Indian Market Is Evolving At Many Levels

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Apr 21 2002, 05:30am hrs
A properly developed art market is a very complex infrastructure. It exists at a number of levels. The most primitive level, of course, is petty exchange between producers and consumers. Here we have basically decorative objects changing hands, but even this minimal exchange allows skilled techniques to take over from amateur production.

Then we have the atelier system, where art develops as a relation between masters and apprentices. In such a system, the masters art emerges as distinct from decoration. It has its own style and expression, though it is still a long way from the independent expression that characterises contemporary art from its feudal counterpart. A number of our artistseven contemporary onesrely on the work of assistants to keep up with the demand to which they have to cater. Some, like the noted Jamini Roy, made it clear they were using assistance; others do not openly admit it. But usually, where the assistant either surpasses the master or develops his own style, one can even determine the periods of such assistance as a part of the development of a particular style.

Other artists, especially those who rely largely on their own effort for their output, often turn to the ploy of setting up their own galleries. Ved Nayar and Gogi Saroj Pal did that in their flat in Delhi. It helped initially in projecting their work among a wider circle of collectors than before. This also reflected in the innovations and experiments they were able to present without worrying about the profitability of their work. But in the end, they found it difficult to sustain the pressure of running a gallery and getting on with their work in a world of specialisation and competition. Now they have balanced the situation by working from the Garhi studios in Delhi, where a gallery exists in which artists can exhibit regularly.

Another artist who has recently started a gallery in Kolkata is Sunil Das. One of the most accomplished artists alive today, his drawings are perhaps the best we have in the market. His gallery opened with Kolkatas leading writers, artists and critics present. The Gallery Sunil is likely to become a good gathering place as well as a venue for Sunil to exhibit his experimental works and get feedback on them almost as soon as they are done. This definitely opens an important window to the work of a major artist of our time.

These galleries, however, cannot replace the specialised salespersons of the art market, be they dealers, curators of exhibitions or impressarios and, of course, gallery owners. They concentrate full-time on searching for artists, projecting them and, of course, building up reliable and authentic stocks, without which no art market can be secure.

In the matter of generating stocks, the practice of art camps that came up in the 1960s, during the heyday of the Lalit Kala Akademi, was a sound concept. The exhibition of the Threshold Gallery at Sridharani Gallery in Delhi is a case in point. It is the result of three camps held at Visakhapatnam involving some 30 artists, 15 of whom figure in this show.

Some of our leading artists like Anjolie Ela Menon, Bhupen Khakhar, Surendran Nayar, Jogen Choudhury, Laxma Goud, Arpita and Paramjit Singh, Jayashree Chakravarty, T Vaikuntam and Yusuf Arakkal are among them. And indeed, the ambience of the camp must have been good, as the works reflect it.

A number of them, like Surendran Nayars figure of a man with a bird disguise (at Rs 75,000 for a canvas that is 30 x 42 inches), Anjolie Ela Menons oil on board (at Rs 1,75,000 for a work that is 24 x 18 inches), an Arpita Singh canvas with the Nehru/revolutionary terrorist dilemma written across it (at Rs 2,25,000 for a canvas that is 36 x 36 inches) and Jogen Choudhurys drawing of a nude, a charcoal on paper, that is 22 x 30 inches (priced at Rs 75,000) sold almost immediately.

Other works that caught ones eye are Bhupen Khakhars three watercolours (ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 90,000), Laxma Gouds print of two women (at Rs 25,000), a charcoal drawing of T Vaikuntam (at Rs 15,000) and Yusuf Arakkals oil on canvas reflecting changing times (at Rs 90,000). They too are likely to go as the gallery is not overpricing itself out of the market and can be accessed on the Internet, too.

Other galleries, too, are choosing young artists carefully and exhibiting them. The Art Alive gallery is exhibiting the works of Dharmendra Rathore, who has carried forward the Rajasthani art tradition with a modernist agenda. The Gallery Ganesha (already well known for launching artists like Neeraj Goswami and Paresh Maity) is showing powerful works of Delhi artist Mohan Singh and a US artist, Catherine Zedler. Vadheras have recently opened with the latest work of Sambhavi, a talented abstract artist who seeks out the forms of industrial society, like railway engines, to clothe her abstract concerns this time. Art Today is existing Sudip Roys architectural studies with silhouettes highlighting them in abstract space. It is evident that our art market is evolving at many levels and all over the country. This is the sort of signal investors look out for and respond to.