How To Build Your Own Art Collection!

The Indian art market has been looking up, and how—one Indian masterpiece went for Rs. 22 crore. But building an art collection is not about greed...(well, maybe a little!)
by Ashoke Nag

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Why should you collect art? After all, you could make as much money by doing something else. Like buying property. Or something even more boring. But the fact is: art as an investment doesn’t just appreciate, it also helps you elevate your hosting game. (It’s not just for the walls, of course.) So, till you let out your inner M.F. Husain, the next best thing is buying art.

And the good news is that the art market is slowly climbing out of the gloom. Quality art is selling at fairly handsome prices. A V.S. Gaitonde at the December 2015 Christie’s sale fetched the steepest price ever of Rs. 22 crore. In the same breath, a small work by Ganesh Pyne has gone for over Rs. 2 crore at the Astaguru auction house sale in 2016, keeping up with his earlier price achieved at an auction by Christie’s in 2013. Art magazines are being published, both print and online. And art books are once again hitting the stands in bookstores.

Though not mushrooming like they did during the art boom over 2003-07, new galleries are coming up again, too. These are good signs for artists, and an ideal time to invest in art. After all, investing in art is not for the short term; a painting is always kept for a long time. “Though the art market hasn’t touched the heights that it had between 2005 and 2007, there’s still a marked improvement. How would art books be published without money? Look at the number of international museums which are showing Indian art. During the recession, demand was so low that art prices became one-fifth or one-third of the original price. Even auction prices were hit. Now, demand has picked up again. Prices are slowly coming back. Of course, masterpieces have been selling even in the worst of times. A great piece of art will always sell,” says Reena Lath, chief executive officer, Akar Prakar Gallery, Kolkata Galleries have started selling again.

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Shopping malls are also witnessing the presence of art galleries, which means that the masses are beginning to develop a taste for the good stuff . The old masters, including S.H. Raza and Pyne, and contemporary artists like Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher or Atul Dodiya sell easily. It’s difficult to gauge the prices that individual galleries sell their works for but, from an overall perspective, business at galleries is reviving in India. “Business is obviously better in Delhi and Mumbai. Art will flourish where money is going around. You have to just provide the infrastructure. Delhi and Mumbai are globalised, but the rest of the markets are regional and immature,” says Lath.

Auction houses are trying to bring pricing to a certain level. Western markets, as you can imagine, are much more mature. Auctioneers like Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Bonhams are 200 to 250 years old. These auctioneers have the expertise to market not just Western art, but also Indian art. It’s a diff erent ball game. The growth of the Indian art market over time is underlined by international auction results: Tyeb Mehta’s Celebration achieved the highest price ever of Rs. 1.5 crore at Christie’s in 2002. In 2010, Raza’s Saurashtra went on to break all records at Christie’s, fetching Rs. 19 crore. In the 2014 Christie’s auction in Mumbai, Gaitonde broke all records with Rs. 22 crore. That’s not to say that Indian auctioneers like Saff ronart and Pundole are lagging. They are effi cient, too, in promoting Indian art globally. Astaguru and ArtDeal are also helping to expand the market.

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The Indian Art Fair that’s held in New Delhi is a very cohesive effort. They collect art from all across India and position it for international and Indian clients. At the 2016 India Art Fair, the sentiment looked good. Although there were fewer galleries from Europe than last time, participating galleries achieved healthy sales. Plus, collectors came from across India, stresses Lath. Art moves as the money moves. A rise in the stock market invariably leaves its mark on the art scenario. But art is not like buying a piece of land in the hills. It is an acquisition that one brings home. This is wealth on the walls. Also, since the present government has been looking to boost business sentiment, the zeal has percolated to various spheres, including the mood to buy art. Buyers are investing in masterpieces, yes, but the artists who’ve been unable to sell their work for the last few years are also meeting a new crop of buyers who have surfaced and are buying photographs, multimedia art and installations. Surprisingly, a category of “affordable” art, priced between Rs. 500 and Rs. 5,000, is also selling well.

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If you are looking to invest in art, it’s smart to keep a few things in mind. Because the market is full of fakes, and also substandard stuff that looks as bad as its price.

STEP 1 Make the rounds. You have to go around the galleries and develop an understanding of your individualistic taste and your approach to art. You have to live with that piece.

STEP 2 Boost your knowledge. Enrol in an art appreciation course. Auction houses, museums, or individuals and NGOs have courses that tell you more about artists and art movements.

STEP 3 Start with younger artists. You have to take small steps first as you develop your taste. It’s not a good idea to acquire a piece of art just because it’s a brand. It may happen that collectors may not relate to it later.

STEP 4 Consult the experts. Reputed galleries and auctions are your best bet, because it will initially be diffi cult for you to spot a fake. Dealers could be a way to go, but check the credentials. Normally, established galleries stock books and magazines and provide documentation and authentication of the art they off er. This also helps in building awareness of art from an “overall” perspective.

STEP 5 Keep your eyes open, and keep visiting auctions, exhibitions, art shows. That’s how you develop the keener edge and a sharper intuition to spot an artwork in sync with your likes.

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This is a very good time to start, actually. The prices are still manageable, and experts feel the art market is headed for a brighter future. As prices stabilise, more quality work is bound to become available. Plus, because consistent buyers are more discerning and upgrading, you could chance upon a great piece. Start with a small sculpture for that empty shelf. Or a painting to replace the John Cena poster. It’s time to let that go.

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