Making Art An Investment

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Oct 20 2002, 05:30am hrs
Art, the world over, is a good investment today. The reason, of course, is the derelictions and scams that characterise the stock markets of the world. So people find art a better investment. Also, it brings in better returns. Investors can interact with and enjoy their investment far better than in the case of share scrips. Also, art auctions and openings are social events that evoke far more interest than share-holders meetings. Moreover, a country that invests in art adds much more to the sum of human riches than the one that invests and makes money out of the sale of armaments and the like.

Of all the markets for different products, the art market is the healthiest. It is not subject to the grossest forms of overproduction like other consumer goods. In fact, good art is hardly ever wasted. There are always takers for it. But it requires judicious promotion like all products.

Subodh Guptas oil on canvas painting Cow, sold at Rs 2,80,000
Art promotion requires, first and foremost, proper documentation. And art galleries today are doing that much more consistently. I have noted how galleries that even concentrate largely on the big names in the art market are now introducing younger artists and producing catalogues of their work.

Recently, we have seen the catalogues of Dharmendra Rathore and Apoorva Desai exhibiting at Art Alive, of Ravi Kumar Kashi, and a group show of the works of Nataraj Sharma, Gargi Raina, Atul Dodiya, Anju Dodiya, Jitish Kallat and Baiju Parthan exhibiting at Vadheras, Baiju Parthan also exhibiting at Espace, Maya Burman at Ganesha and BO Sailesh, Shanthamani, Surekha, Babu Eashwar Prasad and C Douglas (a mix of the young and old) at Art Konsult. Delhi has always been open to the young and new in art. But, of late, the stress on the young is growing.

This helps to sustain the continuity of the Indian contemporary art market. New galleries are springing up even as far afield as Gurgaon. We have recently seen the opening of Art Pilgrim there.

Already Gallery Alternatives and Gallery no. I exist there. What is interesting at these and other shows is how a number of the young artists of yesterday have steadily built up an all-India image like Arpana Caur, Anupam Sud, Paresh Maity, Sidharth, C Douglas, Sanjay Bhattacharya, Debabrata De and Somenath Maity, to name only a few. These artists now need to be the subject of monographs to establish their place in our contemporary art scene more properly. Proper documentation is far better for an artists reputation than his or her presence at cocktail parties on page three or gimmicks.

What documentation can do for almost anything is evident from the fad for film memorabilia. Starting from Bobby Kohlis sale of film posters and stills at the Vision Gallery, the idea was picked up by Nevile Tuli for the Heart auction and now Bowrings is preparing for a sale of Bollywood memorabilia whose Private view is being held in the capital on October 19.

Exhibitions of Indian film memorabilia have been held in London, at the Victoria and Albert museum and in Manchester. What has helped this trend find its feet is the need for an artistic expression that is irreverent (as Charlie Chaplin was) and not part of the oppressive media machine of the so-called coalition against world terrorism, on the one hand, and something that can be coherently collected, with its own history, on the other.

This could not have been done without the joint effort of gallery owners and art lovers putting their resources together to give a shape to a particular genre.

In global contemporary art, it is the rejection of imperial theatrical art by the avant-garde from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, especially the art of the 1920s, with the Russian revolution as a backdrop, that created the cult of artists like Mondrian, Klee, Kandinsky and Picasso. It gave us the first exposure to an art that turned its back on imperial tastes and irreverently went ahead to create new aesthetic principles based on the art of the colonial people and of non-European cultures. It led to an interest in the art of China, Japan India and Africa.

Indian contemporary art took advantage of it in rediscovering its past. Among the artists who ensured that this rediscovery would not be a mere revival were artists like Rabindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore and Jamini Roy; a movement that later flowered into the modernism of Ram Kinkar Baij and Benode Behari Mookherjee; of Paritosh Sen, Somenath Hore and Rathin Moitra in Bengal; of SH Raza, KH Ara, HA Gade, MF Husain, VS Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna and Akbar Padamsee in Maharashtra; of Bhabhesh Sanyal, Ram Kumar, Dhanraj Bhagat and Damyanti Chawla in Delhi.

Today we have a crop of radical young artists showing at the Visual Arts Gallery at the Habitat Centre. It has works of a number of young artists who are actually showing in more than one gallery at the moment, like Nataraj Sharma, Riyaz Komu, Jitish Kallat, Anju and Atul Dodiya and Shibu Natesan (showing at Vadheras too), and Surekha (at Art Konsult); but there are others like Anjum Singh, Subodh Gupta, Sheba Chachi (who showed recently at Pragati Maidan) Anita Dube, TV Santosh, Hema Upadhyay, A Balasubramaniam, NS Harsha, Sonia Khurana, Mithu Sen and Vasudevan Akhittam, reminding us that our art is not in decline, as some would have us believe.

And the prices are good too, ranging from a little over Rs 8,000 for the water colours of NS Harsha, Rs 15,000 for a video of Sonia Khurana, to a canvas of Subhodh Gupta that sold for Rs 2,80,000. So it would appear that the Indian contemporary art market is still booming and will go on like this for some time to come.