Bought any Indian art lately?

Last summer, a friend pointed me to Saffronart, an online auction site that features artwork by both better and lesser-known modern and contemporary Indian artists. You can browse for works based on the artist, how much they cost, or look at specially organized collections. It’s addictive enough for those of us who are suckers for eye-candy, but it’s very interesting to see what you can get for your money, or somebody else’s money.

As most of you probably already know, over the last decade, the market for Indian art exploded, to the extent that it was considered a “sensible investment.” (Snarky aside to all those artsy types snickering at the thought of bankers, engineers, and doctors suddenly interested in Indian art: they paid your rent.)

8341_Gaitonde_Untitled.jpg V.S. Gaitonde, Untitled, 1973

Of course, we’re in a different world now. A painting by a giant like V.S. Gaitonde can still be expected to yield an impressive sum, but since March there’s been some buzz suggesting that the market for Indian modern and contemporary art is heading south. As of May, it’s pretty clear that consumers are losing their confidence in Indian modern and contemporary art as an investment; London-based research company ArtTactic suggests global consumer confidence levels in Indian art have dropped 63%, and in contemporary Indian art, 90%.

While I was living nearer to New York a few years ago, exhibitions and galleries focusing on South Asian modern and contemporary art were a cheap thrill on a graduate student stipend. You still can see amazing things, but having made the mistake this morning of looking at my last TIAA-CREF statement, I worry about how all these riches will last. (Ok, to be honest, I’m wondering if I myself will last. Breathe in, breathe out.)

What do those of you who buy this art and follow what’s going on in the art world make of all this? [Edited: if you're not an Ambani and don't follow art, you're also welcome to dish.] And if you’ve been to any amazing shows lately, by all means, spread the word!

15 thoughts on “Bought any Indian art lately?

  1. I love browsing saffronart whenever I am in need of a little eye candy. I tend to prefer pieces which are not overtly Indian (representations of village life or religious iconography). Since I am still poor, I browse works in the lower price point categories… someday soon, I hope to own something by Rumki Das, Sathi Guin, Manasjit Datta, or Mark Rathinaraj (there are several others too, I just can’t remember their names right now). Someday I’ll have a look at the more expensive categories!

    As for exhibitions and galleries, my friend curates at The Guild in NY, which shows Indian Contemporary Art: http://www.theguildny.com/

  2. Ocotillo, I’m so out of the loop after living in Colorado that I didn’t know about The Guild. It looks fantastic. I was beginning to think I was the only sucker for eye candy. So nice to know I’m not alone…

  3. Nilanjana: Welcome to Sepia Mutiny. Finally someone who appreciates Indian contemporary art! And while you cruise thru Saffronart among all marvelous artists, check out my High School [St. Xavier's High school in Ahmedabad]buddy Amit Ambalal. He has also written a classic book on “Nathadwara” Paintings. His own home in Ahmedabad is like a museum itself. Pardon my shameless plug for a friend.

  4. Well, I guess this might be the time to go to the swanky galleries at Kala Ghoda. In the long run, it is hard not to be bullish on good Indian art. My dad still laments not buying some Pyne paintings from back in the day.

  5. Yo Dad, thanks for the welcome! I’m guessing that there are a number of mutineers who are contemporary art fans, though they’re a little quiet. Your batchmate Amit Ambalal has some beautiful pieces, but I’m afraid that I’m browsing more of the pieces in Ocotillo’s price range.

    (Ocotillo, if the link above didn’t give it away, I’m digging Rumki Das too.)

    And Dark Mare, yes, our parents should have all bought Ganesh Pyne back in the day! It does seem to be what non-economic types like me would call a “buyer’s market,” so yes, go back to the swanky galleries. And go to some of the less swanky ones too, because you never know…

  6. As a matter of fact, I have bought from desi artists lately – both of my recent purchases have been from local desi arists.

    Saffronart’s new to me – thanks for linking to it!

  7. it is hard not to be bullish on good Indian art. My dad still laments not buying some Pyne paintings from back in the day.

    There was a time when Thota Tharani’s family was almost homeless. And the father –he was a painter–would give away paintings to kind benefactors. Well, Thota became rich and famous and now wants to buy these back at whatever the cost. With art one never knows. What was once a worthless painting(it’s actually a beautiful depiction of Shiva/Ganga like no other but at that time, it had no value) now has great value.

  8. Sherene, please tell your friend that Masala Chai’s one of my craves! My favorite posts include the one profiling Waris Ahluwalia’s jewelry line, and Neha Agarwal’s illustrations for When Elephants Could Fly (wish that book had actually been published). I don’t comment there often, and I should – I definitely appreciate the posts.

  9. we bought a fair amount during the 2000-2005 time frame (enough so that Saffronart keeps sending us catalogs…). We bought the art because we liked it, didnt plan to sell it then and still dont- its goes to our kids..Anyways, prices became too frothy a few years ago- we could not afford to buy the pieces available post 2005, nor, I suspect, could we have bought our own artwork had we put it on sale. So we have stayed away, I am glad to hear the bubble may have burst as it allows us to consider getting back in. In any event at this point I would look for unestablished artists..too much marketing and packaging around the big names which is offputting.

  10. Nilanjana, Welcome to SM. I am a fan of what goes by the name of “world music” so I will look forward to your posts on that subject.

    Have you checked out the paintings at aicongallery.com? Out of my range but I visit the site. Quite happy that they have a gallery only 10 minutes drive away.

  11. Nilanjana (welcome! love the name) – do you mind a shameless plug for one of my favorite galleries? CIMA‘s my first love among contemporary (“modern”) Indian art galleries – mostly because I stumbled across it a few years ago, when it was just established, and not very well known.

    When I was a kid without much of a budget, all I could afford were modestly priced items from the gallery’s gift shop – mostly blank cards which were works of art in and of themselves, or small metal or wooden figurines. The recipients – family & friends, teachers (later professors), both desi and non, loved everything from the gallery’s gift shop, and always begged for more.

    It’s amazing to look back now and realize that there was truly a void to be filled – not in terms of creating contemporary South Asian Art, but marketing it. Even people connected (or still living!) in the subcontinent didn’t quite know what to do with art if it didn’t depict a typical pastoral scene, Hindu deities, or (in the case of art depicting Calcutta)…trams.

    CIMA was established in the mid-1990s; I’d say that marketing contemporary South Asian art has come a long way since then – but there’s still strides to be made, especially if the market has cooled.

    Do keep these posts coming – I’m glad for your voice & perspective!