Sunday, October 17, 2010

Greed Factor !

Dear Friends,

Well, my day job of running hotels is keeping me busy from posting more often on the blog, but here is my latest article in The Telegraph newspaper reaching over a million readers. It is critical to be careful lest you make a wrong decision in buying contemporary art at ridiculous valuations.

Also, it is quite disappointing to see this attitude from leading artists where works are being churned out like a factory, reminds me of real estate companies launching a new apartment complex every month. Such short term approaches are not healthy for the overall state of an already fragile market. So enjoy your art but be careful !


As autumn comes and brings cooler temperatures with it the activity in the art world picks up and it’s now time to take stock. We’ve just had the September autumn auctions by all three major auction houses — Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Saffronart.

With all asset classes, including real estate and stock markets, being close to all time highs, a lot was expected in the art market considering the excess liquidity sloshing around and the renewed interest in the modern masters like Raza, Souza and Husain seen in the past six months. However, the results were tepid for both the Modern and the Contemporary Art market categories.

For me, that was not surprising at all. In fact I was amazed that the party in the Modern Art market lasted as long as it did. If one was to combine all the Souza works in the three auctions, over 23 per cent did not sell and 28 per cent just managed to sell at the lower end of the estimates. So 51 per cent of all Souza works were not really attracting attention, signalling that the large supply in the last few months had finally taken a toll.



Last Howl from the Cross by F.N. Souza (1963)


The speculators in the Modern Art market are exiting and the private art museums bought what they had to buy so the market slowed due to buyer fatigue. You will still get an auction record when an exceptional work by a modern master hits the market but for more mediocre works, it will be a tough climb from here.


The common thread visible in all the auctions was the fact that most of the works were selling at the lower end of the price band given by the auction houses, so either the estimates were too aggressive or the buyers were just not keen on picking up mediocre works.


The contemporary art market was up 32 per cent in volume as compared to June 2010 but that was helped by the fact that six Subodh Gupta lots were up for auction and they contributed 50 per cent of the entire value of all auction lots. In terms of total value, the sale value was still lower by a whopping 73 per cent compared to the record values of autumn 2008.



an untitled work by Subodh Gupta (2005)


Frankly, I don’t see any recovery in the auction market for the top ten Indian Contemporary artists looking ahead. The reasons are simple. Most of the top Indian Contemporary artists that feature in the auctions with exception of one or two artists have no clue about art valuations and are pricing on the higher side driven by that old enemy of value — greed.

Also the contemporary art market for the so-called top artists is functioning like the real estate market that I see in the Delhi suburbs of Gurgaon and Noida. There is a new launch every week by the same developer who wants to milk the cow before it gets too late and the tide turns.

Why I make this comparison is simple. If you are a passionate artist, driven by quality, how can you possibly churn out three solo shows in three months in different countries, flood the market with supply, keep your prices high and still expect to sell? What you’re creating is just a factory which with the help of studio assistants is churning out art without any soul and trying to rake in the bucks. Most of our top artists are now doing exactly this, so there is a solo show every month and a couple of group shows in the middle.

The artist may benefit by selling more in the short term and so does the gallery owner who is happy with his commission on selling the work. Both of them have forgotten the collector who has everything to lose even if he buys one work from the exhibition as the prices coupled with so much supply will ensure that he loses money on every purchase.

Only T.V. Santhosh and N.S. Harsha in my top ten artists list have current values that are still below auction prices which means that if you buy a T.V. Santhosh work at Rs 40 lakh for a 6ft by 4ft canvas you are assured of a better price in the auction. In the other cases, except for these two artists, you would most likely end up a financial loser if you ever have to sell the work and that too by a good 30 per cent to 40 per cent.



T.V. Santhosh’s Scars of an Ancient Error-I (2006)


Someone needs to correct this and knock some sense into artists’ pricing. Otherwise my advice is to just save your money for some cutting-edge art by some very talented young artists instead of buying factory-made art with just a name and a fancy signature.

So in the coming months, go around some galleries or browse the net for some great quality art. You want art that is reasonably priced and will give you aesthetic pleasure besides appreciating over time.



Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at www.indianartinvest.blogspot.com.He also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

3 comments:

anangsen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anangsen said...

"The artist may benefit by selling more in the short term and so does the gallery owner who is happy with his commission on selling the work. Both of them have forgotten the collector who has everything to lose even if he buys one work from the exhibition as the prices coupled with so much supply will ensure that he loses money on every purchase."

Nicely put, and I believe the game is no more about collectors but all about the 'investors' now. Even the topmost gallerists are telling their artists "your investors are getting worried that you haven't had a show in the last year and a half!!!". Failing others, the responsibility for art now falls squarely in the shoulders of the artist himself, and it is only right that the factory-workers be given short shrift in auctions.

Good to read some good old horse sense in this article.

Ilango said...

Hi..Kapil Chopra,

Wishing you a very happy and prosperous New Year.

Best regards.

ilango