SUNDAY VIJAY TIMES, BANGALORE, 4 JULY 2004
CONTEMPORARY Indian art is a vast and confusing landscape. While the art market in India is just developing and art is becoming a savvy and fashionable investment for India’s nouveau riche, our art schools are in a state of decay, and the output of artists from our indigenous art schools is thin. Although most of the major auctions and sales in contemporary art happens in Bombay and Delhi, Bangalore with its newfound moneyed corporates is a growing centre for arts patronage.
Harish Padmanabha, one of Bangalore’s well-informed art collectors has a Souza painting that he bought some years ago. The price of this painting is likely to have gone up more than twenty times since Souza’s death and due to the fact that the painter’s blatant and bold work is now being recognised. F N Souza’s paintings on Saffronart’s May auctions sold for up to six lakhs. As per the latest auction held at Sotheby’s, one of the leading auction houses, another Souza went for about 64 lakhs. Artists like M F Hussain, S H Raza, Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee,Krishen Khanna, J Swaminathan, Arpita Singh, KCS Panicker, Jamini Roy, while Somenath Hore, Ved Nayar, Jogen Choudhury, Prabhakar Barwe, N S Bendre and Laxma Goud are all hot on investors lists, and owning a piece by any of these could settle your finances for the rest of your life.
The scope for art as an investment is tremendous. Returns can go up to 200 to 300 per cent in the secondary market. Bangalore started out with just one gallery and auction houses like Chester Allen and Ronald Pachiko and there are up to 40 galleries now in Bangalore. .From foreign alliances like the Alliance Franiciase and the Max Mueller Bhavan to newer exclusively art galleries like Sumukha, Time and Space,Crimson, GallerySke, Zen, the art world in Bangalore is now much more exciting than it was when I started out 20 years ago says critic Marta Jakimowikz Karle.
There is even a growing market for kitsch. In many of today’s upcoming restaurants you are likely to find portraits of buxom Rajasthani women or paintings with popular themes like ships, houses, snake charmers and the like. Marta says, .The market is still very amateurish. Copies of the western masters still find buyers among ignorant rich people who can afford the work. Some major corporations have collections of art that are noteworthy. Kiran Mazumdar of Biocon, Hindustan Lever and Himalaya Drugs all have exclusive collections of art works. Reasons for buying art may range from investmentto culture savviness to plain interior decoration. Only some collectors have a serious interest and passion for the arts. “There are very few intelligent buyers in Bangalore. Corporations sometimes buy art for all the wrong reasons”, says Suresh Jayaram, writer and painter. “The people who buy art know little about art or art history. They buy for purely aesthetic reasons, such as matching the decor.”
Galleries are an important link between the market and artist. In Bangalore, some galleries get up to 33 per cent of the sales of the work of art. Suneeta Kumar Emmart ,the young owner of Galleryske aims to promote and exhibit the work of younger artists. After the experience of working at SakshiGallery on Residency road, Suneeta felt that she still had a lot to contribute to Bangalore’s growing repertoire of artists. Since it’s opening in November last year, Galleryske has shown bolder work like sound installation, sculpture, and conceptual art.
Gallery Sumukha, which was set up in 1996 by Premilla Baid, is also responsible for organising important and not necessarily sellable art. But if you want to buy a painting to adorn your wall there are plenty of galleries in Bangalore who’ll offer you a nice bargain. There are galleries like Time and Space, Fluid Space, Gallerei Zen, Renaissance Art Gallery, the new Gallerie SaraArakkal.
The importance of cataloguing and archiving art is something that most galleries and people in the art market side step. Also, collecting sculpture, photography, digital prints, video art and other forms of art might be of interest to a new and enthusiastic buyer.
There have also been initiatives by organizations like the Chitrakala Parishath to promote art and make it accessible to buyers that are not that elite and lifestyle oriented. Manegondu kalaakruthi was an exhibition organised at the Venktappa Art Gallery where art works were sold for nominal rates.Chitra Santhe was CKP.s widely appreciated attempt to bring art out on the street, and the unique event saw the kind of crowd that would very rarely go to a gallery. In terms of sales of course, the more conventional work found buyers but as exposure to all the different types of kitsch, skill, and/or art, this was a huge success. With a free stall for anyone who wanted to display their work, Chitra Santhe was also an outlet to the kind of artist who paints as a hobby and would never have the resources or the inclination to seek buyers through a gallery.
Even a high-profile international art workshop like KHOJ 2003 held in Bangalore from December 6th to 21st at the Venkatappa Art Gallery where seven artists from Karnataka participating found patrons in Bangalore. The artist community of Bangalore in collaboration with the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore were responsible for organising it.
With the taste for modernist work like that of Ram Kumar and radical painters like FN Souza growing, this suggests that painters and artists who venture out of the safe, sellable domains of harmless, apolitical and inert work have a growing audience. It is perhaps time for our art education to recognise these trends and radicalise their training as well.
The future is then certainly bright for young upcoming painters and artists.However increasingly, artists in India are creating work that cannot be categorized as commodity, or something that can be bought. While the world of most galleries and the collector lies in the permanence and commodity value of an artwork, some artists like Sheela Gowda would prefer to use transient or impermanent material (Sheela Gowda is a prominent artist who is famous for having painted with material like cow dung, thread, kum kum and such mundane material).
Many Bangalore artists like M S Umesh, Ramesh Kalkur, Raaghavendra Rao and many others make work that is sometimes site specific, sometimes in media like video, or non-permanent. The availability of a vast range of new and challenging media gives today’s artists the scope for greater experimentation. Their experiences and expression are new. A lot of these artists do not look at art practice as ways of sustaining themselves, and the art market and its exacting ups and downs don’t really tend to affect them.
They have in fact been of little concern to most artists. There is the very often-quoted example of how Van Gogh led a poverty stricken life whereas his painting titled ‘Sunflowers’ sold for the record prices of 39.9 million at auctions after his death.
Some international artists like Hans Haacke however have, made the art market the subject of their conceptual work. Ravi Kumar Kashi another contemporary artist who started out, as a painter has had to wait patiently in his career of 15 years for financial returns to come in from making art. .Many of my works are with me, unsold. Some I have given away to friends, to put up in their homes., he says. The reality of an art buyer or collector whose lifestyle is somehow enhanced by the painting he makes is very separate from the reality of Kashi himself. He says he has very little contact with his buyers and that most of his sales happen through galleries, not just in Bangalore. “I don’t know what sells, I feel lucky when a work sells”, he says nonchalantly.
Among the community of artists, being scornful or indifferent to the market is a sign of chastity, although artists like Babu Eshwar Prasad have had their first stints with the market and collectible value of art from their very first show.
The market therefore is an exciting and interesting investment option. To many collectors, it is a passion, more than an indulgence. With all the pleasure that you can derive from a good work of art it might then be a fun way to spend your money.