04th May 2003


A Few Steps To Protect Your Investments In Art

The Indian investor appears to be more over confident than most. That is why we find people buying expensive works of art in the midst of the plunder of Baghadad across the sea from Mumbai. It is perhaps because we are used to living under almost any conditions and think nothing of exploiting ourselves, our families and others to achieve meagre gains at high costs. The Indian farmer, the petty shopkeeper and even the labourer show a remarkable lack of concern for the sacrifice, the hardship and long-term unsustainability of so much they do for immediate results, no matter how small. This is a dangerous trend we must guard against if we are to invest our resources, human or other wise, successfully.

True the world is globalising very fast. Its speculative capital is travelling around the globe, sometimes with devastating effect, as in the case of the Asian Tigers of yesterday turned cats today, a deflated Brazil or Russia. Even multinationals are not immune to the blandishments of super profits and the disasters that follow them. The rise and fall of Enron is just one example of this. The famine of Sub-Saharan Africa is only a foretaste of this. If we do not pull ourselves out of this complacency, we may find ourselves embedded in a resource crunch that may even threaten our access to essentials like food, land, and water. Can we not survive this? Of course, we can. Our instinctive over-confidence is a proof our intuitively knowing this. The first element in this survival kit is to protect whatever resources we have, based on a long-term strategy to succeed.

In the field of art, this means pruning decorative and irrelevant works from those of significance to the evolution of global contemporary art. This process of selection itself will give a boost to creativity as well as setting standards for the production of the future. In fact, recently we have seen two exhibitions in Delhi that give us a good idea of how well-equipped we are to do this. There was the 'Poetry and Patriotic Fervour' show at the Delhi Gallery that lumped together the hybrid colonial art of Ravi Varma and his school, with Bengal Bazar Art, the revivalist art of Ahanindranath Tagore, the works of the genuine forebearers of our contemporary art, like Rabindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Ram Kinkar Baij, Chitta Prasad, Binod Bihari Mukherjee and a large number of good academic and original artists. But one feels that the works of pruning has not been done and the good tends to be overpowered by the bad.

A far better presentation of the contemporary works one has access in our country can be seen at the online auction preview for the sale slated for May 6 to 8, 2003. Its stock of Hebbar, Bendre, Ara, Husain, Raza, Souza, Sabavala, Tyeb Mehta, Krishen Khanna, Swaminathan, Akbar Padamsee, Badri Narayan, Sakti Burman, Ganesh Pyne, Ghulam Muhammad Sheikh, Arpita Singh, Arpana Caur, Jogen Chaudhury, Ram Kumar, Lakshma Goud, Anjolie Ela Menon, T Vaikuntam, Rameshwar Broota, Nataraj Sharma, Rekha Rodwittya, Paresh Maity, Shibu Natesan and Jitish Kallat among others, is well-chosen and has certain works that are good investments in any conditions.

It was after a long time that one saw small works of MF Husain, like his horse study of 1987 (Lot 10) where we see how the artist's mastery over colour is no less than his mastery over line. Priced at between Rs 3.25 lakh and Rs 4.25 lakh, this work is sure to sell. Among the larger works, there is an excellent sun chariot figure, a three foot by four foot oil on canvas (Lot 15) priced at between Rs 14.75 lakh and Rs 16.75 lakh.

Of Raza's work, the one most likely to sell is a small one entitled 'Woman with a Tree' (Lot 25), an oil on board, priced at between Rs 4.75 lakh and Rs 55.75 lakh. Among the more sought after abstractions, there is 'Jaisalmer' and an acrylic on canvas of 1975 (Lot 24) expected to fetch between Rs 16 lakh and Rs 20 lakh. For those who are daring, there is an excellent portrait by FN Souza entitled 'Prophet' dated 1958 (Lot 34), expected to fetch between Rs 5.95 lakh and Rs 6.95 lakh. Then there is a chemical on paper drawing of a female nude (Lot 33) by the same artist which ought to fetch an expected price of Rs 69,400 to Rs 74,000. Tyeb Mehta's drawing of a head (Lot 47) is ought to fetch an expected Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.65 lakh.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the six works of Ganesh Pyne in this auction are not over period. There is a colourful jotting (Lot 69) that is priced at between Rs 1.25 lakh and Rs 1.50 lakh that definitely ought to sell at the expected price. Then there is a head in tempera on canvas (Lot 72) that is Arpita Singh's canvas of lexicon series (Lot 79) at a rather high price of Rs 6.11 lakh to Rs 7.50 lakh, while an excellent Arpana Caur painting, 'Changing Times' is up for sale for only Rs 1.50 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. There is also Nataraj Sharma's 'Roadmaker - Orange Light' (Lot 122) at Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.50 lakh.

Finally, my usual caveat that buyers ought to make sure beyond a doubt that the works they buy are authentic, but with a new rider this time: How safe is your investment in a unipolar world, with a single pole being represented by perhaps by the most greedy and savage state in the history of humanity? Not very safe, I should think. In these conditions then, investors should also begin to think of how to bring multi-polarity back on the global scene again so that international norms of justice prevail rather than the arbitrary fiat of sole super power whose whims could turn your investment in to ashes overnight. The buyer today must not only be cautious, but also must prepare oneself to see that the investment will survive long enough to be paying. The best investor today is one who can protect his or her assets as well as they are put together. Suneet Chopra

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