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 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 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