Looking beyond masters

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Nov 20 2005, 06:31am hrs
Recently at the opening of an exhibition of minor works of one of Indias leading artists, a friend who is a collector, commented: Soon all contemporary art will be beyond the pocket of those who created the market for it.

That indeed was food for thought. The main reason is that it is collectors like these who have ensured that only good works of Indian contemporary artists were culled out and collected, and indeed, marketed successfully, proving the point. True, bad works too do manage to sell. But after a while their secondary market collapses. A far safer ploy is to pick out five or six of the big names of Indian art, like those of the Progressive Artists Group of Mumbai and concentrate on them.

Their major works may be beyond the average collector, but minor works like drawings, water-colours, pastels, limited edition prints and even limited edition reproductions on pottery or as tapestries and carpets. These are all valid investments and are well within a reasonable price range generally.

True, the prices of these works may not show a similar rise as those of their major works, but then the wary collector has the option of choosing lesser known artists of the same group. For example, if really good works of Tyeb Mehta, V S Gaitonde, F N Souza, S H Raza and M F Husain are beyond one reach, then there is nothing to stop one from looking out for the works of their contemporaries like Ara, Gade, Bakre and Padamsee to fall back on in a range that is still affordable.

If one finds even their works prohibitively priced, artists that represent certain trends can be accessed safely. If Husain is beyond ones pocket, there is nothing to prevent one from accessing K S Kulkarni. If one is unable to afford the work of Souza, Paritosh Sen is still available within a reasonable range.

If Raza is beyond ones pocket, G R Santosh and Sohan Quadri are still within a reasonable range. If one cannot afford a Tyeb Mehta, the work of V G Andani is still available. If Gaitonde is inaccessible, one can always collect the calligraphic series of Shanti Dave. The point to note here is that the alternative artist a collector chooses must have his or her own style within a general trend. This is true for all the artists cited above. They are original and have their own styles, within the broader perspectives in the history of our contemporary art.

In the same way, collectors who admire the work of Raza can concentrate on even younger artists like Seema Ghurayya or Akhilesh. Gaitonde collectors can look at the work of Anwar, Sangita Gupta or Vineeta Gupta. Souzas fans can explore possibilities in the works of Swapan Bhandari or Srimati Lal. Those who find Tyeb to their taste will find the work of G R Iranna rewarding.

Similarly, Husains smaller works find a deep reflection in those of Neeraj Bakshi or the paintings of Atul Sinha. This list is not exhaustive. It only highlights the fact that there is very real possibility to access good original art that has every chance of becoming worthwhile investment even within the narrow limits set by a few names.

They highlight very broad trends followed by different generations of contemporary artists. So pick out those that represent their ongoing development. There is very little risk involved in this process and any investor can make it a rule of thumb without exposing himself to more than the usual risks. This method may not be fool-proof but it is safe.