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!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Souza come home

Works like Death of a Pope, Lovers, Red Moon and Birth triumphantly asserts Souza’s ability and places him as one of India’s foremost artist to have ever yielded a brush.

Souza’s contribution to Indian art is unchallenged and it is well known that he founded the progressive Artists’ Group in 1947 and laid the foundation upon which modern art in India was painstakingly constructed in the ensuing years by the original group of six [F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, M.F. Husain, K.H. Ara, H.A. Gade, S.K. Bakre] and their contemporaries [Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta et al]

The art and life of Souza has been a great source of inspiration for me and to this day, I remain convinced that he was the greatest painter in India’s modern era. His style was fluid and experimental not stiff and academic. His lines were sure and strong – often economical but always bold.

Souza was often compared to Picasso for his subject and style - a comparison that Souza loathed. In an interview with Yashodhara Dalmia in 1992 he remarked, “As you know Picasso drew the human face. They were magnificent. But I have drawn the physiognomy way beyond Picasso, in completely new terms. These fellows gave up after Picasso and became abstract or they painted garbage cans, thereby avoiding the whole problem of finding a new draughtsman-ship. He stumped them and the whole of Western art into shambles. When you examine the human face I am the only artist who has taken it a step further.”

Whether Souza outdrew Picasso or not is debatable, what is not is the lack of patronage his art found in India. Just two years after forming the Progressives and despite the heady days post independence where a new language in art was being forged, Souza boarded a ship in 1949 and arrived penniless in London.

If it were not for certain Europeans like Stephen Spender and Harold Kovner, who regularly bought his paintings Souza may have become a fellow who drew designs for pillow-cases, cushions and petticoats – as was his tongue-in-cheek opinion of the fate of a professional painter in India. Fifty years later, not much has changed. We are still at the mercy of European patronage for ‘new’ art that is challenging the now established modern visual aesthetic. Seminal works by our best contemporary artists are in western collections. Pinault, Cohen, Saatchi and Burger are the ‘spenders’ of the 21st century.

To see a significant body of work we now have to travel to UK, France, Netherlands and even Japan and Korea where museum exhibitions show new art from India. Most have an exotic title such as 'Indian Summer', Hungry God, Indian Highway, Chalo! India, etc. Many of them are poorly researched and fall short of presenting a holistic view of contemporary art practices prevelant in India or wooing the audience. Yet it’s better than nothing. I have been a long time critic of ‘thematic’ group exhibitions or ‘national’ group exhibitions but I am much more sympathetic when it comes to our own. Until we take collective responsibility and affirmative action to create broad awareness and ignite genuine interest in art, we have little choice but to depend on Euro dollars to keep our sculptors from becoming seamsters.

The Art of Souza: Property from the Estate of Francis Newton Souza goes under the hammer at Christies, London on June 9, 2010. Of the 152 lots of offer I hope the real jewels including the cover lot comes home.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Question of Art

Is the role of the gallery to cater to an existing market or to create new markets? Do we really have a large enough local audience interested in collecting contemporary art? Is it possible to strike a balance between mounting creatively challenging works that are also commercially viable? How do you justify all the infrastructure, resources and time expended in mounting such shows given the visible lack of connoisseurship?

These are just some of the questions I find asking myself after every show that I curate at Gallery Maskara.

I can feel the rush of excitement and energy that begins with looking at hundreds of artist portfolios and making dozens of studio visits and re-visits. This is a demanding process where literally thousands of mediocre works get reviewed before one authentic voice emerges. Amply rewarded, several more visits follow, concepts and ideas get exchanged and shows get planned. The Euphoria reaches a crescendo on opening night followed by the resounding silence in the days after.

As I sit at the gallery and check off the ten names that might potentially buy and live with works we have presented, I think that not too long back, I was one of the ten – looking, seeing, learning and always hungry for more. Never interested in art I easily understood yet partial to buying what I did not. A work found its way into my collection if it touched me and only if it was radical enough to hold my attention for more than just a few appealing minutes. I always liked to be challenged by art. Just then the bell rings and my hope rush towards the door. I am greeted by one of India’s uber collectors. My spirits are high as I walk him through the show - he certainly has the money to buy the entire show and owns several spaces in which to house the works. Perhaps he will take one home today? As these thoughts are buzzing in my head, he stops midway and asks “is this a commercial show”. Yes of course I reply only see a puzzled face. He asks again politely if I have any paintings by artists on his list [he rattles off some names of the usual suspects]. My head droops and I nod my head from side-to- side as if to say sorry and the next thing I see is his back darting to the door. That when the first questions pops up in my head. Is the role of the gallery to cater to an existing market or to create new markets?

I pacify myself by saying that the wheel of creativity has turned a notch and I have a different job now – to use all my senses, knowledge and intuition to seek out radical new voices and curate shows that are relevant to the times we live in. Those with the money may not necessarily have the mindset to buy contemporary and those with the mindset not the money. Demographics easily support this argument of mine, after all those who are most likely to spend a few lack of rupees on art are those who have had a successful business or career for fifteen or twenty years. These folks are most likely to be in their late forties and mid fifties. How can I expect them to relate to sculptures made with household dust or hang paintings with titles such as Suck Fuck. On the other hand, budding collectors who embrace new forms of creative expression with the same ease as they embrace voice over IP and peer to peer file swapping are still in their late twenties and early thirties and still probably finding their economic feet.

My voice of reason is destabilized once again as I get a call from a gentlemen from the Netherlands. He sounds aged and he introduces himself as a lawyer and an art collector. On his request, I send some images of watercolors available by one of our artists. The images are quite graphic and considering the lesson in demographics I do not pin my hopes too high. We close the day with considered resignation. The following day I get a return email that our lawyer wants to buy all the four works I sent him. That when the second questions pops up in my head. Do we really have a large enough local audience interested in collecting contemporary art?

I have been an art insider for over fifteen years now and I have seen and been part of a paradigm shift in the way new art is created, curated, collected and critiqued (the 4 C’s). However, the creative wheel must turn further and fully for any art to exist especially ‘new’ art. If there is any break in this continuum, new art will surely suffer. As I ponder over this virtuous life-cycle, new questions emerge. Is it possible to strike a balance between mounting creatively challenging works that are also commercially viable? My own experience of curating shows at the Warehouse seems to suggest not. So how do I justify all the infrastructure, resources and time expended in mounting such shows given the visible lack of connoisseurship? These are really hard questions to confront and yet we glide into season three with a hope that 2010 will be the tipping point and all the questions I have raised will become irrelevant.

'Subrato to Cesar' by Riyaz Komu opens June 11, 2010 at Gallery Maskara.