Thursday, April 24, 2008

Six month after the previous post, newspaper reports are once again suggesting firming up of the art market. A recent report in The Economist even asserted that the recent credit crunch all over the world is not affecting the million-plus bracket of art market. Smaller markets are also firming up. In fact auction houses like Jakarta based Borubudur and Larasati and Hanoi based Sidharta Auctioneer; firms that deal in middle segment are making better profits than Sothbey’s and Christie’s, through their sales of upcoming Asian artists.

An Auction of Indian art in progress at Chritie's

Is there a corresponding optimism in the Indian art scene? A daily in New Delhi has claimed in recent times to have surveyed major galleries to find the mood of the market players. It commented finally that though the market is firming up ...“ now the market is also maturing and the buyers are also cautious about where to put their money”. In other words people are still not very confident but are willing to learn. This in actuality is a welcome news, particularly after the last few years of madness when spurious galleries sold almost anything to anybody promising sharp rise in prices of anything they sold.

Overrated artists like Manish Pushkale, Deepak Tandon and Harshvardhan belted a series of sub-standard easy-to-make pattern works and sold them as abstracts. Hoopla was also created by organizing media events where film-stars like Salman Khan, Sunil Shetty and Preeti Zinta expounded their haloed opinion on art. What is surprising is however that such shows did succeed in selling of art-works.

So easy had art become for a certain section of Indian elite that many of the failed stars of Bollywood like Baba Sehgal and Deepti Naval themselves entered into a phase of artistic frenzy producing large canvases in quick succession.

wannabe artists of our times. van Gogh must be turning in his grave.

Thank God finally, that is all over. But are the buyers of art in India really putting in much effort now to learn about art before spending on them? And if they are willing to learn, are there sufficient number of avenues for people to know what contemporary Indian art is all about? Are the galleries, art-houses and art-institutes doing anything about teaching the gullible buyers? Even today self-styled art-curators like Alka Pandey and Ashish Nagpal organizes parties on the opening days of art-exhibitions, but people are probably becoming a little weary of all this. More importantly serious buyers are avoiding such traps and are approaching art through more reliable sources.

There is need in India for more sincere art-houses like the Borubudur Auctions or the Larasati in Jakarta or like the Sidharta Auctioneer of Malaysia. These auction houses seldom operate in the high-end sector of art but rather in the middle-end market and take sufficient interest in disseminating information on their artists. These houses have replaced even the traditional duopoly of Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the Asian middle-rung market.

Ebrahim Alkazi of Art Heritage, have been holding shows on various aspects of theatre and art in New Delhi

There are a few such firms in India too like the Osian’s and Bodhi. But problem with these firms is that they sell almost anything and everything without specializing in any particular area. Osian’s has put up in recent years shows on posters of Indian films, old photographs and paintings, all under the same roof. Following these Ebrahim Alkazi of Art Heritage put up a show at New Delhi’s Lalit Kala Academy on theatre backdrops. These are interesting shows in their own rights. But they mostly concentrated on history and less on contemporary trends. In fact in the past one year there had been hardly any show in New Delhi highlighting the contemporary trends in Indian art. The galleries are probably themselves not sure what the defining features of Indian contemporary art are. This is unfortunate.

painting of Rameshwar Broota
Another problem is the insulated way of functioning of the art-institutes and colleges. In earlier days important artists also used to be teaching in art colleges. Today most artists after tasting commercial success do not involve themselves in teaching at all. The only major exception to this rule is probably Rameshwar Broota. Otherwise most senior artists operate today in a rarified realm. Art colleges are also not changing with time.

Gulam Mohammad Sheikh: perhaps one of the brightest students of Vadodara and then teacher at the same school

The four most important art-colleges in India are the Kalabhavan (Santiniketan), The JJ School of Art (Mumbai), Govt College of Art and Craft (Kolkata) and the Sayaji Rao Institute (Vadodara). All these are steeped in their own tradition. None of these institutes however have any courses for the common man. And they seldom show interest in disseminating information to buyers. In the west as now in China and Hongkong, art colleges had changed with time and had also acted as catalysts of change. No wonder then that with so many promising new artists, India still lags far behind the big brothers, while China has swiftly replaced even France to gain the status of third largest art market in the world.