Friday, October 12, 2007

Indian art market has expanded immensely in the past few years. One report suggests that between 2001 and 2007 the returns on art-investments have increased by 435%. (Read article) This is the highest in the South East Asia and this makes India the fourth important Art market in the World. Yet in 2007, there was sudden downswing in Art prices and even important senior artists like Jogen Choudhuri and Vaikunthan could not sell their art-works at previously held prices. This sudden fall in prices further led to a share-market type insecurity wherein all collectors tried to sell off their stocks of art-works thereby pushing the prices further down.

Jogen Choudhuri's casual sketch which too was sold at astronomical price.

This sudden rise and then sudden fall in prices points towards a disturbing trend that is increasingly being observed in India. Most art-lovers and buyers in India approach private galleries to buy art-works. These galleries however seldom provide true information about artists and try to sell their own stock at good prices, projecting their own artists as the bests. Artists who toe their line are given the right amount of publicity and there are instances where even mediocre artists have been made into icons by sheer publicity. In order to sell off their stock, the galleries often indulge in a variety of malpractices, one being the literal buying off of the media agents to cover their shows.

Over the past five years it was seen that many of these artists like Sanjay Bhattacharya, Bose Krishnamachari and even Thota Vaikunthan have left their earlier styles of art as soon as their prices moved up. They instead started making paintings which required less time of execution.

The market got flooded with such works resulting in a glut and then the prices crashed. It is unfortunate that even senior artists like Jeram Patel, Vivan Sundaram, etc have participated in this dilution of art for the sake of money. The fall in prices of art is a result of this quick-money syndrome.

Thota Vaikunthan had risen to fame by intersting paintings of men and women in traditional village attire (right). Now he is making easy to make sketches (left) in charcoal to cater to the fast growing market. Many such sketches are today flooding the art market searching for gullible buyers

What is even worse is the fact that some artists went on to make just very casual works only because their signatures sold. Galleries played a major role in fooling the gullible buyers in this regard. It exposed once again the immaturity of Indian market where art works sell more for signature and big name and less for the intrinsic value of the works.

Jeram Patel's recent work showing just a lump of black paint on paper. Is this art?

In this context it was very heartening to see the coming together of 16 eminent artists in India in a totally non-commercial venture.
In an expression of solidarity to the Cuban regime, these 16 artists some of whom have become quite famous now, have come together to gift away their art-works to the National Museum in Cuba. The artists included among others Chand Mohammad, Manoj Naik, Saba Hasan and Devajyoti Ray. What is important is that the artists had to shift away from their regular style to give way for the common theme, the works were not themselves compromised on quality. The art works showed immense variety and apart from a few works, most of the paintings were of very high standards.
(Read art-aficionado Suneet Chopra’s take on Devajyoti Ray's work in the show)

The central piece titled ‘Transmigration of Soul’ by
Devajyoti Ray was a huge work which showed a face of Che Guevara supported by collage of paper cuttings, cuttings of old documents, etc all taken from the period when Che was executed. The right side of the work shows Che’s face in many small iconic cut-outs. The painting thus shows how Che Guevara who used to be hero of the previous generation have been reduced today to a mere poster image. In the process the painting also showed the degradation of values in today’s society.

The painting is also of special importance as it is a truly modern art-work which has all elements of contemporary art. But the painting does not use machines or prints and is wholly hand made.