By Richa Chaudhary
Like any good old Indian, Tarun Khanna, a young professional working with DDB Mudra as associate vice president, had always parked his money in real estate or gold. But over the past few years, he has taken a great liking to art not only because of its aesthetic appeal but also because he sees it as a lucrative investment. He has been actively attending various gallery events in order to be up to speed with the Indian art market. He takes keen interest in installations an
d contemporary art. Khanna says, “art is an amazing investment if it’s done out of love for beauty of art. You enjoy building heritage for times to come and in most cases, it gives you much appreciated financial returns as well.”
Art, as an industry, has always been somewhat undervalued. But of late, there has been a visible upswing. Over the past decade, people in India have opened up to taking art as a serious business. Investment in art is unlike any other. There is never a right price or a right time to buy or sell an art piece. The market for art in
countries like the US is regulated. A collector can sell the art piece to the same gallery he or she made the purchase from. But that is not the case in India.
Jag Mehta, director of sales and marketing of prominent London art gallery SCREAM, says, “India’s a fresh market compared to the west where art fairs are well established. But that’s what is attractive about the Indian market. At these art exhibitions in the west, it seems predictable. The galleries know who is coming, the collectors know which works are going to be showcased. But in India, people come with fresh eyes and they are genuinely inspired by and engaged in art.”
Luciano Donatini, owner of MK Search Art Gallery, Italy, has been on the lookout for art in India and he echoes Mehta’s thought. He says, “We believe in the
Indian art scene and we find contemporary Indian art very powerful and relevant. The world is looking at Indian contemporary art which is very different from European art. Indian artists are gaining popularity in the west. It’s great to be engaged with the changing scene.”
Nonetheless, Donatini thinks there are significant gaps in terms of infrastructure – galleries, system and institutions – that can aid better market growth. He believes investments from the public as well as private sector can plug the deficiencies.
Shireen Gandhy, director of Chemould Contemporary Art Gallery, Mumbai, says, “The biggest problem is lack of support from the government. If we want to import an exhibition or show our artists abroad, our taxation procedure makes it very difficult as we are taxed at every level. This makes art an elite proposition and unviable for a larger audience.”
Artist Desmond Lazaro feels the private sector should have a bigger role. “The art market in India is maturing. But the lack of formal institutions hurts. We need the private sector to jump in. If you have platforms, more artists will come up. It’s not that we don’t have artists but we have a very limited number of platforms,” he says.
Indian contemporary art is attracting investors and collectors not only from India but other countries as well. In the past decade, there has been a substantial rise in prices of Indian contemporary art being sold by big auction houses abroad. Some have even witnessed a four-fold appreciation in their value. Auctions lend the markets transparency and give upcoming artists much-needed visibility.
Mehta says, “appreciation of value of art depends on an artist’s profile, on the media attention an artist sustains and on where the art is being exhibited. There are times an artist starts really well but quickly fades away. It depends on how strongly the artist is pushing his career.”
Art auction houses have built a very prominent secondary market, making sure that liquidising the investment at any given time is always a choice with the collectors. Indian contemporary art market has excelled and outperformed private equity funds. The birth of four different art funds is a pointer.
Karan Ahluwalia, president and country head, media & entertainment, fine arts, luxury & sports, Yes Bank, says, “What Christies did a few weeks ago is a great benchmark for Indian art. Their focus was on collecting the best Indian art. In the last ten years, the business has grown manifold. Events like this can be catalytic in promoting all forms of Indian art.”