Buying million-dollar art

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Apr 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
Today Indian contemporary art has crossed the million-dollar mark more than once, so it is worth ones while to see what sort of art makes that grade. If we look at the results of the Sothebys sale in New York that was held on March 29, we find that there are two works that crossed the million-dollar mark.

One was Lot 25, SH Razas acrylic on canvas of 1972, a 150x188-cm work, entitled Tapovan, which sold at Rs 6.45 crore. The price for this work per sq cm works out to a very modest Rs 49.30. Considering that the work belongs to Razas best period and is a large canvas, one can say with certainty that the work is not overpriced.

The other work that crossed the million-dollar mark was Lot 81, Tyeb Mehtas oil on canvas that was 150x 120 cm, entitled Falling Figure with Bird, which sold at Rs 5.47 crore. The price of this canvas works out to Rs 3,040.27 per sq cm. The work dates back to 1988.

The description that accompanies the illustration notes that Mehta first painted the falling figure in 1965, and was awarded the gold medal at Indias first Triennale. The image, ascribed by an art writer to the inspiration from Picassos Guernica, is much more likely to owe its origin to Adi Davierwallas Falling Man, a massive sculpture at Mumbais Bhabha Research Centre that dates back to before 1965. It is, in fact, a home grown image and not a borrowed one. Similarly, Tapovan by Raza is superficially a work of abstract expressionism, but it is a contemporary Indian meditative abstraction drawing on the colours and compositional structure of Rajput and Jain miniatures.

What do we conclude from this Firstly, the Mumbai group of artists like S H Raza, Tyeb Mehta, M F Husain, V S Gaitonde and F N Souza make good investment. Also, while abstract and figurative works both sell at relatively high prices, the latter command far higher prices than the former, as the per sq cm prices of Raza and Mehta indicate.

Also, it is evident that canvases and especially oil on canvas works sell at higher prices than acrylics on canvas or paper works. Also, larger works, while their per sq cm prices may be lower than those of smaller works, are generally better bargains.

Art that emerged out of our national movement and expresses the self-confidence of an independent people is the contemporary art that sells and not art that is borrowed from fashionable art. The figures also show us that those works fetch better prices that are original rather than being recognisable as part and parcel of some western trend.

Our artists have always freely imbibed influences from both the west and the east, but their successful works are where these influences are not dominant but only enrich the expression.

Investors should look out for works that are perceptive but not drowned in the influences of others to the extent of sacrificing originality. Once these basics are assured, it is not difficult to collect art that will one day reach the million-dollar mark.