For Avinash Gowariker, a buy is only a buy once the homework’s done. On a late Saturday afternoon, he’s crouched over a collection of pictures strewn across the floor inside Gallery Chemould in South Mumbai. The studio’s clearance sale, on at the Jehangir Art Gallery, is exactly the sort of event Gowariker trawls to find what he’s looking for: works of art that fit his budget and scheme.
When he locates an Akhilesh etching, he calls a friend at another gallery to check the price at which they sell similar works of the artist. Once he’s assured he’s on to a good thing, Gowariker decides it’s a buy. “They sell his works for much higher. I’ve got a great deal on this one,” he says triumphantly. By the end of the afternoon, 35-year-old Gowariker has purchased two distinct etchings by Naina Dalal and Akhilesh for under Rs15,000. “I didn’t come here with any idea of whether I’d buy, I just came with a credit card and stayed within the budget,” says Gowariker.
Gowariker’s purchases fall within that shifty realm of “affordable art” which, by broad definition, refers to works priced within the Rs1 lakh range. He is part of a growing breed of art consumers who are looking beyond the bold print about the Indian art market to invest into it, smartly, at the lower end, and still make percentage returns. Outside New Delhi, in Gurgaon, Reena and Jesper Lindorff entered the ring because they believe art is an essential aspect of their lives. “Artworks are an important part of the home, and not just considered accessories. It is the art, in fact, which defines spaces,” says Reena.
In between the big digits and big names of today’s $350 million (about Rs1,435 crore) art market, it’s easy to be overawed by the idea of buying art. Despite widespread speculation that the market is stabilizing, with 100% growth a matter of the past, very little of the high-end world of art is still affordable. To get an idea of that end of the market: At the latest Sotheby’s auction in May, the biggest sale was F.N. Souza’s Head, which went for $528,000. “Most people are intimidated by the notion of art, thinking that real art is out of their reach,” says Kalpana Shah, owner of Mumbai’s Tao Art Gallery. “Buyers have to keep their eyes open to the right thing and make smarter choices,” says Shah.
While many aspire to purchase a “real” work of art, few know what or how to buy, often opting for supermarket art rather than looking at the lower end of the genuine art market, which is made up of three broad areas: the works of new artists, photography and prints, both mass reproductions and artist-signed graphics. All of these options range in cost from a few thousand rupees for open-edition unsigned reproductions (or posters) to a few lakh rupees for the signed print of a master.
The other spectrum of art is the kind sold at Satguru’s Arts & Crafts, a Mumbai handicrafts store, where a 36”x48” oil painting of a village scene, which has zero resale value, costs Rs81,000—much, much more than Gowariker’s afternoon purchases at Chemould.
So, lift the canvas slightly, and there are plenty of ways to participate in the genuine art market that are worth every paisa you spend.
The key is to begin right. Gowariker believes in the idiom, “six degrees of separation”. Over the past one year, the celebrity photographer has, through friends and connections and by sheer force of charm, amassed an enviable collection of works of art. “When I started, I was into art for the money. I didn’t have money for real estate and didn’t understand the stock market.” But he says he educated himself on the subject and talked to people who were already in the market, and now knows exactly what he’s looking for, and the resale value of his pieces. “It’s important to get unbiased information, so I picked up auction catalogues and went on the Internet, which is neutral.”
On the strength of that self-education, Gowariker has collected more than 15 high-value works—including Akhilesh, Prokash Karmakar, Yashwant Deshmukh, a paperwork of Jogen Chowdhury, and K.S. Radhakrishnan sculptures—for much less than they are worth today. “Now, I’m looking for blue chips, my dream buy is, of course, M.F. Husain. Husain is the dada ,” he says.
The Lindorffs are into the emerging and lesser knowns. Through the door of their three-bedroom apartment, on the right-hand side, is an untitled piece by an artist called Sandip. The couple picked this up for Rs14,000 from Picturesque, at New Delhi’s Santushti Shopping Complex. “The purple and orange contrast of this oil on canvas is stunning, and we hope adds a touch of sophistication and warmth to the entrance area,” says Reena. The rest of their house has a melange of abstract art, photographs and lithographs by artists from Kolkata, Delhi, Sweden and the US. “We love to purchase art pieces which are unique and are not as interested in the name of the artist per se. The painting comes first, and then the artist,” says Reena, 35.
Whether it’s an upcoming artist or an established one, the art world offers plenty of choices. And keeping that in mind, we sought out folks who have found valuable, yet affordable, ways to indulge the art market.
(Karishma Singh contributed to this story. )