and pencil lines come from the heart and have a lot of passion in every stroke.


The opposite is often true in the Contemporary Art space nowadays. The joy of drawing and painting seem to have almost vanished. So the artist comes up with a concept and then using a computer — and perhaps Photoshop — produces an image which is then painted and churned out. What you get is art that looks nice but is without heart and soul. Some of the top Indian contemporary artists have fallen into this trap and this is a fact that often worries me.


So the moment an artist starts to sell for over Rs 3 lakh or so, you hear that he or she has hired a couple of studio assistants to help prepare the base of the canvas. In scores of cases these assistants actually paint the computer-generated image. This style of working, I believe, is one of the reasons for similar looking work being churned out all the time. Also, don’t forget that studio assistants come cheap in this country. Many of them finish from art colleges and then survive living someone else’s dream.


Let me turn to an interesting show I went to recently by an artist who paints from her heart. Ranjeeta Kant, who trained under the eminent artist Rameshwar Broota, has painted for years for the love of art and not for money. Her latest exhibition at Delhi’s Gallerie Alternatives called The Dance of the Rainbow was inspired by a trip to Bali.





The Kachak Dancers and The Abode (above) by Ranjeeta Kant


She was deeply affected by the lush green tropical island — everything from the green paddy fields and the exquisite lotus ponds and lovely flowers to the deep blue ocean and the tranquil images of Buddha everywhere. The myriad hues of nature and this entire experience have been captured in rich greens, magical blues and the striking hints of red that together result in stunning canvas works.


One is immediately drawn to the works as it’s clear that Ranjeeta has worked on the canvas and the resulting art is a work of passion. In spite of the detailed canvas work, the prices are reasonable and most of the works are under Rs 2 lakh for a 3ft by 4ft canvas. Smaller works sell for close to a lakh. It was one of those shows where you’d feel inspired to instantly reach for your chequebook.


Another show which impressed me recently was On the Darkest Night I Can See the Light at Delhi’s Gallery Seven Art run by Aparajita Jain. This was the first of six exhibitions being planned by Aparajita under the collective name First Showings. Helping her to put this clutch of exhibitions together is curator Deeksha Nath. Together, they’ll attempt to spot talent fresh out from the art colleges.


On display at the first show were three Chennai-based artists, Kumaresan Selvaraj, Aneesh Kalode Rajan and Sarvanan Parasuraman. Selvaraj works with surfaces and textures. So you had works with a number of layers on every surface — some were plain but stunning and you could feel the textures.


What we see conceals a lot behind it by Kumaresan Selvaraj


Rajan had interesting works called Perspectives. In these he imagines what he, his cousins and Michelangelo see in a group of clouds and how these images are dependent on their present preoccupations.


I was also impressed by Parasuraman who uses a variety of mediums like vinyl stickers, ball bearings, sand, silicon and fibreglass. He had done a rope sculpture using sand and silica and from a distance it looked exactly like a rope. Also, he had done a work made by ball bearings forming a pattern.


The good thing about the show was the freshness of the ideas behind all the works which was very stimulating. Also, there was the crucial fact that the costliest work was for Rs 95,000 and most works were in the Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 range.


It was art that I enjoyed!



Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts. He writes for the "The Telegraph" newspaper and specifically for the Sunday magazine "Graphiti" which has a readership of over a million readers. In Delhi, he writes a column on the art market in "The Mail Today" newspaper and also has written for the "First City" magazine.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Berlin Canvas !

Dear Readers,

Here is my latest article published in The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday edition reaching over 1 million readers......

Europe has been really cold this winter with a lot of freak storms and a chilly winter. In Berlin, though the art scene has been hot and vibrant. Due to the lovely confluence of cultures, Berlin attracts the best artists and with rental spaces still reasonable as compared to the rest of Europe, it has some of the most stunning gallery spaces.


Both Bodhi and Nature Morte, India’s top contemporary art galleries were present in Berlin at one time (Nature Morte is still around here) and there are also galleries like Christian Hosp which have been showing a lot of Indian and Pakistan contemporary art. Then came the recession and running a gallery with declining sales became a losing proposition and Bodhi had to shut shop.


I was fortunate that there was an important show at the architecturally inspirational “Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt”, the house of world cultures. The building looks like a flying saucer and is brilliantly conceptualised. The curators called the show “Why all the rage?”.


We had three important curators — Valerie Smith, Sussane Stemmler and Cordula Hamschmidt. They explored instances of rage and how it plays a role in people’s life — how rage gets manifested in communities and the effect that it has on people’s minds and bodies. The idea of rage as transformative energy is a key concept to the development of “On Rage” a vehicle from the negative to the positive, from status quo to revolution, from hopelessness to control.


Two artists who really stood out for me in the entire show were Shoja Ajari, an Iranian artist who now lives in New York. He was the co-winner of a Silver Lion award at Venice Film festival and he does photographs and video installations. Final Judgment, his work, was a video projection on canvas and projects the moral tales of Shiite Islam concerning the judgment day. Then inside this intricate work there was recent news footage of Muslim global political activity. It was stunning to see a canvas with flitting moving images — a very strong representation.



Shoja Azari‘s Final Judgement


Seher Shah was at her best with large scale drawings from her solo show “Paper to Monument 2”. These drawings dwelled on the complexities of urban excavation through public memory. Her three works were in the centre of the display and the black-and-white contrast of her drawings again reinforced my belief that she is one of the most important young artists of our times.



Paper to Monument II by Seher Shah


I also went to Probir Gupta’s show at Nature Morte Berlin. Probir’s work touches upon issues of war, religion, development, globalisation and genocide. He uses shrapnel in his work that he sources from abandoned military waste. Using this debris as his “clay,” he models mutant and macabre bodies and landscapes. The resulting paintings, fascinatingly complex with unexpected shots of colour, are chaotic to look at. Technically, he employs a thick, almost violent, use of impasto and brush strokes.



Assembled Identities by Probir Gupta



I liked the works which are not new but are the works that did not sell in the Philips de Pury auction house exhibition in January 2009. The works were beautiful but you could see that the pricing could have been better and hence even when I went, only one had sold. Large canvas works were priced at Rs 25 lakh. Now with the top names in Indian contemporary art down by 80 per cent from the peaks, Probir has still not understood the reality on pricing.


Artists need to understand that just because they sold a few works some years back at the height of the Indian contemporary art boom that does not become a pricing platform for years to come. I would have ideally liked the works to be priced drastically lower.


But in the art world, egos are bigger than usual and logic dies a slow death. That also shrinks the small collector base as people don’t like being taken for a ride. It’s high time that artists understood that collectors will not buy without logic and the fact that only one work has virtually sold in the last 15-18 months is a testimony to the new and informed collector !


Well, the journey was not complete in the art city of the world without staying in the art’otel at Berlin City Centre West. What attracted me to the hotel was the collection of Andy Warhol works they had. I enjoyed staying a in a hotel surrounded by the pop art works of Warhol and the rooms in bright orange, purple and green. Let us see when we get our first art hotel in the country!


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

Painting with Passion !

Dear Readers,

Here is the electronic version of the latest article published in the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph Newspaper reaching over a million readers !


I meet a lot of people who look askance at the new wave of Contemporary Art and would rather have pretty paintings which resonate in their living spaces. My take on this has been that art is not about only paintings but the entire gamut of expression from sculpture, installations and photograph to video art. This week I want to focus on an artist who is more in the original genre of painting and creates stunning pieces with a background and experience that actually makes you calmer when you view his work.


It’s interesting to meet Sidharth, who was born in a Sikh family and later in life, moved away from the worldly pleasures of life to join a monastery and become a monk. In the monastery he was named Sidharth — the name he still bears today. But after some time in the monastery he left and using all his accumulated learning started painting.


Sidharth is an artist with a difference in the Contemporary Art landscape of artists in the country. I have always been amazed by his connect with nature and the meticulous research that goes into every work. In the era of computer- generated art and studio assistants, Sidharth stands out as he does not even use commercially available colours. The other thing that he uses a lot is thin gold foil. That gold work is clearly visible on the canvas. In each of the canvases he usually narrates a story using the images.


The skills that he learnt at the Namgyal Monastery help him derive his colours and shades from Mother Nature. He uses natural pigments, vegetable dyes and his intrinsic knowledge of the topography to make his own colours in various hues. Always, very curious to learn and imbibe more, I have in my association of many years with him seen him use and implement the best techniques from Chinese, Japanese and now Russian schools of art.


He also makes his own handmade paper and thanks to his use of natural colours, you find a rarely seen luminosity in his works. The other thing which is very noticeable in his works is that most of the background colours are very bright, which is a result of the natural pigments and dyes that he uses. Crucially, the people shown in his work have faces without a predominant nose. That’s because Sidharth believes that the nose represents ego in our world. He tries to paint people when they are devoid of ego or rather to depict them in a utopian world where there is no ego!


Laughing Cow


His link with Mother Nature was an influence at his latest solo show at Religare Art Gallery in New Delhi. The connect is clearly visible in his series of paintings on the “Cow” — worshipped as a mother figure in India. He focuses on the worshipped Kamadhenu to the cow in the industrialised urban environment today, eating all the garbage and then producing milk which has pollutants causing disease.




Kartar Pur


The Poster Cow


His canvases tell a complete story that focuses on the worshipped Kamadhenu and a satirical comparison to a woman who is running her house with all products derived from milk. The ritual dismembering of the sacrifice is evoked in the dehumanisation of the perception of the cow reduced to its parts as against the various deities residing in Kamadhenu. He calls this work Laughing Cow, and it is his satirical take on the evolution and journey of a cow from ancient times to the urbanised modern world.


Sidharth is an expensive artist and although he did sell at Sotheby’s once, he generally doesn’t feature on auction circuits and the recession actually did not hit him much. He has a stream of steady collectors and fans — actress Dimple Kapadia being one of his biggest admirers.


The smaller canvas works are around Rs 2.4 lakh and larger sizes which are 4ft by 5ft can fetch up to Rs 10 lakh to Rs 12 lakh, although there are smaller works starting from Rs 70,000.The prices are steep. But the originality of his paintings and the sheer radiance emanating from what are clearly works of love painted with passion makes him an artist well worth considering for one’s collection.


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Art Market - Games People Play !

Here is my latest article published in "Mail Today" newspaper in New Delhi for your reading pleasure. The Article was published on 26th March.


I see a lot of contemporary art shows opening every week, but there’s one that caught my eye recently, that too at a new space — Rasika Kajaria’s Exhibit 320 at Lado Sarai. What struck me was the cutting- edge work on display, especially that of Kundo Yumnam and Sandip Pisalkar, who made a scooter with a gas pipe that is also good for killing mosquitoes! Pisalkar first tried it out in a slum before putting it up at the show — well, the artists are getting bolder by the day.

On the art market, meanwhile, first sale of the spring season by Saffronart was being watched closely for pointers to the shape of things to come. The sale went by smoothly.

In the contemporary art space, there were no surprises and it was pretty much on predictable lines, except a work by Subodh Gupta that went for Rs 1.7 crore — it was a happy departure from the rates commanded by the artist in last year’s recession- hit market. Auctions in 2009 had seen his work go for Rs 80 lakh to Rs 1.1 crore.

A lot of galleries, collectors and investors ( including art funds) treat auction results as gospel truths and that is why data gets manipulated. The Indian contemporary art market does not have depth and is susceptible to manipulations. Already, Osian’s Art Fund has not been able to pay its investors. And I keep hearing complaints from people who are stuck with wrong valuations by the Copal Art Fund.

Let me give you some real- life examples of how easy it is to manipulate prices if an investor is keen on making a quick buck.

There is a prominent artist from Orissa who has also been shown in the country by the best Indian art galleries. When he started out around five years back, a group of art investors with a manipulative mindset picked him up at a standard rate of Rs 5,000 per square foot and bound him to a contract that required him to give all his work to his paymasters.

The investors then slowly started raising the prices in auctions.

The quality of the work was good and the investors had ample stock. The work was put up in an auction house, the bidding was taken to unrealistic heights by the investors’ friends, who bought a canvas each at every auction, and then these were sold through other auction houses at inflated prices. Their cost of buying their own possessions back was the 15 per cent buyer premium charged by the auction house and their entire stock got re- valued at a level that was seven times higher than the original.

Now this artist, because he was really good, got solo shows at prominent galleries and this further swelled the profits of the first batch of investors. The people who suffered were the later investors who followed auction prices and bought at ridiculous values, and collectors who genuinely liked the artist’s work and paid a price which he does not deserve till date. I saw his works even at the Saffronart auction and some people bought them at stretched valuations. That is how the art market works.

THIS happens all the time. I call some of these artists, auction artists — that is, they owe some part of their growth to friendly auction houses, which sometimes shut their faculties conveniently and sometimes also have a stake in the growing valuations of an artist. So the next time you read that screaming headline, ‘Indian art sets a new high’, don’t buy the hype: scratch the surface and probe deeper. Also, to get closer to the real value of the work of an artist, subtract the 15- 25 per cent buyer premium from the final value shown, for that is added on the final bid after the auction is closed.

Don’t get swayed by the valuation game. Check the background of an artist, be diligent about the research and probe the pricing logic. Also, whenever you intend to buy a canvas for over Rs 2 lakh, just buy from the best and well respected art galleries. In the particular case I have used as an illustration, you’d have still got taken for a ride, but in most cases you’d be protected, for even galleries have learnt from the past.

Auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s would have completed their sales by the time this article goes into print and although they have wonderful lots from the modern space, I wasn’t impressed with the contemporary works. All this price manipulation should not stop you from collecting, but don’t get taken for a ride! Buy what you like and only at the right price !


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

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Eye-catchers with Mithu Sen & Latitude 28 !

Dear Friends,

Here is the latest article in The Telegraph newspaper Sunday magazine " Graphiti" reaching close to a million readers, for your reading pleasure. If you wish to receive instant updates the moment the blog is updated, please enter your email address on the upper right hand side of the blog, no questions, just your email address for the latest views on Indian Contemporary Art !


The art season is roaring back to life with everyone keen to show after a year of being in the economic doldrums and the calendar for art lovers is growing more hectic. Two shows that have opened in Mumbai and New Delhi grabbed my eye for being distinctive and unique.

Mithu Sen, arguably, one of India’s most talented artists, is having a solo show at Gallery Chemould in Mumbai. She has always been more active in key exhibits internationally including the last one in Vienna but now gallery-goers have a chance to see her at home. I have always regretted the fact that the Indian public have missed out on what Mithu has to offer as her best shows and works are always out of India but now that’s about to change.

In fact, Mithu has presented her most dramatic show ever — called ‘Black Candy’ — which opened a few days ago. The unique thing about the show is that most of the works have three dimensions to them. There’s the drawing which has text on it. That’s accompanied by sound which lends an exceptionally different feel to viewing the art. Also one thing to note about Mithu’s art — it is straight from the heart and controversial.

In this series she is trying to understand the vulnerability that men have and she peers into the desires, pain, sorrow and agony they go through. So the works are sexually very explicit and she engages the viewer in a dialogue with the work. She doesn’t impose any views on you — you relate to the work according to your own responses. Her style is one that I’ve never seen before — the art is powerful and will always stir reaction as it’s created with a lot of passion.

Wrestler by Mithu Sen

Now on also is a show entitled ‘Size matters or.....Does it?’ staged by Bhavna Kakar at her newly opened gallery Latitude 28 ( Latitude 28 is the latitude Delhi is located on!). Kakar is a well-known personality in the art world as the Editor of Art & Deal and has also launched her new Art magazine called Take on Art. As she trained to be an artist, she has a keen curatorial eye and her show is quite interesting. She has had every participating artist work in a large work format and a small work format. This tests the execution skills of the artist and appeals to collector as it allows much more choices.

Now in discussing the theme ‘Size’, we’ve all been taught that bigger is usually better. But for those of us who are on the fence about whether one should work on a small-scale or take that giant leap forward towards a bigger canvas and digging deeper into one’s pocket, here’s some thoughts about whether size matters.

In the speculation-led art market, everything boils down to commerce. Sadly art today has a tendency to be valued not by its quality or subject matter but in square inches and square feet! Kakar seeks to dispel with that notion in her own way with creative works in both formats. So she has a 5-ft x 4-ft canvas by Manjunath Kamath and also a set of twelve 4.5-in x 3.5-in works called True Lies. It’s quite refreshing to see large and small works by all artists in the show. I was also impressed by the visual appeal of a 17-ft work depicting Qawali singers by G.R. Iranna.

Manjunath Kamath’s Lie in Between Question & Answer; (above) Ointment by Baiju Parthan

Baiju Parthan has two works called Ointment in both formats and I was impressed with both works that are about the ideas people have about the world and the lengths to which we go to protect, defend, and propagate them. The very fact there are many views explaining the universe differently suggest that these are all products of engagement. The visual representation of both the works is just stunning.

So here are my picks so if you’re in Delhi or in Mumbai, you have some interesting art shows to visit and engage with both visually and intellectually!


Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " newspaper and "First City" magazine. Comments and views are welcome at indianartreview@gmail.com.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Atul Dodiya's Master Stroke !

Dear Friends,


Here is my article in Mail Today on Atul Dodiya's upcoming art show opening at Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi and the price correction that has happened. I saw the images and the works looked quite nice but really 3 works on the basis of images stood out, now sources indicate that the show is sold out. I don't know the identity of the buyers or the motive, I just thought that Atul and Vadehra Art gallery did a smart thing by keeping the price right. I think in a contemporary art market which is an an infancy stage it was quite a welcome decision. Here is the article published on the 19th of February for your reading pleasure.


It is the season of art openings and the curtain is set to go up on many exciting shows this month. If you still haven’t had the time, do check out Resemble Re-Assemble at Devi Art Foundation to view some cutting-edge contemporary art from Pakistan. But that’s not what I am going to dwell upon here. One of the most important openings for the first quarter of 2010 is Atul Dodiya’s Vadehra Art Gallery show on March 5. I’m picking up this show as it offers amazing insights into the Indian contemporary art space. Dodiya, I believe, and so do others in the know, is India’s foremost contemporary artist who also commands the respect of his community.

I’ve seen admiration for him cut across galleries/ collectors. In the boom that drove values to illogically high levels in the Indian art market, the average price of Atul’s works had reached close to a crore. I don’t know who was responsible for it — whether it was his gallery Bodhi, which was representing him at that time, or his own brainwave — but the market was suddenly flooded with scores of his paper works in editions of 12 to 20. Their commercial values were in the range of Rs 6-8 lakh and they were being billed as unique prints because he had done some work on each of them. Then he had a show at Bodhi in Mumbai with 40 watercolours. The sales were brisk and the demand was high. Everyone was happy but the number of works in a speculative art market defied logic, and worse, the quality of this show called Pale Ancestors, was average for his talent.


Even before the market started turning, Dodiya’s values started coming down as there was too much supply and the values were too high — mediocre 30-by-22-inch watercolours were being offered for Rs 20 lakh! As the demand started going down, suddenly there were no takers for his work at those price points. He was not seen at any important show as far as I can remember. The values crashed and Dodiya’s works priced at Rs 20 lakh went for Rs 6 lakh, that too if they found a buyer at the auctions. There was no demand for any of his other works in the secondary market. So, I was happy to receive images of the upcoming Atul Dodiya show passed on by a fellow collector. Note that the images were being circulated a good 45 days before the show is scheduled to open. The works are significant and most of them are 5ft-by-8ft, quite lush in technique and content. What’s commendable is the artist’s maturity and the Vadehra Art Gallery’s offering of these works at Rs 30-36 lakh. WHO better to introduce a price correction and leave money on the table for the collectors than one of the country’s respected contemporary artists.


This is one the best pricing decisions in a market full of greed and speculation. The credit for taking a bold decision to mark down values for really significant works must be given both to Dodiya and his gallery. Sources say he is already sold out — a month before its opening day — because it offers both quality and value. In the last few months, I’ve seen numerous shows open where canvases have been illogically priced, and to anyone who disputed the logic, the standard answer was that you need to appreciate the aesthetics and not focus only on prices. We saw mid-tier contemporary artists out of tune with reality and had top galleries justifying values in 2009 as being the same as in 2007, which was illogical because in 2007, the Indian economy was on an overdrive. On a different note, the Saffronart auction catalogue for March is now online, and you can make out that the contemporary art market is recovering fast, with a much better variety available for buying this time. My pick of the lot in the contemporary space is the stunning T.V. Santhosh canvas. The whole of 2009 did not see any of his recent works being consigned and this is estimated at Rs 30-40 lakh.


I like the fact that the estimates for most of the works are in line and Saffronart has done a good job in keeping them low. I can sense a recovery for the contemporary art market but would advise you all to be careful. Remember the rule: Buy only what you like and if you have decided that you need to own a particular work, do not get carried away. And do your research on the pricing.



Cheers



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

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Pakistan Palette !

This is my article on The Pakistan Contemporary Art Show at Devi Art Foundation which appeared in the Sunday magazine "Graphiti" of The Telegraph Newspaper which has a print run of 0.5 million copies. Comments are welcome!

The art scene is back at its vibrant best! Week after week there are new shows and one of the season’s best has been assembled by Anupam Poddar at the Devi Art Foundation.

Poddar’s passion as a collector is well known but his initiative in mounting a show of his collection of Pakistan Contemporary Art gives viewers a chance to see new art from our neighbour that’s innovative and absorbing. I was also impressed with his choice of curator, Rashid Rana, one of Pakistan’s foremost contemporary artists best known for his Red Carpet & Veil series — tiny images of an abattoir forming a red carpet and pornographic images in the shape of a veil.

The exhibition of 45 artists, culled from the vast collection of Anupam and Lekha Poddar, is aptly titled Resemble Reassemble. It showcases Experimental Art rather than the miniature intricate work we associate with Pakistani art. The art which spans the past decade is fresh and for a country which has issues with travel visas and limited interactions with other countries due to security issues, strongly contemporary. It’s art with which you instantly connect and the satire, in fact, is sometimes too much in your face. It’s also refreshingly without the hype and speculation of Indian Contemporary Art.

And the icing on the cake — for me — is the show’s staging at the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon, a stunning museum with lots of open spaces and excellent ceiling heights where you revel in the experience of soaking in the works. I was quite impressed with the earlier works of Ayaz Jokhio, one of the participants in the recently concluded Asia Pacific Triennale in Brisbane which also had Subodh Gupta and Thukral & Tagra from India. The show featured his works from 2005 and if I look at his works today, they’ve changed quite a lot, but even in 2005 you can feel the intensity of his style.

So here are my top three picks. Imran Ahmed Khan in this installation Implode 1 has various parts of an AK 47 rifle suspended with surgical medical instruments all hanging from the ceiling in a spectacular visual display. According to him, weapons and surgical instruments are related. Both penetrate human flesh, one to kill, the other to cure, both are handled by human figures and in most cases draw blood. This was a haunting image and executed beautifully.

Implode 1 by Imran Ahmed Khan

In the second work, Amber Hammad gets herself into the photograph titled Maryam, the Arabic name for Mary. It recreates the Mother Mary & Child genre that has inspired many paintings and sculptures around the world. She recreates this image in front of traditional Islamic architecture and the photograph has a box of diapers and a book on erotic art next to it. I admired the way the artist conveyed the various dimensions of a woman’s life in an Islamic environment. It’s a subtle yet defining work with a touch of humour in it.

Amber Hammad’s Maryam

And of course, no commentary on Pakistan Contemporary Art can still be complete without some miniature work in it. Nusra Latif Qureshi has lived in Australia for many years and in this work, titled Rainbird, For What Place Are You Crying?, maybe the lovers pointing to some distant location in the work is her own longing for her country –— a yearning shared by all Diaspora artists. Her work, an excellent fusion of miniature art with an exploration of personal, social and political histories, is stunning. Take note specially of her deft use of striking colours and the subtle intricacies inspired by the traditional miniature work.

Rainbird, For What Place Are You Crying? by Nusra Latif Qureshi

I have also been collecting Pakistan Contemporary Art for the last two years and have been impressed with the quality of the work. The values are also quite reasonable especially for the quality of work available. It’s not difficult to get a nice work from a younger contemporary artist for around Rs 50,000 and even experienced contemporary artists are all available in the Rs 2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh range. Some of the galleries showing such cutting edge Pakistan Contemporary Art are Green Cardamom in London and Grey Noise in Lahore.

So if you are looking for art which is a commentary on the times in which we live, start looking at Pakistan Contemporary Art seriously. There’s some great art across the border just waiting to be collected! And if you are ever in the vicinity also do take a trip down to Gurgaon as the show stays open till May 10.

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

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rules of Buying Art after a Difficult Year !

This is my new monthly column in "Mail Today" newspaper on the Art Market. Mail Today from the India Today group is one of the leading newspapers in New Delhi and the National Capital Region.
Enjoy !
The year 2009 started on a difficult note for Indian Contemporary Art but it looks poised for a recovery in 2010, though it is still early days. Last year saw the prices commanded by most Indian contemporary masters sink to all- time lows with some values dropping by more than 75 per cent from their peak.

The Art Tactic Confidence Index sank to a low of 19 in March, but it had recovered to 46 in November 2009 — in plain terms it means that 46 per cent of the collectors would buy contemporary art now, compared with 19 per cent in March. The improvement, as you can see, is relative and there are hardly any buyers for works over Rs 10 lakh.

In the two years before 2009, values had become unsustainable and some of that trend continues till this day. Most of the shows opening in Delhi in the last two months had disappointing sales; only 20 per cent of the works got sold — so much for the ‘ recovery’! All that you hear today is good news, such as a Manjit Bawa selling at Rs 1.6 crore, which is close to a new record, but not that most of the top contemporary artists were struggling at the auctions. So please discount the statements emanating from the galleries that the market is booming and collectors are buying.

What does one do in 2010? Well, you must know that the values are still high and gallery prices are what they used to be at the time of the boom — maybe 10 per cent lower. If you buy at these prices, you’ll end up with a hole in your pocket. So here are some of the rules for you to follow — buy what you really like and would love to hang on the wall; go for the younger contemporary artists with reputed addresses such as Nature Morte, Gallery Chemould, Sakshi Art Gallery, Guild Art Gallery, Project 88 and Latitude 28. The prices should ideally be lower than Rs 2 lakh, but even then, research the artists before collecting their work. Consult other collectors if you believe your favourite artist has potential to grow in the future.

In the top- end contemporary space, it may be prudent for you to wait and watch. In the year gone by, I have bought T. V. Santhosh because he was able to hold his prices even at the peak of recession. The other is Seher Shah, who is still up and coming, but the values are good. All the others are younger artists with prominent galleries — like Sajjad Ahmed, Prajjwal Choudhary, Shreyas Karle and Siddartha Kararwal, whose work is priced between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2 lakh. At the upper end of the spectrum, the only artist I would buy at reasonable valuations is N. S. Harsha, who’s not prolific but is very talented.

Game Theory by T.V. Santosh

The year 2009 also saw over 600 investors in the Osian’s art fund struggling to get their capital back. My response is that people who invest in a fund that promises to give higher than bank returns are courting a risk.

If people lose money because they weren’t diligent enough, or because they became passive investors after reading art world headlines, then it was bound to happen. The Indian art market does not have a big enough base of collectors to support an art fund, so wait for the market to really grow before you lose your money in such ventures. Art bought for financial returns can be risky because of the lack of pricing transparency and also due to the fact that it isn’t liquid like other assets.

I would rather enjoy the process of buying art, hang some great canvases on the wall, make sure I apply the principles of intelligent buying to protect my capital and spend time reading on how to buy art and not invest in art funds. Spend time on the World Wide Web, visit shows at the best galleries in the cities, read blogs, and you are on your way to becoming a well- informed art collector!

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

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Crash and After !

Dear Friends,

This is the article published in "Graphiti" the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph newspaper on the 3rd of January giving my views on the year gone by and the road ahead !

It’s been a turbulent year for all asset classes including art but it’s thankfully drawing to a close on a better note than it started. However, it’s left behind some hefty damage — especially at the speculative end. What are the relevant lessons of the past year for Indian Contemporary Art — how can one build a portfolio that holds its value during rough weather?

We should note right away that the market for the modern artists — especially Gaitonde, Souza, Husain, Raza and a real gem whom we lost this year, Tyeb Mehta — remains strong but even among those art titans there are some pretty steep price variations. What this difficult year highlighted was the importance of quality and not just names. So if you’re lucky enough to possess a Souza work from the late ’50s to the early ’60s, the price for a 2ft by 3ft canvas now could be Rs 75 lakh, but if you have a Souza work from the late ’80s, within the same size range, the price could be just Rs 20 lakh.

Landscape with Houses and Lake by F.N. Souza

In the contemporary space, the speculative side of the market has taken the biggest hit. There had been a lot of froth in the market and that has been pretty roundly removed. All the key stakeholders — galleries, artists and collectors — were caught up in the tide of ever rising values and when the bad times struck, prices crashed by as much as 75 per cent.

A lot of artists, even those who had been bracketed in the top tier, suddenly found they weren’t selling at all when confidence troughed in March. One of the most flamboyant art galleries in the last four years, Bodhi Art Gallery, which had presences in Delhi, Mumbai, Singapore, New York and Berlin, finally closed down all its locations this year under the weight of mounting costs as their roster of artists slumped from the lofty valuations they’d enjoyed just a year earlier.

Atul Dodiya’s Sleeping with the Stars

I feel the fall of Bodhi Art Gallery, which some rivals had regarded as too commercial, has not been a good thing for the world of Indian contemporary art. Bodhi was a leader in redefining some of the norms on presenting and displaying art, publishing arguably the best catalogues with each show and also taking Indian contemporary art to an international collector base.

It also had some of the best sites, welcoming and well-informed gallery staff and a really conducive environment for viewing art. But the scale and magnitude of the operation built on a group of artists who’d started to believe the hype was too much and finally led to the demise of what was, at one point of time, India’s most powerful contemporary art gallery. It was built on a model of investment and financial returns and though art is a financial asset anyone who looks at it merely through a commercial prism is bound to fail.

And there is a lesson in the recently concluded Christies’ Hong Kong sale of contemporary art. Its price estimates were completely out of whack with market realities. So it was not surprising to see that most of the works did not even manage a decent bid.

So what ultimately is the takeaway for collectors and galleries from these cautionary tales? In the good times, don’t get carried away by hype. It’s important to note that what keeps its value is quality — but only at the right price. Still even in these difficult times, a 1979 work by Jogen Choudhary was able to smash all records in the Sotheby’s auction to breach the Rs 2 crore mark due its incomparable quality.

All in the Landscape by Probir Gupta

Now, though, the situation is looking rosier for the art world. Art Tactic, an art research firm which tracks confidence in Indian contemporary art, has seen its confidence index recover to 46 from 19. This means that 46 per cent of the collector community surveyed will buy contemporary art at current valuations — perhaps not as good a figure as one would like but still a lot better than the 19 per cent registered earlier when times were tougher. Another pointer to improving sentiment is the recently concluded Saffron Art auction in which 62 per cent of its art works sold above the higher estimate — underscoring that the market is recovering its poise.

Looking ahead to the first quarter of 2010, one of the most interesting events is a show by cutting edge British collector Charles Saatchi at his Saatchi Art Gallery in London. The show, aptly titled “The Empire Strikes Back,” will put India — and Pakistan — in the global contemporary art spotlight once again, something which had happened with Arco Madrid last February where India was the focus country. But the timing of Saatchi’s exhibition is better in the context of the recovery in global markets than the Madrid show.

Saatchi’s show, which opens on 29 January, promises to be really eye-catching. The roughly 26 artists featured include a mix of the top names in the Indian and Pakistan contemporary art space and also some new names you may not even have heard of. Some of the younger artists showing are Sakshi Gupta, T. Venkanna, Kriti Arora, Rajesh Ram and Rajan Krishnan among others. You may also want to take a peek at some of the research Saatchi has put up for this show, which you can view at www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk.

Here at home keep an eye out locally for well-known photographer Rashid Rana’s show, curating at the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon starting January 16. This exhibit, focusing on the journey of Pakistani contemporary art, should be quite interesting, considering the passion of Anupam Poddar and the pioneering work he has done in the world of collecting Pakistani art.

Now in the meantime, let me wish you all a Happy New Year and a good time collecting in 2010.


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