Saturday, October 18, 2008

The crash in the New York's Stock market and its subsequent ripples that touched Indian shores are finally showing its impact in the art market as well. Many important galleries like Bodhi and Saakshi have registered no sales in the past one month. Osian's is contemplating cancellation of all its shows in the next six months. New Delhi's India Habitat Centre is finding cancellation of many of the bookings of its gallery space.
But the worst hit are the small and medium level galleries which were dependent on direct sales of art works often paid for in cash and not properly documented. The overall liquidity crunch in the Indian market is keeping this category of buyers away from the art market. Earlier Art was being seen by this set of buyers as a convenient way of stashing away their unaccounted wealth which could be converted into liquid assets as and when necessary. Some dubious galleries played into this sentiment and sold away substandard works of hyped artists promising fabulous returns later. In the face of liquidity crisis, the buyers are now willing to sell rather than buy. But their aquired art-works are not selling at the promised prices.
What is unfortunate is that most of these galleries go unpunished for all their activities, while artists are now paying the price of the distrust that has been generated in the art market. Younger artists are the worst sufferers because they have not yet established their reputations and people do not believe what is being told by their galleries about them. If any particular gallery touts a new artist as 'promising', the buyers doubt that even more, as in past such words of appreciation were meant to hoodwink buyers into making bad purchases.
But who is to blame for this?
In India, art information has become a monopoly of galleries. Magazines like Art India, Art&Deal, Creative Mind, etc, which have the maximum circulation are all run by specific art-houses and they publish articles repeatedly only about their own artists. It is is plain advertisement garbed in journalistic language.
Indian art lovers however have very few sources if any, other than these dubious magazines to know about art. Indian Art Colleges do not bring out journals, Indian artists do not write on art and Indian buyers do not have the patience to go through art appreciation courses offered by universities.
Along with all this there hangs in air a perverse sentiment of buying art to make money in future. Buyers in India always ignored the time-honoured advice that "best art is what you like the most". They went only for those art-pieces which the galleries promised to be good investments. In the hurry of making money, galleires egged artists to produce faster and many artists fell prey to the trend, thereby churning out large number of brainless abstracts, computer printouts and one line drawings and passed them as art.
The present financial crisis is putting an end to this farcical phase in Indian art. We hope that in future buyers would be careful in buying art and thereby prevent easy-money makers from exploiting the former.