What is affordable art and where to buy it

Art curators and gallerists decode what is affordable or accessible art, and shares tips on how to begin as a collector

Affordablility is subjective, of course. An art collector with crores of rupees at their disposal may write a 75 lakh cheque for a painting by a master and think they have got a great bargain. And for someone else buying an Abhishek Hazra T-shirt for 750, that may be their entry point into the art market.

We spoke with people from within the art industry to unpack the meaning of “affordable" art and to share their tips on how and where to buy it.

Sunitha Emmart

“Instead of affordable, I prefer the term accessible art," says Emmart of GallerySKE in New Delhi and Bengaluru.

There are different ways of looking at the question what is affordable art, according to Emmart. “I could buy a poster of an artwork from the National Gallery of Modern Art. That is someone’s art; just because it’s a poster, you can’t say it’s not art. Because what does it become then; publicity material? Then there could an artist who is addressing the idea of the posters—that’s a different thing (like graphic artist Orijit Sen who did a show called Imposters in 2014, where he made screen-painted posters)," she says.

Emmart suggests exploring different forms to own interesting art at affordable price tags; like a Bharti Kher work she bought for $40 (about 2,700 now) online from S[edition] Art. It’s a lovely screensaver in peach, pink, blue, yellow, red, white and black called Symphony. And it’s available in a “limited edition" of 1,500 digital prints. GallerySKE represents Kher, but Emmart says she had to buy the work from S[edition] too because Kher had made it for them. “I just paid online and downloaded it," she says. “If you are stuck on the idea of buying a (M.F.) Husain, even if it is a finger print by him, then you are not going to get very far."

Neha Kirpal

“Affordable means different things to different people. There are buyers at the starting level of the market, which is 8,000-10,000 and going up to 30,000. This is not connected to the trend of first-time buyers; some of whom transact at the 1-5 lakh level straightaway," she says.

Kirpal says, art college shows are a good place to discover reasonably priced works. Mediums like photography, prints and works by emerging artists, which tend to be priced lower, are also a good starting point. “Obviously the more established names (artists) also come with those price points," she says. If you want a work by a well-known artist, consider buying a serigraph from Archer Art Gallery in Ahmedabad, she adds. (The website currently has limited edition serigraphs of works by Jamini Roy starting at 3,000.)

She suggests visiting galleries like PhotoInk, which is focused on photography, and galleries in Lado Sarai (Delhi) which show works by young, emerging artists. “See as many shows as you can. Visit galleries like Exhibit320 and Shrine Empire, which work with younger artists," she adds.

“The whole affordable online model is really popular right now. NDTV has recently launched Mojarto and there’s StoryLTD. They are also aimed at places that don’t have art galleries—most of them are in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. The online model is trying to penetrate markets like Chandigarh, Pune, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Surat, where there are buyers but there are very few galleries in these cities."

Nakul Dev Chawla

There is a whole section dedicated to affordable art on Global Art Hub, an e-commerce platform for buying fine art. Chawla, the founder of Global Art Hub, says: “Buying art online is still a new thing. It’s hard to put 10-15 lakh into a work without physically seeing it. We added the affordable section to make people more comfortable with spending money on art online."

Global Art Hub has partnered with galleries like Dhoomimal Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi to source the works. So, buyers based out of New Delhi can request to see the works at the respective galleries; collectors from other cities must buy them based on the online information or fly down to the Capital to see the works.

The “affordable" tag helps bring in new buyers, Chawla says. The website gets enquiries for affordable art from long-time collectors trying out online buying for the first time, but also from young professionals making 10-20 lakh a year. “My own friends have started buying art in the under 50,000 range," he says. “It takes a long time to convert someone who is buying art at 50,000 to even come to 3-4 lakh. But this is also how the Chinese art market grew."

The affordable section of the site includes works by photographers like Karan Khanna (the price point is around 40,000) and etchings by Anamika Prakash (in the range of around 35,000 for a 19.5x19.5 inch work).

Hugo Weihe

“How to define affordable is an interesting question," says Weihe, CEO of art auction house SaffronArt. “When I was in New York, anything around $10,000 was considered affordable. Here, you have to see it in the context of what can you get for that kind of money. I think 1 lakh is a reasonable cut-off," he says.

Weihe says some categories of art are currently “under-appreciated" in India, including restored furniture and tribal art. SaffronArt is organizing online auctions around both these segments in mid-March: An Aesthete’s Vision: Furniture from the House of Mahendra Doshi is on 15-16 March, and Living Traditions: Folk and Tribal Art is on 16-17 March.

It’s a good thing to have a budget in mind when one is going to buy art, Weihe says, adding that if someone has a budget of 1 lakh, they should buy “one better thing" rather than five “okay" things for 20,000 each.

Roshini Vadehra

“Affordable is a relative term. But most people who come to the gallery to buy ‘affordable’ art mean the 1-2 lakh range," says Vadehra of Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi. “This price range would include works by younger artists as well as paper works and limited edition serigraphs of senior artists," she adds.

Vadehra says her advice to anyone in the market for affordable works would be to buy something they love, of course, but try and stick with the senior artists. “Even if you buy a small work by them. Like a small sculpture by an artist like Arunkumar (HG)," she says. “Or go for a photograph by an established photographer—a good photograph by a senior photographer could come in the range of 40,000-50,000, which is quite reasonable—and the medium is gaining attention now."

Among the exhibitions at Vadehra gallery where people can buy art for less than 1 lakh, she says are the ongoing show of oil and acrylic on canvas paintings by Rekha Rodwittya, Love Done Right Can Change the World, and an upcoming show of photographs by William Dalrymple.

“Visit as many art events, exhibitions and auctions as you can to hone your own sensibilities," she says. “Talk to the people in the art world."

Kiran Wood

“Everyone is looking for affordable art, whether you are a high-end collector or a first-time buyer who wants to start small. It is not about cheap, but about value," says Kiran Wood, who co-founded the online gallery Full Picture Art with her husband Tim in 2013. Full Picture Art has original paintings starting at 10,000.

Wood’s advice to buyers of lower-priced art is to first and foremost be wary of fakes, which can be much cheaper but they are not really art. “When you are buying an art work, you are also paying for the thought behind it," she says. “Insist on authenticity. All good galleries will give you a certificate of authenticity."

Wood adds that unlike some consumer products we spend money on these days, a work of art is likely to stay with the buyer for the rest of their life. So it’s important to pick a work that “speaks to you". “Make sure you like—a lot. A good work of art evolves with you. You see different things in it over time. When you move houses or you shift the painting to another room, it acquires new meanings in relation," she says.

As mediums go, Wood says, watercolours are less expensive than oils though they require a lot of skill. “Some of our artists, like Roma Patel, are very good," she says. “The prices (for their works) are more a comment on the Indian contemporary market not being as mature as say London, rather than on the individual artists," she says.

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