Tom Wolfe once called the contemporary art world a “statusphere”. In parts, an observation that does great justice to the art world which, peacock-like, is prone to strut around and, on occasion, display its feathers. But also one that does immense disservice to the world of art.
Owner’s pride: Seth with the video artwork We all fall down by Priyanka Dasgupta at his Delhi office. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Art is for public consumption. If art is a commentary on our times and its cultural bridesmaid, its supply must be unfettered. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. The world of art has over time become a game of manipulation and perception. And its unaffordability is the kernel of that perception.
The art world encourages that insularity. It has created corridors of power and control around it. Jeff Poe, a dealer, once said, “Quiet control, mediated by trust, is what the art world is all about.”
Some art has always been affordable. Affordability is a context not in terms of value alone but timing too. Ten years ago, Subodh Gupta was immensely affordable. Those who collected him then bought affordable art (it is another matter that to the posh Francois Pinault, Subodh may still well be quite affordable). I bought Bala at Rs40,000 some years ago. Ditto for a T.V. Santosh. I am always on the lookout for art that appeals to my commercial and aesthetic sensibilities.
I think Shreyas Karle is a very fine artist and I think he is commendably priced.
That is also my opinion of Sandip Pisalkar and Baptist Coelho. Even Prajjwal Choudhury. I am also of the firm opinion that great artists such as Seher Shah, too, are excellently priced. It really depends upon the size of the work and the medium employed. Photographic work, which also appeals to me, is still right priced. Take Yamini Nayar, for instance. Even Annu Mathew. Or Swapan Parekh.
New media (sound, video and interactive work) may well be considered affordable today. But for me, it’s not about the value of the work as (much as) it is about the timing. It’s more about encouraging gallerists and artists to push the envelope.
And here is where I think credit must be given where it is due. The gallerist is no longer garrulous (the odd rotten apples will always be part of this happy harvest). Equally so, the artist is no longer rigid. Is it because of the downturn? I think not.
I personally believe that the artist, the gallerist, the dealer and buyers are sitting together around the table of brotherhood drinking the house wine rather than the Mouton Rothschild 2005. I think artists and gallerists want their work to go to more and more homes. And this is what makes it a wonderful time for those with the humblest of budgets to commence their march into the arena of art.
On my part, I always encourage colleagues and friends to invest in art. And I always tell them that there is great art available at every budget. As the artist John Baldessari said: “You can’t use money as an index of quality. That is a fallacy. That will drive you crazy.”
Because you know what? There is such a heap of crap that sells at Rs15 lakh.
But that’s another piece.
Swapan Seth is managing partner, Henry S Clark, an art advisory and investment firm.
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