Like any preschooler, Abhivardhan Berry is fond of the stuff most three-year-olds like: building Lego models, watching cartoons and swinging from the jungle gym in the garden of his South Delhi home.
At Montessori school, what he loves best is the art activity period—sponging colours on paper, thumb printing and tracing out shapes of animals and birds over plastic stencils. “The older the children grow, (the more) they are encouraged to use their own creativity through free expression,” says his class teacher, Garima (last name not mentioned as per school rules). “It may be a circle to you, but the child may be drawing an ant or a caterpillar. To an extent, it’s almost like abstract art.”
Shy of talking to strangers, Abhi, as he’s called at home, doesn’t look the part of a well-seasoned art collector. But he may just be one of the youngest in the country.
His collection includes works by Subodh Gupta, Krishen Khanna and K.M. Adimoolam, the reclusive artist who lives on the fringe of Cholamandal village in Chennai. Another painting in his collection is by G.R. Iranna—a bright red canvas depicting a man leaping off a speeding horse.
Occupying pride of place in the living room is yet another work he owns—Manu Parekh’s lush blue rendition of the ghats of Benaras, the city that inspired the artist to turn it into a signature subject.
While paintings are often passed down from generation to generation, like any traditional heirloom, Abhi’s father, Tanuj Berry, in his mid-30s, who runs an education company called Namtech Business School, decided to take it a step further. For the past several years, he has been consciously buying works of art in the name of his elder son, Abhi, and his six-month-old brother, Madhav.
“Rather than making bank deposits, life insurance or equity-related investments, I prefer investments in art, which will probably give higher returns in the long term,” says Berry.
Until recently, art was not treated as an asset, so when a painting was sold by an individual, no taxes were paid. But this year’s budget puts art on a par with other assets such as land and jewellery, and is liable to attract a capital gains tax—even if you bought the work in your children’s names.
But this father’s decision to buy works in his children’s names has a rationale: to keep off the temptation to sell or consign them to an auction house when prices of Indian contemporary art soar. “As values of paintings rise, there is always the temptation to sell,” he says. “In this case, my children will have to take a decision when they grow up.”
While Abhi is still too young to even spell A-R-T, his father says he’s on the verge of recognizing the several artworks that hang on the walls of his home, adding that “Abhi generally loves animal representations in a painting”.
A collector of Indian contemporary art for the past seven years, Berry has remained focused on select artists, and over the years, he has developed a bond with them that goes beyond the buyer-seller relationship. With a dearth of art books in publication, Berry now assists publishers such as Mapin and Penguin bring out books on the artists he collects, including Adimoolam, figurative painter Krishen Khanna, Manu Parekh and sculptor Himmat Shah.
Last year, he tied up with London-based art book publishing house Lund Humphries to produce a series of books on Indian contemporary artists in the next few years.
One of Abhi’s assigned roles in the serial book project is to select some of the paintings that make it to the front or back jackets. “He sometimes randomly selects pictures for some of the books, some of which he currently owns,” says Berry.
But Berry admits he constantly has to juggle funds to finance his book projects, and sometimes even sell art to meet the objectives. “And the motive is not profit as much as that it’s for documenting some of the finest art by Indian artists,” he emphasizes.
AN ART CLASS FOR BEGINNERS
When you buy art for your children:
1) Maintain a register with proper authentication certificates from artists.
2) Get general insurance against theft and fire damage. The annual insurance premium is generally between 0.25% and 0.5% of the work’s value.
3) Document the work properly by taking photographs and collecting written material on the work by art critics and art reviewers.
4) Preserve the works in the best possible conditions: For a paper work, use an acid-free mount and then frame under glass or an acrylic sheet. In the case of a canvas, it must be stretched evenly and termite-resistant wood must be used.