The first rule is to pick up something you can live with for a lifetime. If you’re into collecting as an investment, what matters as much as the artwork is its creator and previous owners
Art is his psychotropic fix–the more he gets, the more he wants. Novelist Jeffrey Archer, in fact, says one of the reasons he writes is so that he can collect impressionist paintings.
What can one expect in terms of themes, moods and subjects in a post-pandemic scenario? The paintings represent an outpouring of pain and grief at one end, and a ‘golden’ period of reflection and self-discovery at the other. Yet, the art world went into crisis in the time of Covid-19, with purchases beginning to be regarded as a unnecessary indulgence as people lost jobs and businesses crumbled.
Says Kiran Nadar, Chairperson, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) and a trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation: “I don’t know if people are going to directly document the pandemic but certainly moods, like loneliness and solitude are going to show in their works to a large extent. All these emotions will definitely come out. Others will want to paint a happier environment. So, different artists will react very differently.”
There has been growing demand for leading modern masters like M F Husain, V S Gaitonde, S H Raza and F N Souza. Considerable interest has been generated by Bengal School maestros such as Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar Baij and Somnath Hore.
Surprisingly, the Indian art auction market stood firm despite the pandemic. At a recent Sotheby’s online auction, the number of buyers doubled and the amount they spent grew five fold. Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art Sale concluded in New York on March 16, achieving $7.1 million – more than twice the $3.3 million estimate and a near 50 per cent increase year-on-year. Says Manjari Sihare, Head, Sotheby’s Indian & South Asian Art Sales in New York: “The sale featured a range of works from 66 artists, many of whom, such as Laxman Narain Taskar, Sardar Ganda Thakar Singh and Sunayani Devi, were first-timers at Sotheby’s. With bidders and buyers from across North America, Europe and Asia, the event’s success signalled the global strength of the South Asian art market and an appetite for newer artists. Many lots well exceeded pre-sale estimates, and notable world auction records were set for seven artists in the sale, with the spotlight on the Bengal School of Art.”
The modernist’s work has shot up. Gaitonde sold last week for Rs 40 crore, almost twice the earlier record of Rs 22 crore, according to Anurag Kanoria, Founder and Owner of ‘The Great Eastern Home’, a fine interiors store. He says, “I personally feel it’s the mid-career artists–those in their forties and fifties–who haven’t done so well after Covid. People are either looking for affordable art from the younger set (those in their late twenties to early thirties) while the connoisseurs are looking at the modernists.”
The pandemic gave people time to contemplate and build their art collection. Says Shivajirao Gaekwar, a Mumbai-based Sotheby’s Specialist in Modern and Contemporary Indian Art: “Most people now have the luxury of spending more time in their homes, and the time to think about adding to their art collections. Many have actually had the opportunity to start collecting art for the first time. This is something many people didn’t have the luxury to do before. Given the current state of lockdown and a conscious effort to avoid large gatherings, I think the digital interface has become the way forward.”
Many feel that the art boom is no passing phase. Given the current exposure that Indian art is receiving, the projected turnover of the market will hold its ground, and further expand over the next decade. You can churn out record-breaking returns by investing in that prized collection. This is an asset for the long term. It is safe to expect an increment in prices, given the steady growth in demand and the limited supply of quality artwork.
Different strokes for different folks
Art has subjective appeal. There are two aspects to buying–the quantitative and qualitative. Says Raghava K K, a specialist in abstract and fluid artworks: “Both shape the purchase decision. Qualitative is about whether a piece represents something I believe in. Does that energise me or create an environment in my home that defines me? I would always advise you to collect art that represents your finest humanity attributes, your home and your life–something that tells the world who you really are or aspire to be.”
The quantitative or commercial part is all about the value that a work of art commands. Is there enough interest in the artist, does he stand for something the world needs? Collectors are pretty clued in to who the artist is, his journey, and his standing in the market. Another thing a collector would be concerned about is the ‘life’ of the painting–would it still hold connoisseur interest after 10 or 20 years, or does it have a limited shelf life?
What matters as much as the artwork is its creator, and even its previous owners. This is called provenance – who owned the painting before is as important as name of the artist, as also the profiles of people bidding against each other.
Like any other investment, extensive research is a must. It is advisable to visit art fairs, art shows and art studios, or go online to find something that represents who you are. Dedicate months tracking art auction news and valuation trends. Factors such as an artwork’s exhibition and publication history will always help. Speak to a curator or a specialist to get an inside scoop. Follow the respective artist’s auction performance and observe the paintings of the highest value sold by leading auction houses.
You should know your primary objective while buying. People look for different things, from peace to joy to inspiration and even to conflict. Artist Raghava K K explains that dark paintings could also energise someone and make him confront his fears. He says: “I don’t just look at a painting as a beautiful piece of work, but also as something transformative that helps one change. That is the power of art, it inspires change.”
Buying art for the house
Should the painting blend with the rest of the home decor and be of the same style? The first rule is that you must like the piece and be prepared to live with it. Says Sotheby’s Gaekwar: “Don’t follow trends. Whatever one buys should reflect one’s own taste. But one must buy the best work of a particular artist that one can afford. Buy from a well-known gallery and see enough of an artist’s work so that you are familiar enough with his oeuvre before you acquire a particular piece. Galleries are very happy to encourage first-time buyers and will often extend flexible payment terms. Art doesn’t need to blend with the decor of the home, it needs to reflect the taste of the owner.”
Gallery owners tell their clients to at least shortlist a few works that they personally like, following which they have long discussions on the work they should actually choose from that list. It depends on their personality, the house, who the artist is, the trajectory of his career and the artist’s future. Says Kanoria: “If you are spending more than a lakh, you can’t be oblivious to the future value of that work of art. Investment is always there at the back of their minds. There is quite a detailed discussion and even though there are subjective evaluations and fluctuating market trends, curators do make an academic guess based on experience, knowledge and some valuation. But it isn’t a guarantee.”
Look after it as you would any other valuable object. There are very simple ways to store your art collection responsibly. Your gallerist will help you store it or show you how to. It is not so difficult to maintain and there are lot of conservationists who restore dilapidated frames and the rear, and address issues like dampness with appropriate cases. If proper care is taken, your painting could even last a hundred years or more.
Kinds of art
Modern, contemporary, traditional, colonial, art deco, pop art-there are all kinds of genres and works can range from complete abstracts to realistic and figurative portraits. Tribal art such as Madhubani, Gond and Warli has been trending with certain well-established names such as Kalam Patua, Baua Devi, Jangarh Singh Shyam, Bhajju Shyam. And then there are lesser-known artists. There is a big market today for tribal art which has developed over the past 15 years.
Then there is pandemic art inspired by tragedy and loss. Digital is another area that has expanded and is the first disruption the art world has seen, much like the printing press moment in the publishing world. Artists have released their works on social media platform. For instance Raghava K K’s Eye Candy, a performance art piece based on seven emotions relevant to post-Covid times spanning over three months was released on Instagram with seven IGTV videos, eight reels, 14 carousel posts and three IG live sessions.
A new kind of art form in the name of ‘documentary photography’ is finding takers. At a recent Karma Art Symposium 2021, artist Aashna Khurana’s exhibition of photographs elicited an overwhelming response. She had captured a variety of subjects at different events and points of time. These photos, which included the Surajkund Mela, an artistic door in Budapest, and a woman sleeping on a bus trip, have found favour with customers who savour “stories” and culture and who like to freeze time. “I want to click pictures just as they are – the way I see them. I don’t photoshop my images to create details that are not there. Hence these are as close to reality as possible.”
Finally, when it comes to art, listen to your heart. It is something you want to live with for a lifetime. Often, great art is like heirloom, whose value appreciates over time as it is passed on from one generation to another.
Table: What it would cost you to bring modern and contemporary art home
|Prices of works at the recent Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art Sale
|Lots sold/Sale price (USD)
|1962 masterwork Untitled
|Francis Newton Souza
|Drame au Village
Credits: Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art Sale