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!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bald and Beautiful

Girish Shahane touched on some core issues in the March 21 Time Out opinion piece and I agree with him wholeheartedly. For the benefit of those who missed the article, the crux of the grey matter was that Indian art by and large is uninspiring compared even to China - the other Asian tiger that is most often the comparison country be it economic prosperity, population or prices of art.

This was not just a wise bald head talking nor was it about any biases or prejudices towards any group of artists - local or foreign but a timely red flag being raised so that this contentious issue gets addressed at all levels; including by our flagging institutions of learning, rising outlets of selling; the few authentic galleries and our singular museum – did I mention the vulnerable artists, or my neighbors dog sitter who is now an art dealer (yes I am sure its not the cook, he is a consultant) or the hapless buyer with the latest copy of COLE in the right hand and an auction catalogue in the wrong one.

Lets not forget to honor the infamous ‘art market source’ who is craftily quoted with uncomfortable regularity on the back pages of a leading financial daily, often just before a local auction or exhibition touting the promises of art as an investment and referencing an even more unconvincing art index amongst other frivolity. Anyone with half a mind can see thru the paid advertorial model employed here to benefit the greedy few – but the manipulators knows better – they know that this kind of talk appeals to the novice and unsuspecting buyers - they know that mere mortals are greedy for profit and fearful of loss – they knows that people buy what they read and not what they see and that day traders and merchants will use the power of the print as convenient PROXY to make purchase decisions.

In this rickety ecosystem, the main concern remains that much of the art that is being produced today is either too derivative or too decorative – both are troublesome and perilous to say the least. For now, the market is oblivious to this glaring anomaly but I suspect that quality - or lack thereof - will catch up very soon.

So how come the prices continue to spiral upwards? Is a higher price not a reflection of higher quality? We have been trained from early childhood that ‘expensive equals better’ and even our mundane shopping experiences seems to validate this time tested assumption so what’s going on here? Why this aberration in the Indian art market you ask? There is no one answer to this price-quality conundrum but my own observation is that much of the buying that is happening is with the ears wide open and eyes partially shut. Western collectors are only too happy to rely on PROXIES such as the new ArtTactic Indian market survey, auction records, fair participation, biennial entries and uninformed reportage in mainstream media to determine who gets acquired and at what price. The simultaneous flashing of Indian contemporary art by billionaire Frank Cohen, and known punter Charles Saatchi and the much anticipated Serpentine shows are only going to further exasperate the situation.

The priorities and preoccupations of the nuevo rich pseudo class have shifted to such an extent that by and large they prefer buying passé signature trophies over what I call ‘transformative art’ made by those brave souls who are often working on the fringes of the market, and thus completely ignored by the media, the masses and therefore the market – that mostly concern themselves with the money spinners stars.

Furthermore, these new moneyed folks neither have the time nor the inclination to deep dive in an area where both knowledge and commitment are prerequisites to understanding, appreciating and collecting works of art, so untidy shortcuts are employed and proxy buying has become the new mantra – with dire results for all to see. Prices of mediocre works continue to break records providing further oxygen to the hype. Well healed buyers are only too happy to comparison shop and continue to due diligence their way to acquiring a piece of ‘India Shining’. Art funds are popping like tarts in the oven, artists studios are buzzing with hierarchy of assistants and galleries are expanding at McDonalds pace. ‘Specuration’ is the latest word in the art dictionary – artists have become agents and art the new currency of exchange. There is little rationality and lots of hope – that someday perhaps a Manish might magically turn into a Murakami or a Gupta into a God...my hands are folded in meditative prayer. Shalom!