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.


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.

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 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.