welcome to collectors mind

This is a forum for sharing knowledge, gaining insights and shaping opinions. We will not sit on the fence here or play favorites. The language of art has changed in a blink of a year– today there are market makers, power brokers, savvy investors, flippers, fakes and fund managers. Collectors are nearly extinct. Why? Because collectors can see and COLLECTORS MIND. So together, let’s take a small step to make today’s buyers into tomorrow’s collectors. The future of art depends on it!

Monday, January 13, 2014

What Are You Wearing For The Forbes Art Award?

Ananya: Hi Pa.
Me: Hi my love.

Ananya: What are you wearing for the Forbes Art Award?
Me: What do you mean what am I wearing and what do you know about Forbes anyway young lady!

Ananya: It's everywhere on FB. How can I not know.
Me: Alrighty smarty pants but you are much too young to be on Facebook or to be reading business magazines so out with it.

Ananya: Actually my best friend called me all excited and said "Ananya my dad read in Forbes that your dad has the best contemporary gallery exhibiting young artists. So cool". 

I think you should totally wear a black tuxedo with a black bow tie when you receive the award - just like Daniel Radcliffe on the red carpet, but you have to shave and lose the pony and…

Me: Time out my love. Time out. 
First of all I am not receiving any award. At least not yet. This is just the nomination so let's not fuss. Second of all, even if I do win I will likely not be there to receive the award so there is no question of what I will be wearing.

Ananya: Come on dad you can't be serious. My best friends dad will be there as will so many other dads. You HAVE to be there and you have to WIN. It will be so uncool if you don't. What will all my friends think of me if you lose.
Me: Sweetheart in my books you win every time you've done the best you can. And you don't need anyone else to tell you that you have.
I am so sorry that we live in world that has created a culture that places so much stock on winning.

Ananya: That's so boring dad. I though you were Mr. Competition - you have so many sports medals so why not add an art medal to the wall. 
Me: Yes but that was ages ago and unlike sport, art is way too subjective. When I ran and won it was because I ran faster than the next person in the race. When I played football our team won because we scored more goals then the other team. So it was a clear decision. In art there are no winners or losers. There are only artists those who love art.

Ananya: Please dad you have to promise to be there.
Me: Only if you promise that win or not you will always be proud of yourself.
Ananya: Ok promise but don't forget to shave :-)

Ananya is 12-years old and is looking forward to the Forbes Art Award that will be announced on 31st January in Delhi. Her dad is 44 and could not care less. 


Friday, December 27, 2013

The Cook, the Doorman, the Driver & Christie's First Auction in India

Cook: Abstract art in India is better than figurative art.
Doorman: How can you make a sweeping statement like that?
Cook: My memsaab paid 23.7 crore rupees for India's Rothko. Not only is abstract art better its a whole 4 crore rupees better.
Doorman: That's rubbish. You can't take the auction results so literally. I have been a faithful doorman to the auctions for the last fifteen years so know what goes on in there. 
Cook: You don't know anything. My memsaab now holds the world record price for the painting by the artist at auction. 

But I thought painting was dead? says the driver while sipping his cutting chai.
Cook: Who said that?
Doorman: Delaroche, Duchamp amongst others...
Cook: Yes and they are all dead yet painting is alive and ruling the roost at the auctions.
Doorman: You can't take these quotes so literally yaar. Just because Nietzsche said "God is Dead" does not mean God is actually dead. It is a philosophical statement. You pronounce something dead metaphorically so that it makes place for something else to be born. I will explain after my shift gets over at 11pm. 

Driver: I still don't understand why your memsaab would pay 23.7 crore rupees for what looks like haldi stains about to peel off at any moment.
Cook: This was the property of an important private collector and on the cover of the Christie's first auction in India catalogue no less. Now exclusively owned by my world record Memsaab. Ordinary people like you will not understand the extraordinary social impact of these things.
Driver: But for so much money your proud memsaab could adopt my entire village in Orissa that was devastated by the floods. Imagine the extraordinary social impact of that!
Doorman: You are confusing social service with social status. Her friends don't really care about your worthless village but everyone in her kitty party will marvel at how much her living room wall is now worth. 
Cook: Even us lowly creatures are talking about it so imagine the impact.

Driver: Frankly, I think the New York sales had a spill over effect in Mumbai.
Cook: Yes you are right and what is the big deal if my memsaab paid 23.7 crore rupees for a painting by Gaitonde sir when a painting by Bacon sir sold for 142 million dollars. 
Doorman: Repetition of irrational behavior does not invalidate good judgement nor condone poor judgement.
Cook: Say what you may, bit I think its great that Indian art is finally getting the recognition it deserves.  
Doorman: Perhaps its great for the consignors who made a tidy profit. The auction house is always thrilled to collect fat premiums from both the seller as well as the buyer. I am sure more Tyeb's and Gaitonde's will come out of storage and go right under the hammer but it's a sad day for art.
Driver: Why do you say that?
Doorman: It's sad because what is being celebrated is the price of the paintings rather than the paintings themselves. Do you not find it sad that as a society we value creativity only after it has been validated so crassly by commerce? 

Cook: But does this not create an air of excitement and expand the art market? 
DoormanOn the contrary this kind of cowboy bidding creates a lot of turbulence. The art buying gets more and more speculative, all prices get artificially re-calibrated. The real collectors retreat probably never to return and the joys of creating, curating and living with art slowly disappear.
Driver: Maybe this is the end.
Doorman: Or maybe this is the beginning of something new and exciting in art or the repeat of something familiar and ghastly. 
Cook: I still think that abstract art is 4 crore rupees better than figurative art.
Doorman: Maybe this is the end.

Sometimes the common man will say uncommon things that others will dare not. This is one of those conversations that was unseen and unheard but rumored to have happened on the night of 19th December 2013.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Curtain Raiser: Ideal Boy

Abhay:  Hi Seema as you know, we are opening a new debut solo "Ideal Boy" by Roshan Chhabria.
Seema:  Yes I am already thinking about a two-page curtain raiser. Roshan an Ideal Boy? It will be just perfect for the weekend edition.

A: That is fantastic Seema but just to clarify "Ideal Boy" is the title of his show and the preview at the gallery is this Thursday Oct 10th.
S: This I can so pitch to my editor. Finally an Ideal Boy after so much male bashing by Shobha and others. Imagine the headlines "Baroda boy shows Delhi and Mumbai how to keep it in his pants"

A (frustrated but not in that way):  Seema the artist is NOT an ideal boy. I mean he may or may not be ideal, but that is beside the point. (A continues without pausing for breath) Roshan re-examines the "ideal" in a changing and often contradictory landscape of social expectation, parental responsibilities, personal freedom and western influence on a boy growing up in middle-class India. It is all in the press release I sent you by email a few days ago.
S:  Oh I see, this is commentary on the middle-class.
A (Phew):  Yes exactly! a commentary on his middle-class surroundings that are both observed and experienced. Dichotomies in social customs and traditions that he presents as visual clusters with a healthy dose of irony and wit.

A:  It is his debut show, he is from out of town and it would be so wonderful if you did a story. I mean it would be so interesting and relevant to the majority of your readers who are also middle-class. 
S:  Shobha is not middle-class.
A:  No, but she is also not your average reader. She writes for the average reader. (the very average reader I mumble to myself).
S:  Are you suggesting that my paper is average?
A:  Absolutely not Seema. I was referring to the average reader who is middle-class. I am sorry but  you seem so distracted. Let's speak another time about the show.

S:  Aah the show. Until when is it on?
A:  November 9th so enough time for your readers to come and visit.
S:  Ok, I will try and catch it before it ends
A:  Ya. But, but what happened to the curtain raiser? You were so thrilled about it just moments ago.
S:  Abhay, personally I am very interested in what you do but off the records we don't really care about art or the middle-class. I mean we do because they are ones who buy our paper. But they want to read extraordinary stories about the rich and famous. The more debauched the better - scams, affairs, murder, rape. The dethroning of the King of good times is is what makes them feel good about their ordinary lives. This is what sells newspaper. This is what pays my salary.

A:  Yes, I get that but perhaps if you give your readers a chance. Maybe if you elevate the conversation to include more meaningful things. Art and music and and other agents of change. Inspirational stories of ordinary people - just like your readers. Stories of hope and creative expression…[S hastily interrupts] Sorry Abhay but I need to run. I have an interview with Mr. Dhody followed by a soiree with Mr. Modi.
A:  Yes of course. The real ideal boys!

This is a part of a series of fictitious conversations with the self which is as real as it is imagined! 

The apparent lack of engagement in the visual arts by the mainstream media in Mumbai continues to be one of the reasons contemporary art is still struggling to find a firm footing in contemporary life. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I had a dream

I wake up with a start. 
My cell phone is ringing. It's 4am. 
I curse myself for not putting it on silent before I went to bed. 
I roll to the bedside, curse some more and look at the phone. 
It is Venkanna calling. I pick up the phone.

V: Sorry to call so early but I have some urgent news I want to share.
A: What happened?

V: I won the SKODA prize for 2013
V: Isn't it exciting? 
A: Please just hold on for a minute. (I wash my face and resume the conversation). Venki, the nominations for 2013 are not even out as yet. Moreover i just heard that they are canning the prize altogether. 

V: Ya I am sorry about that. I feel partly responsible.
A: What on earth are you taking about? This is insane. Are you ok? 
V: Abhay I just had a dream that I won the SKODA prize. But I don't like the name SKODA so me and the other shortlisted artists have exercised our right to dissent. We have taken up the issue with the organizers and have proposed that the name be changed to an Indian artist of repute - like "The M.F. Husain prize" or the "Amrita Sher-Gil prize" you know to make it just as appealing as the Turner prize. I finally feel like an artist-activist.

A: Hold on a second. I though your works were about the representation of beauty and sexuality? since when did you become an activist? 
V: It's just that I don't like the idea of having a car company on my resume. Imagine "SKODA" under the section that says Award and Prizes. How dreary!
A: So you don't wan't a prize called SKODA but you are happy to take their prize money? 

V: No, Yes, I don't know - But what has SKODA got to do with art? 
A: What has Bhau Daji Lad and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj got to do with art? Yet you seem quite content to have their names on your CV. Why the double standards baba? And if you have ideological differences with the prize why did you choose to send in your nomination? If I don't like the rules don't play the game. 

V: But this SKODA thing is pure capitalism, corporate PR in the name of art and we artists can't stand it so we must protest!
A: I see. But you don't seem to mind that you are represented by a Pvt. Ltd company, that your works sell to corporates and corporate honchos. That is acceptable capitalism but this is not? UBS, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase and the like are your biggest benefactors. And because they have a relationship with art, they are also likely to participate more actively in its expansion and promotion. It's a win-win for everyone and I still don't see the problem?

V: All I know is that we want a prize like the Turner. An artist should be recognized by another artist not by a car company on the masthead. 
A: Ok. So shall we say no to anything that has Boss, Cartier, LV, Hermes attached to it? Lets erase the show you did at the Agnes B Foundation in Paris last year and while we are at it, let's also turn our back to Tate Modern since it is named after the sugar magnate Henry Tate of Tate & Lyle, a British multinational agribusiness. 

V: Don't be so hasty Abhay. It's a dream to be at the great halls of the Tate Modern.
A: You are the one being hasty. Corporate patronage is a premium in a country like India that lacks public/governmental funding for the arts. By needlessly shooting at it you may have shot yourself and other deserving artists in the foot. 

A: By the way, I heard the government is planning on renaming your birth city of Hyderabad to  Bhagyanagaram. 
V: What? Are you serious!!!
A: Yes and that's a name change you should be protesting about.

This conversation never happened but should have.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Why don't we have a darn E-newsletter? I ask Rivka in a cranky voice the minute she lands into the gallery. (For those who came in late, Rivka works with me and is my go-to-person for anything tech.).

What are you talking about? She quips back.

I also want a chest-thumping gallery newsletter like these ones. Here take a look…I scroll through several in my inbox.  
So? Why have we not created a newsletter and blasted it out to our global email list of 10,000 strong? 

R: Because our artists don't have any news worth sharing Abhay.
A: What do you mean they don't have any news worth sharing? What about Venkanna’s residency in Sri Lanka next month, Priyanka’s performance in Mexico City last week and her solo show opening this week in San Miguel de Allende? Not to mention Shine's success at Art Brussels and his upcoming solo at Young International Artists in Paris, Avantika’s residency at MacDowell and her show in Chicago, Peter at Palais de Tokyo and MoMa PS1, Ruben at Nathalie Obadia in Paris, Max’s installation in Romania and Singapore etc. etc.  And while you are at it, add Robert Smithson to the list and find a way to glorify him too.

R: But this is not news.
A: What do you mean NOT NEWS?

R: This is what an artist does. It's a part and parcel of the artist’s journey. Why would anyone be interested in all of this....this activity?
A: Because it is very important to show the world that our artists are moving up, that they are internationally in-demand therefore serious artists. 

R: I thought the only important thing was to show great art.
A: Don't be so naive Rivka. Most people do not know how to see but they sure know how to read. And, it is our job to make them drink the Kool-Aid. We are the spin-doctors of art.

R: If you say so doc. But, what exactly was our role in getting the artists these fancy residencies amongst the other great things you just rattled off? Can the gallery take credit for everything the artist does? We don't even represent Peter and Robert Smithson is dead. Even if he were alive, his work was only part of a group show that was curated by someone else.
A: Never mind that Rivka. You are getting too caught up with all these trivial details. To stay competitive we have to learn to blow our own horn. Shout from the MacBook – choose the most esoteric images and list all the new triumphs of the artists the gallery has ever touched. It should be high on the wow factor. That’s the only criteria. Collectors, curators, critics and all need to get an impression that we are a “class apart” gallery with artists who are on the up-and-up.

R: You are the boss. By the way, how should I sign off?
A: With a double PhD.

Disclaimer: Even though this conversation never happened it could very well have.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Shocked by Art?

Does life become intolerable when seen from the prism of death? Is the expression of virility still considered vile by some? Are we so easily shocked by art yet remain composed by the shock of life - by the horror of starvation, the shame of corruption and the greed of war. Are we comfortable with eyes of lust and hate yet discomforted by marble eyes constructed by the hand of the artist? What is the purpose or art anyway? is it meant to decorate pale walls and please the conservative eye? Will artists who have the courage to address sexuality and the macabre with the same free spirit as established conventions of beauty always get mowed down by the intellectual moral brigade? 

I have interacted with hundreds of people from different nationalities, diverse age groups and all walks of life who have come to the gallery to see Glimpse of Thirst by artist Shine Shivan (ongoing until March 14th, 2013). A few weeks ago a middle aged couple walked in with their daughter of seven years. I greeted them as they entered the gallery and suggested that the show may not be appropriate for the little girl. "Thanks for that mate" the gentleman replied and walked right in. I hesitated before reiterating that the video behind the wall is certainly out-of-bounds to which he responded. "Thanks again mate, I will check it out myself."

Having done my duty on propriety, I sat back in my chair and let them see the show without imposing myself any further. After a while, I went inside to see if I could help with anything and was surprised at the sight of the family-of-three watching the Shivan video fully and patiently. As they emerged from behind the wall, I went up to the couple and asked impatiently what their parenting philosophy was? Were they not concerned that their daughter of impressionable age may be scarred by the explicit nature of the work? The gentleman coolly replied "We want our child to grow up without fears of the world, without artificial norms of right and wrong. My wife is a curator from Australia and we travel everywhere with our daughter. We want her to see life as it is rather than as we would like it to be." In the meanwhile the little girl was busy making pictures of the sculptures and pointing to remarkable details in the works that had even escaped my eyes. So, how does she deal with all this I asked. "Extremely well actually," he said, "and whenever she has any questions, she has our confidence and knows we are always there to talk it through them". As a parent of two young girls, I was completely in synch with this Aussie way of being and shook his hand with delight and wondered why he was the exception and not the rule.  

Just recently, a colleague sent me a link to a local review of the show that left me wondering how some people are shocked by art at the slightest provocation while others remain unscathed, even inspired by it? Are we judging the world too quickly by our own social conditioning and moral standards and therefore choosing to be shocked? As a vegan can I choose to be shocked that people kill living beings to feed themselves, while some may argue that all things are living so even vegans are murderous herbivores. Is there an acceptable threshold of shock that artists need to measure their work against and how important is context in determining what gets labeled as shocking?

The debate on what gets categorized as shocking and degenerate versus radical and enriching may never be settled but I am shocked that people are shocked by art so easily.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Request Denied: Never mind the baby!

I thought I would pen a congratulatory announcement that reads something like this ‘a promising young artist from Mumbai has been accepted by the prestigious Montalvo Arts Center for a residency program in 2011’. http://montalvoarts.org/programs/residency/

The artist
Aaditi Joshi, is even listed on the Montalvo web site as a current fellow http://montalvoarts.org/fellows/ along with four other lucky artists selected into this $10.5 million dollar facility in Saratoga, California. Facilities like this are non-existent in our country so this was indeed a cause for celebration.

Instead I am writing to express my dismay over the fact that her visa to the US has been denied - not once but twice by the consulate in Mumbai for reasons that are inexplicable. They think that she is not ‘famous’ enough to warrant the residency, that she is too young and her bank balance is not big enough to convince the officers that she is eligible for such a visa. In other words she is considered an ‘immigration risk’.

In her defense, she explains that this is in fact an opportunity for emerging artists (the rich and famous go to art fair and auctions not to residencies). That she is an emerging artist and therefore still finding her financial feet. That she is happily married in Mumbai and proud to be an Indian. That she has a 10- month-old child who she will be leaving behind in the loving care of her grandparents. If not for her country she will surely come back for her baby who she loves more than any promised land.

Montalvo accepted Aaditi Joshi she was in an emotional bind. She would have to make a huge sacrifice and leave her newly born behind but the residency seemed like a great opportunity. As an artist, she knows a thing or two about making sacrifices and was willing to accept this challenge. She was prepared to leave her most precious belonging and go west - to learn, to grow but also to be a cultural ambassador and to contribute and share her art with America.

She thought the hard part was over – days were spent making the perfect application. Every comma and full stop in place, images scrutinized, organized, statement of purpose written, references sought. It was the most wonderful news that she has been accepted. The talent, the hard work all paid off. I was so happy for her. Suddenly a window has opened.

Her travel dates were fixed, grandparents were prepped to play parents again and just when life was about to take off, that window was shut tight by the most unlikely of circumstances. The visa-issuing officers did not think that artist Aaditi Joshi was famous enough or rich enough - and of course they were right on that count. Being an artist is one of the hardest things in the world. It takes great courage to dedicate oneself to making art. It is difficult for all young artists starting out but especially daunting for an artist-mother like Aaditi.

Imagine working with meager resources to create object of beauty and joy in an otherwise sullen world. To be tucked away in an isolated studio dedicated to the act of creation in the absence of a ready market. It takes great self-belief to do this day in and day out. I believe that the only reason she persists in her practice is because Aaditi is not looking to be ‘rich’ or ‘famous’. She is simply looking to make art. Art that inspires her to be a better human being and a better mom, art that can move you - the viewer, in new and magical ways. Art that can trigger imagination and touch your heart. That is the purpose of her art. Perhaps too 'trivial' a reason for some and thus overlooked by my good neighbors.

Aaditi made her case with sincerity and with passion. She gave them all the letters from Montalvo inviting her for the residency. Proof that this was an ‘all expense’ paid visit so her modest bank balance was no hindrance. That this was a rare opportunity for an emerging artist like her. She even showed them her previous show catalogs, all the press and reviews on her work - and she has quite a few to show – Times of India, Time Out, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Art India Magazine, Verve, Platform...but they did not even bother to look. Their mind was already made up.
Never mind the baby, she is neither ‘famous’ nor ‘rich’ she will flee.

In their misplaced wisdom and in the illusion of great authority Aaditi’s visa request was denied. With it was denied the hopes and aspirations of a young artist so eager to embrace the world and help make it a better place. What they could not however deny was her unbroken spirit.

Aaditi will apply again for the third time and as per regulations, it will be the final application she can make to the USA on her current passport.

Fact file: According to the NYT there were about 11 million illegal immigrants in the US in 2010 but I am sure none of them are visual artists from India who have forsaken their babies for the sake of all the dollars in the world!