Rewards aplenty for the bold of heart

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Jan 13 2002, 05:30am hrs
Now that we are squarely into 2002, what can the investor look forward to The first thing is that despite the sabre-rattling on both sides of the border, we are not likely to go beyond what is euphemistically called tension even through it does mean mining the border, evacuating villages and the odd shot claiming victims. Some people may think of this as fine diplomacy, but financially, war-mon-gering is bad policy, except for arms dealers, perhaps.

In fact, where the recession failed to dampen the art market, largely because it deals with products that are not mass-produced, but unique in terms of quality, the war threat has shaken it. The reasons for this are fairly clear. The destruction that war entails makes the preservation of objects of value difficult or even impossible. And that deters the art buyer as well.

What is the alternative then Thanks to globalisation, the prospects are much better today because Indian gallery owners can explore the art markets of Singapore and Hong Kong in the East, the Gulf in the West, and even London, Berlin, New York, Rome, the Hague and Paris. With the euro in circulation in Europe, there is the advantage of dealing with several countries in the same currency. But with Britain sticking to the pound sterling, a not inconsiderable amount of money is likely to find a haven thereand with it, buyers of luxury goods. Indian art, being already established in London and with some openings on the continent, especially in Holland and Germany, should be able to take advantage of the situation. So, Indian gallery owners and artists would be well advised to explore the world and make gains in hard currency.

Understandably, most gallery owners, with perhaps the exception of the Alkazis, Vadheras and Sharon Appa Rao, would think twice before taking a show overseas. Generally, the outlay is too much in relation to returns. Only those already in contact with foreign galleries or dealers, or having some foothold in gallery space abroad, ought really to explore such possibilities at once. Others are advised to make such contacts.

There are other doors open, though. Sales through catalogues or the Internet are always there. And the experience of those who have tried out these avenues is very positive indeed. While auction sales range from 33 per cent to 50 per cent, generally, catalogue sales can go from 50 per cent to 67 per cent with ease. An auction is a one-time event, a catalogue or website long lasting. So, one can suggest that galleries and art dealers, perhaps even the better known artists, produce catalogues or set up websites that reach out beyond this country. At times like this, the bold are rewarded.

But one must be aware that bold is not the same as foolhardy. There is a structure for the global demand for our contemporary art. This structure is linked up with the art of the National Movement. And by that I do not mean either the colonial kitsch of Raja Ravi Varma or the revival of Mughal miniature art by Abanindranath Tagore.

The art of the National Movement was a blend of the folk and the contemporary, with influences from both the art of China and Japan as well as the Western radical artists of the Blue Rider group or Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso, themselves reaching out to the art of Africa and Asia.

In this expression, the works that stand out are those of Gaganendranath Tagore or the more original ones of Abanindranath. Then there is Jamini Roy and there are the Santiniketan artists such as Nandalal Bose, Ram Kinkar Baij and Benode Bihari Mukherjee. Then the Mumbai group of M F Husain, V S Gaitonde, S H Raza, K H Ara and F N Souza. From this basic structure, one can construct chains of artists one could invest in, ranging from Sunil Das to Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar, Arpana Caur and Ganesh Pyne.

Among the rare artists who blend Chinese and Indian art, and I have reason to believe that this will be the investible art of the 21st century, we have Jaya Appasamy, Beohar Ram Manohar Sinha, Vinit Kumar, Sukhvinder Singh, to name only a few. The best investors will take these names to form a core from which they can branch out. And they wont be far away.