Looking Back At Our Valuable Investments

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Nov 9 2003, 05:30am hrs
Nearly five years ago, in this column, on June 20, 1999, to be precise, I had prepared three lists of artists. The top ten of the 20th century, the living top 10, and 21st century hopefuls.

It would be interesting to see how they fare today. The living top 10 were Ganesh Pyne, MF Husain, Anjolie Ela Menon, Francis Newton Souza, VS Gaitonde, Bikash Bhattacharya, Manjit Bawa, SH Raza, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta.

Dialogue: An oil on canvas by Paresh Maity
This reads very much like a bluechip list for a collector today. One can, of course, see a few ups and downs. MF Husain has seen a rise in the demand for his work and Tyeb Mehta sales that have made history. Souza has more than held his ground.

Padamsee too has become very much part of the backbone of our investible art, as we noted in this column a couple of weeks back. Gaitonde too, is more in demand than ever before.

Raza, Pyne and Anjolie Ela Menon are going through a slightly dull phase now, largely for want of proper projection and the high expectations of returns harboured by buyers. This happens to good artists every now and then. However, in the case of both Bikash Bhattacharya and Manjit Bawa, the trough is genuine and for a different reason. Both artists are ready for a change but it has not materialised yet. Once it does, their sales ought to pick up.

Of the hopefuls of the 21st century, Ram Kumar, Arpita Singh and Krishen Khanna have picked up in the auction market. Arpana Caur, Paresh Maity and Sanjay Bhattacharya have also fared well enough in the global auction scene.

Vivan Sundarams work seems to have suffered a setback recently only because the artist does installations almost exclusively nowadays. This affects the market for his paintings, as his work is yet to be recognised as bluechip for investment despite its quality. Similarly, Neeraj Goswami suffers because of slow pace of production, which will be of enormous benefit to his collectors in future but is of not much use in projecting the artist today. For that, both quantity and quality are needed. That is where Maity has managed to upstage many of his colleagues despite their painterly qualities.

Manu Parekh, Chittrovanu Mazumdar and Sanjay Bhattacharya are in the process of change and collectors are watching this development carefully. But in essence, the lists evolved in 1999 have stood the test of time.

From our present perspective, we can say that a steady market exists for Ram Kumar, Arpita Singh and Arpana Caur. Their works are clearly bordering on bluechip investment. Paresh Maity, Chitrovanu Majumdar, Sanjay Bhattacharya and Krishen Khanna are safe-enough bets.

Manu Parekh, Vivan Sundaram and Neeraj Goswami are already collectors favourites but their market is still limited to those who know what art is about. I would have expected Manu Parekhs work to have caught on more, but I feel that somehow there is some hesitation among buyers about his work. I personally feel that since 2000, his work has advanced considerably from the angle of treatment, but it has lost its old radicalism.

Perhaps people do not forgive old radicals mellowing with age too easily. Krishen Khanna too shares that problem with Manu Parekh. Peoples expectations die hard and artists who have come to light on a radical plank ought to be aware of this and live up to it.

So, in essence, the perception hammered out in 1999 still stands firm today. This is partly because art as investment is not a fashion, it is based on preserving trends. Secondly, the artists whose names emerged as the result of an analysis that was concrete, have all got staying power.

Thirdly, while one or other in each list may have forged ahead or slumped back, the teams, as a whole, have pulled together, without anyone going too far ahead or falling too far back. So, in essence, the structure of our art worth investing in prevails and our investment is safe.