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!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Wild Sunday Evening in Hong Kong and the Morning after Pill...

The mind numbing prices fetched for works on canvas by N.S. Harsha, T.V Santhosh and Thukral&Tagra at the Christies Asian Contemporary Art auction in Hong Kong this past Sunday throw some very important questions. The auctioneers are no doubt euphoric but how should these artists react to the results? Should they for instance increase prices for similar size works by 7 to 9 times according to these new stratospheric benchmarks? What about their contemporaries like Justin Ponmany, Jitish Kallat, Hema Upadhyay, Prjakta Potnis and others? Should they too find a formula to compete? Since triptych is passé perhaps make even larger paintings with four parts side-by-side and call it a quadtych with a million dollar tag!

And what is the role of the gallery in all this? Do they simply stand by and watch their artist’s careers being ruined by short term opportunists and savvy market makers? It is time for everyone including artists, galleries, and collectors to get proactive in addressing these and other pressing issues or risk being swept away by a Zen like tidal wave that came silently and devoured much of the art market in the early ninety’s.

Artists need to sit down with their galleries and talk at length about the direction their career is moving in vis-à-vis the market. Understanding how auctions work can sometimes be the first step towards a more sensible approach to pricing in the primary market. Auctions are not as efficient a marketplace as it is often understood, and prices achieved are not always guided by rational judgment in a heated atmosphere where all it takes is two people to take the prices to unrealistic levels. There are also many hands with vested interest playing the auction arena which is why transparency is not always assured.

This is also time for the artist-gallery relationship to evolve to the next level. It is impossible to bring about any rationality or rhythm if artists continue to deal with every other gallery who is willing to offer more moolah, glossier catalogues and glitzier parties. The concept of one artist one gallery will enable a more constructive building block and allow both artists and galleries to flourish. Works of art will then have fewer streams through which they will pass and galleries can play an active role in insuring that they are placed in good collections. Many forward thinking artists including Ranjani Shettar, Anant Joshi, Thukral and Tagra amongst others already have such a well established relationship in place.

Another possible solution to begin addressing this problem is for galleries to introduce Resale Agreements. I must admit that I have never been a proponent of this but in a speculative and reactionary market such as ours; it can help bring some discipline, lend a degree of control on how and where works of art are placed and give some comfort to the artists and the galleries. A large part of this responsibility also has to be borne by the artist, as the problem is often overproduction. After all there are only a finite number of serious collectors out there but if an artists keeps churning out new works at breakneck speed it is impossible to place them all in good private and public collections.

One must question the role of the gallery here. If all they care about is selling at over the top prices then the auctions are doing a fine job of that so why shouldn’t the artists simply sidestep the gallery and put works directly in the auctions and make a lot more money? That is because the gallery is much more than simply a broker of creativity and must take a long term view of the market and the artists whose careers they manage

The collector can also contribute by respecting the relationship with his or her gallery and by doing the right thing when it comes to putting works back into the market. Even in the absence of resale agreements, there are some unwritten rules in the art world. For instance, as a collector if you want to sell a work of art previously purchased from a gallery it is only proper that you first offer it back to the same gallery to sell it on your behalf. This gives the gallery an opportunity to place the works with other collectors some of who might be waiting for a long time to buy a work by that artist. The gallery will know the market of that artist and hopefully be able to get you the best price for the work so you don’t loose in any way. The gallery may even advise that you consign the work directly through the auction. The important thing here is that you first approached the gallery.

The platform and visibility provided by the auctions can be very beneficial for the artists however there is always a right time and a right way to be introduced in the auctions and it is best if the gallery plays an active role in making that transition from primary to secondary. Nothing is worse than mediocre works and an ill timed entry into the pit bull arena as unsold works can mar the reputation of an artist. Yet we see artists in the glossy catalogues with uncomfortable regularity even before they have had few solo shows under their belt. Case in point is the Sotheby’s September 2007 Contemporary Art South Asia auction in NY where auction debutante Shambhavi Singh, Suresh Kumar and Kiran Telkar all crashed unsold.

I was in London when Garden of Earthly Delight III the iconic work by Indian born Raqib Shaw fetched a gravity defying $5.9 million at Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale last month. However, despite the fantastic price tag, somehow I was not gasping for breath. With a presale estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000 it finally sold for 3.5 times the upper estimate. Raqib who was represented by Victoria Miro gallery switched to Deitch Projects and has built quite a reputation for himself in the recent years. His works are in many important private and public collections including MOMA that owns a work from the same series and his public profile and desirability was undoubtedly given a major boost when the Tate Modern showed him in 2006. In short, all the stars were aligned to favor a feeding frenzy for a work of this magnitude that was strategically placed in the evening sale in London amidst the glamour and glitz of the Frieze Art Fair.

Indian art is certainly in the eye of the storm but a little bit of housekeeping and a lot of soul searching is required to be done before we can rub shoulders with the like of Jeff Koons, Ernst Beyeler and Eli Broad, all living legends who have in their own unique ways set many an example on how to be a great artist, a visionary gallerist and a responsible collector. The time is now to be responsive and follow their lead.