27 Aug 2007

Indian Contemporary Art – a look at the market

(By Nalini S Malaviya)

The fall in the art price index as reported in leading newspapers, and the affected sales of certain artworks at international auctions created quite a stir in the art market. Despite this, several art collectors and investors are optimistic and feel such temporary lulls in the market are just that – temporary.

There are several online and offline networks formed by art lovers. One such online network comprises of collectors, investors, artists, dealers, and gallery owners who exchange information on art - price trends, upcoming artists, hot favorites, major shows and so on. Art collector Porus Vazifdar explains, “Art has always been a multifaceted activity - technical to the artist and sensuous to the collector. The art scene in India is not a 'financial market' in the true sense. Most of the ills of the commodity-style market continue to persist, e.g. lack of liquidity, reduced transparency, fake products, high transaction costs, non-standard products, difficulty in valuation, cash transactions etc. The efforts of a few people and increased disposable income have lead to the emergence of a pseudo-financial market. Price-disclosure is that much easier now due to the bold steps taken by a handful of people to publish prices. Hence, I do not believe that terms like, 'bullish', 'bearish', 'correction' etc can apply to art. Yes, prices of art will move in tandem with market factors, especially those unique to art.

There is general consensus that quality plays a major role in determining price trends of an artist. Artists who have sustained their quality have continued to do well even in recent times. Art collector Mehul Patel elaborates, “Chintan Upadhyay's artworks were available for Rs 1.50 lakhs in 2002, and now nothing is there for even 15 lakhs. Vaikutam's small charcoal works were available for Rs 30,000 about fourteen months ago and now cost almost Rs 100,000 each! Laxma Goud’s etchings, which were Rs 25,000 – 40,000 about a year ago are in the range of Rs 60,000 – 200,000”.

Upcoming artists appear to be a safe bet - since investment is low it also reduces the exposure. Whether art prices have actually ‘corrected’ or not is debatable, but what emerges is that it is a good time to buy for the discerning art collector or investor.

(Published in Financial Times, Bangalore)
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