The art of collection
BY JYOTSNA SHARMA
It was essentially a handful of collectors and connoisseurs from royal families in India who were active in the Indian art market in the past; these collectors acquired art for its aesthetic appeal. The portraits, landscapes and religious paintings that were commissioned by the erstwhile maharajas and other eminent collectors have been passed down generations and are presently in the possession of their successors.
Over the years, globalization & economic growth in India has resulted in the emergence of a new class of buyers. The growing Indian HNWIs (High Net Worth Individual) are the new patrons of the arts. We have moved from a caste-based system to a class-based system, which requires the upper class to promote and preserve the arts. In addition to this, there is also the matter of ‘good taste’. These new patrons pride themselves on being able to discern good art from the bad. Some of the young collectors also view art as an alternate investment opportunity to diversify their financial portfolio. Whatever the motive, the fact is that buying the first piece of art is always a daunting task.
I have had a number of young collectors ask me if the artwork they are buying is the right piece for them. There is no apparent right answer to this, so I decided to ask some seasoned collectors and gallerists about how young buyers should start out.
Swapan Seth, CEO of Equus Advertising Ltd., author, and a renowned art collector believes one should collect art with an aesthetic destination in mind rather than a fiscal one. He says he has always collected with his instinct and not with his wallet. For example, he bought a T.V. Santosh well before Santosh became a popular name. He likes collecting young artists, it is a possibility that some of them may never become big names but he feels it is a risk worth taking especially if you like the work they produce. Since you have to live with it, it is better to buy what you like looking at. For him, while buying an artwork, a good idea and great execution are more important than how much it’s value will increase over the next five years.
Peter Nagy, prominent gallerist (owner of Nature Morte Gallery) believes that only with proper training and exposure to the art world can a person understand the best art of their time. Therefore, a young collector who does not have much exposure to the art world would most likely buy what is familiar to him, something that makes him feel comfortable, which might not be the most avant-garde art, and that is absolutely okay. The expectation of being able to spot the best when you are just starting to collect is a ‘risky and anxiety producing endeavour’. Secondly, he advises that young collectors should not start out with the idea of buying purely for investment, as that too is a very risky premise to begin with.
Tejshree Savara an art, antiquities & cultural heritage lawyer believes that a passion for art is a must if one has to become a collector. She further believes that reading up and visiting art galleries to train your eye are very important. She says ‘one can always take advice. However, this advice might fail you but your own eye and your knowledge will not.’
She suggests when buying art, trust your eyes and not your ears, because it is easy to pick up on the latest fad, but following fads will not take you very far. ‘Buy what you like and not just what you can afford’. Her father Mr. Rajiv Savara, the renowned collector, also follows this principle.
She also points out some important things to keep in mind when collecting art. All buyers should carry out due diligence, check if the seller is in a legal position to sell the work, also there should be no dispute regarding the title. Further, it is very important to check how many times an artwork has been restored. The extent of restoration on an artwork can take away from its originality.
So there you have it, words of wisdom from all three. To sum it up: buy what you like, something that delights your eye. However, before you embark on this journey, train your eye and gain enough knowledge about the art world. Once you do, you will be the best guide for yourself. Of course, you can always hire advisors but go with your gut feeling. Keep the legal aspect in mind and carry out adequate due diligence before making the purchase.
Most importantly, have fun while collecting.
• Spend your weekends visiting the galleries and museums in the city where you live.
• Galleries usually represent and promote artists of a particular genre. Don’t feel intimidated, talk to the curators/ dealers at these galleries. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much you learn.
• Read. Visit museum libraries and of course, read online.
• Enroll in a short course on art appreciation. These are always fun.
• Travel for art. You could plan a trip purely for art or the next time you travel, make sure you visit the local museums & galleries.
• Follow art galleries and museums on social media.
• Check provenance; ask for the authenticity certificate as well as the condition report before buying any artwork.
• Try to attend art auctions, you will love the energy on the auction floor plus you will learn a lot.