Art As An Investment: How To Go About It

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Dec 22 2002, 05:30am hrs
Recently there has been a spate of exhibitions and auctions of art in the capital. Despite the recession, people are prepared to invest in art. There are a number of reasons for this. Industrial investment has thoroughly discredited itself.

The over Rs 1,10,000 crore debts taken by industrial houses that have gone bad with the public sector banks, the scandalous frauds perpetrated by companies like Enron and Worldcom and the lack of transparency in business deals, have all conspired along with the recession to make the stock market less than attractive.

A mixed media work on paper by Paritosh Sen
Under normal circumstances, real estate should take over. But real estate too is badly hit by recession. In these circumstances, works of art are a far better investment.

And this factor seems to be important with exhibitors too. I notice no exhibition or sale does without at least one of two most saleable names in Indian art: Ganesh Pyne and MF Husain. If the price of Pyne seems a little too steep for the buyer, his jottings have gone over the Rs 1,20,000-mark. A cheaper per square cm Husain has got Rs 2 crore for a large mural on canvas. So we can be sure that the art market is not likely to flag.

It is interesting that a large number of younger artists have emerged in these exhibitions and sales. Artists like Paresh Maity, Amitava Das, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, and Subroto Kundu are well-known to buyers. Recently, Apoorva Desai had a very successful show in Delhi, which could be described as one of the most successful a young artist has had in the recent times.

Among other young artists who have entered the category of those whose works sell are Debabrata De, Dharmendra Rathore, Neeraj Goswami, Jayashree Burman, Sidharth, Narendra Pal Singh, Neeraj Bakshi, Atul Sinha, TM Aziz and Seeraj Saxena, to name only a few. There are a number of others whose names are bandied about; but they are more into style than art.

This the investor must look into carefully before investing in an artist. Nor should they rely on personal taste to invest in art. I may like a work. It may look fine on my drawing room wall; but that does not make it a good investment.

Art as an investment is a very different thing indeed. First, as regards identifying contemporary artists worth investing in, one must acquaint oneself with the history of contemporary art, broadly of the world and of India in detail. In this history, two schools stand out: Santiniketan and Vadodara. Artists, who have a connection with these schools and whose work branches out beyond their academic training are sound stuff to invest in. Similarly, certain groups of artists emerged, the most important being the Mumbai Group, followed by the Cholamandalam founders and the Kolkata Group.

From among these, artists who have established their names among their peers are Rabindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Ram Kinkar Baij, Benode Behari Mukherjee and Somenath Hore from Santiniketan; KG Subramanyan, Ghulam Sheikh, Jyoti Bhat, Haku Shah, Nagji Patel, Nasreen Mohammedi, Vivan Sundaram, Atul Sinha, Rekha Rodwittiya and Apoorva Desai from Vadodara; MF Husain, FN Souza, SH Raza and VS Gaitonde of the Mumbai Group; KCS Panicker of Cholamandalam; Nirode Mazumdar, Rathin Moitra and Paritosh Sen from the Kolkata Group; Bhabhesh Sanyal, Dhanraj Bahagat and Satish Gujrals early work from Delhi; as well as outstanding artists of their own sort like Chittaprasad, Ganesh Haloi, T Vaikuntam, Laxma Goud, Himmat Shah, Bhupen Khakhar, Arpana Caur, Gogi Saroj Pall, Ved Nayar and Sailoz Mookerjea, would make a neat basis to work from.

The works of other artists can be related to these on the basis of originality, excellence of technique and innovation.

The advances may also be noted in terms of figurative imagery, the use of narrative, and the advance beyond expressionism towards genuine non-figurative art among abstract artists. Here the rule of thumb does work.

Art that ought to be avoided is colonial Kitsch, unimaginative airport art parading as folk, copyists of well-known artists as opposed to those genuinely influenced by anothers work, and abstraction that only reflects an artists incapacity to draw. The essential feature behind these caveats is to say without hectoring or being reduced to the didactic.

I would even go to the extent of saying that the investor should look for the irreverent, the unusual and the challenging and avoid reverential and conventional art like the plague. Such an outlook will give collectors immense pleasure and sharpen their sense of perception and wit, as well as making them better investors. In fact, the best rule for anything are those that one enjoys implementing without feeling one is burdened by things alien to ones self. This is more true for art than for anything else.