Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is Buying Art The Prerogative Of Moneybags And Old Fatcats?

pic above: Details from Manjunath Kamath's
'Ironing the King's Clothes'

In this entire melee where is the small time art enthusiast who has the passion but not the deep pockets that seem to be a pre requisite in case you want to pick up any art at all? Is art out of bounds for all but wealthy patrons and flushed-with-funds-Johnny-come-lately varieties? Veteran journalist and art critic Sunil Mehra asks the million buck question:

Nothing more dramatically highlighted the boom in the Indian art market than the country wide income tax raids on art galleries this April. Painters are the new glitterati - parvenus and connoisseurs solicit their attention, tabloids track their openings, filmstars and fashionistas, industrialists and corporations vie to bid for their works. Indian art has elicited dizzy bids at Indian art auctions.

The icing on the cake has been the launch of two multi crore Art Investment funds: one launched by Geeta Mehra of the Sakshi Gallery; the other by Neville Tuli of the Osian Art conglomerate. And shortly banks will be accepting art works. As collateral. Message? Indian art has ARRIVED.

Not really. I learnt this, to my everlasting benefit, from THE venerable Husain himself when I started out as a journo with a weekly news magazine and tremulously owned up to my nagging insecurity, my feeling of utter inadequacy in writing about HIM. “Write without fear but write with honesty” he assured me. “Trust your instinct. To appreciate art you need intuition. You need an eye. Not an art education. Buy what you like. Write what you feel.”

That advise held one in good stead throughout one’s journalistic career. One minor amendment I did make. I took care to educate myself. I realised that if I was to write anything anyone would respect I HAD to take the trouble to study and educate myself on the subject I was holding forth on. What one said after that was informed even if it wasn’t absolute.

It is this combination of self education and intuition that helped one pick up good art on the cheap. I picked up my first Bawas in 1989 for the princely sum of Rs 20,000 paid in instalments over a whole year: two small works that are today priced at a mind boggling Rs 50 lakhs each. Was he the mega star he became then? Not quite. But I liked the work, the man and went with my instinct.
Likewise Bhupen Khakhar: good friend, wonderful soul and brilliant artist. Quite unable to afford his canvases I picked up sketches, random drawings for Rs 5/8/10/20,000 over the years. Over the years one realised one was sitting on a treasure trove of unusual drawings and sketches that revealed the innermost recesses, the subcutaneous of the artistic genius. Suffice to say those rare works are today worth an enormous amount of money.

There is a moral to this story lest I be misconstrued as the smug, pompous twit giving himself a pat on the back. You have to trust your gut instinct. Quite like my good friend Rajive Sethi who is wealthy enough to buy work from any of todays star painters. Yet, very recently he bought up an ENTIRE exhibition of a young, obscure Bengali painter called Tanmoy Samanta. His reason? He loved the wit, the skill, the intelligence of the artist. So he put his money where his mouth was and bought ALL of him off the wall. And did it pay off! Within the space of the last two years young Tanmoy has become a hot ticket: galleries are rushing to feature him, collectors are stampeding to buy him. And he is laughing all the way to the bank!

Examples are legion. Young Anandjit Ray was obscure in the late Eighties. Today he is a star with a long wait list of buyers and gallerists. Renu Modi, the intrepid owner of Gallery Espace discovered and launched young Rooshika Patel from Baroda. She once sold for Rs. 20,000. Today she sells for two lakhs plus. Ditto the quirky Manjunath Kamath whose fantastical magic realism canvases remind you at once of Rousseau and Marquez. Tomorrow’s rising star? Mekhala Bahl who just showed at Alliance Francaise in Delhi. Her maiden exhibition has been a sell out. The bigger works sold for Rs 90,000 to 1,50,000. One predicts her rates will double in an year.

So how should YOU buy art?

Go for the smaller work
Love an artist whose canvases seem too pricey? Enquire about smaller works or drawings. Much cheaper and often much more interesting. A friend picked up some fabulous sculpture and paintings walking through the student exhibits at the Baroda School of Art. Last month some expat friends picked up gems from the Delhi College of Art student exhibits. Last I went there some years ago Bhupen Khakhar was gleefully picking up paintings by the new-kids-on-the-block.

Trust the underdog
Remember, today’s strugglers are tomorrows stars. So put your chips on these dark horses and the derby might well be yours! Vishwanadhan, the Paris based star painter from Kerala was discovered the same way by a premier Paris museum. The rest, as they say, is history.
4Watch the rising stars
Pick up the larger works by the ‘second rung’ artists. Their time may come…and soon. Iranna is big today but he will be mega tomorrow. Shobha Broota’s smaller works are easy on the eye and (hate to sound like an accountant here!) great value for money in the long run.

Go with your gut instinct
Ultimately all art is about love. Its your love for it that lends it enduring value. And that is something all art lovers/ buyers would do well to keep in mind when buying art. If you can afford it and gives you joy go for it. Remember beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. And profits in his pocket! But that should be incidental and not central to your decision. Believe me you won’t go wrong. I didnt!

Galleries of Note Around India
Gallery Espace
16 Community Centre
New Friends Colony

Vadehra Gallery
D-178, Okhla Phase 1

Visual Art Gallery
India Habitat Centre Lodhi Road

Art Heritage gallery
Triveni Kala Sangam Tansen Marg

Pundole Art Gallery
Hutatma Chowk

Gallery Chemould
Kala Ghoda

Shreeram Mills
GK Marg, Lower Parel

Tao Gallery
Sarjan Plaza
Dr. A.B. Road
Cima Gallery
Ashutosh Chowdhury Avenue

Chitrakoot Gallery
Gariahat Road

Aakaar Prakaar
Hindustan Park

The Presidency
St. Mark’s Road

Apparao Gallery
Wallace Garden, Nungambakkam

Aurodhan Gallery
33 rue Francois Martin Kuruchippam


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