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 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

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 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.