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This is the right time to start collecting art

This is the right time to start collecting art

In the “About us" note on its home page, Saffronart, the global art auction house, calls itself “committed to serving the growing community of Indian collectors, while also creating a cultural bridge to India for both the global Indian diaspora and the international community at large".

With its online art auctions finding their way in a case study by Harvard Business School, the 10-year-old company has undoubtedly come a long way. Nish Bhutani, COO, calls it “a platform for all kinds of arts and collectibles". In 2010, Saffronart did six auctions, and, in 2011, 13.

This year, Bhutani says, many more auctions are planned. With gallery spaces in Mumbai, Delhi, London and New York, the auction house is a storehouse of a range of art, information and advice. Indulge caught up with Bhutani who spoke to us, among other things, about the emerging trends in the art scene.

Edited excerpts:

Tell us something about Saffronart.

Nish Bhutani, COO, Saffronart. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

How does the concept of online auction work?

The online model of auction is where the auction is done over the Internet. There are major advantages of online auction. The first being the convenience it provides in terms of location or the time zone of the people participating in an auction. For example, in case of a physical auction, there are a lot of limitations. People have to reach the given location at a certain time and that limits the number of participants. Online auction takes this barrier away. You can have a lot more people participating across locations and various time zones.

The other big advantage of this model is that one can provide a lot more information to the prospective buyers in order to make them more aware and confident about their purchase. Like during an auction, we provide information such as prices, the kind of work that has gone in for auction before, etc. Make sure people know about other charges such as our commission, the shipping to the address bill and things like that. Also, prices are updated in real time as the auction goes on, so the participants would know in case the bidding value rises, and, with that, our commission. People can also keep track of the bid history so one can see the bids made before and after them. There is a lot more transparency in terms of information.

Another thing that I will like to add is that in case of a physical auction, where all the things have to be brought to one particular location, there is no possibility of frequent auctions. The online model gives us that opportunity. Like now, we are doing about two auctions every month.

Also, we are experimenting with a new format that is called capsuled auctions, which has turned out to be very successful. There is no reserved price in this format and the bidding starts from 5,000, even for works that might be worth 30-40 lakh.

But online auctions might also throw up some new challenges. What about hoax bids?

Of course, to maintain the integrity of an auction and, from a seller’s prospective, to be certain that the bids made are serious, we do have a certain qualification process. So anyone can register for an auction but they have to be approved in order to bid. For that, we go through some reference checks, fact checks just to make sure that the bidder is qualified as serious about bidding in an auction.

Also, besides doing the online marketing, emailing, etc., we also do some events where people can come and view the artworks if they so desire. A lot of people are content with visiting the website and getting the information, but we do have galleries in Mumbai, Delhi, New York and London for people who want to come and see the artworks. And we also have printed catalogues in case they want them.

We have also come up with innovations such as mobile phone applications for iPhones, BlackBerrys, and iPads. So people can now see the artwork on the go and get all the information they need on their smartphones.

How do you decide on artworks for auctions?

Let me take you a step back. The auction market is a secondary market, which means it is a resale market. The primary market is the galleries that source the artwork directly from the artists. So the sourcing for the auction is done from previous collectors. They can be individuals, institutions, art dealers or even people who look at art as an investment option. We almost never source artwork directly from the artist.

Global appeal: Mumbai gallery.

Then we look at a number of objective things regarding the desirability of the artwork. There are objective measures such as what is the provenance, the history related to the artwork? Who has done the artwork? Is there any documentation of it? Is the artwork coming from reliable sources? So we look into matters like that.

Then there are other matters we look into like what is the surface and the matter of that artwork? Is it oil on canvas or water colour on paper? What kinds of bids were made in past auctions for artworks that were alike? That gives us an idea of whether a particular piece of art will work well in an auction, and how do we price them.

Are there any marks or stains on it? And then there are some nonobjective measures such as the aesthetic quality of the artwork. Will it be appealing and desirable for the buyers?

The last thing we look into is the overall composition of a particular auction. There may be auctions based on certain themes or it may be based on a certain period.

What are your revenue figures?

See, our business model is very simple. Like any other auction house, we work as intermediaries or consignment agents. We sell the art and then earn commission accordingly. But in terms of actual hard numbers, as a private company, we don’t reveal the numbers.

Tell us about the profile of your buyers.

The buyers are from the following categories: They could be successful entrepreneurs. That could range from people running huge corporations or running small but very successful businesses. There are certain business families. We also have senior partners from private equity or law firms. And then senior executives in large corporations. Those are four broad categories.

Could you give us some names?

No. Because of confidential reasons, I can’t share the names with you. But they are mostly high net-worth individuals or, in some cases, institutional and corporate collectors. Roughly, 60% of our customers come from India. And around 80% of our overall buyers are of Indian origin. Hong Kong, Singapore, Middle East, the UK, Europe, those are the major countries.

Tell us about how the industry, as a whole, is performing, given the economic pressures.

New York gallery.

But for the longer term, I think the prospects are great. And this is the time to start collecting.

What are the emerging trends?

The other thing that the art market needs over time is a broader customer base so that it is not reserved for the elite few and more and more people can participate. Initiatives such as the recently held India Art Fair will help in that cause. You know, I see we are at the early stage of that trend and I see more and more people participating in such events over time.

Thirdly, I see more Indians starting to collect art that is not Indian. You know, in every culture, we see people first start collecting art that belongs to their cultures and, then, over time, they diversify to other cultures. I think, for the Indian art market, that time has come.

What will be your five tips for someone who is starting to collect art?

London gallery.

Second, I will suggest seeking advice and information. Advice can come from various sources. One can visit the galleries and speak with the gallerist. One can also go to various websites and read about the artist. Then there are independent art advisers as well who can help out if one is serious about building a collection.

Third, I will say buy from a credible source. Don’t just buy from anyone. So don’t get tempted when someone, whom you don’t know much, happens to offer you a very attractive price. Because you don’t know whether that person has checked the authenticity of the artwork or evaluated the conditions properly; whether there has been any restoration work done on that particular work of art. So it’s safer to go with an established gallery or auctioneer.

Fourth, I would say that one should develop one’s own taste. Of course, that will only happen over time. Because art is a very subjective thing, so what one person likes may be not liked by someone else.

And finally, take good care of your art collection. Keep it safe from harsh weather conditions. Don’t let children play crayon all over it.


March 2012 | Saffronart

Saffronart Spring Online Auction of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art

Saffronart will host its annual Spring Online Art Auction of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art in March. This auction catalogue will bring together a carefully selected range of historically significant masterpieces and contemporary works of art, all competitively estimated, for both seasoned and emerging collectors.

Venue: www.saffronart.com

19 March | Sotheby’s

Sayed Haider Raza’s Village With Church

Venue: New York

20 March | Christie’s

The Doris Weiner Collection

‘‘This sale is composed of over 400 lots of exceptional sculpture and paintings from Gandhara, the Himalayas, India and South-East Asia. In addition to Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, there are two single owner sales—Auspicious Treasures for Scholars and Emperors: Selections from the Robert H. Blumenfield Collection and Luminous Perfection: Fine Chinese Mirrors from the Robert H. Ellsworth. Both sales come from passionate scholars and legendary figures in the field of Asian art."

Venue: Rockefeller Center, New York

21 March | Christie’s

South Asian Modern And Contemporary Art

Venue: Rockefeller Center, New York

APRIL 2012

April, 2012 | Saffronart

Men’s Sale: 24-hour auction


19 April | Sotheby’s

The collection of Suzanne Saperstein

Venue: New York

24 April | Sotheby’s

An Eye for Opulence: Art of the Ottoman Empire

Venue: London

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