Monday, May 27, 2013

Auction House Lessons for Contemporary Artists


Auction Houses teach us a Few Lessons 

(A work by Manjit Bawa- Image for Representational Purpose only)

After the 19th March 2013 Amaya Collection Auction by Sotheby’s in New York, once again the auction house major is going to test the values of Indian Modern and Contemporary art with its 16th June 2013 auction in London. Going by the reports and looking at the cross section of the works of art which would go under hammer, one could make it sure that the Indian contemporary art has to wait for a few more years to earn respectability and profit in auction. Though the names likes Atul Bhalla, Abir Karmakar and Pablo Bartholomew have been popped up in the list, the Rs.9.44 Crore auction is pitching its focus on the moderns that once again include the works of M.F.Husain, Souza, Raza and Gaitonde. Hopes are invested in the works of Jogen Chowdhury and Manjit Bawa also.

What do such auctions and their result indicate? Vintage makes profit not the recent fads. Works of art that have been made, sold and bought during the euphoric days of market boom do not feature anywhere in these auctions. If the reports are to be believed, the successful Indian art auction house, Saffron Art makes two types of auctions; one the regular ones that emulate quality and quantity of the international auction houses and two, the absolute auctions. While the former has a base price for bidding, the latter has no such base prices. Anybody who offers an initial price of the works of art which come under hammer sets the tone of the absolute auctions. A work of art with an original market price of Rs.Two Lakhs could easily go for Rs.40,000/- (Forty Thousand) or less than that if the bidder makes a very mean move. While the moderns command a decent base price, the contemporaries are hawked out through the absolute auctions, once again making the potential buyers of the primary market lose their interest and trust in contemporary art.

It is not a rosy picture for contemporary art so far. The auctions by now have set a clear pattern: the artists who had been active till 1980s are adjudged as modern masters. The current pattern shows that the post-Independence Modernism of India starting with the Bombay Progressives is yet to be monetized. Many people have bought the works of the Progressives and also the artists who were functioning from different parts of India at that time. All these works have to be now brought into the market through auctions. The auction houses will cleverly go by decades. The introduction of Jogen Chowdhury and Manjit Bawa shows that now the auction houses are focusing on 1970s and 1980s. Good thing is that those artists who have been pushed into oblivion might get recognition as Gaitonde or Tyeb Mehta got their due through these auctions and the bad things is the artists of 1990s to now will have to wait another twenty five years to get their prices. The days of making instant money have become a thing of past.

In a way, these auction houses do a good service to the art scene in the future economies like India. The auction results that majorly focus on the Moderns and the following periods step by step will stabilize the primary market for the contemporary art. Though there will not be any blind buying, those futurist buyers and collectors would come back to the primary market to collect contemporary art for fairer and logical prices. None would pay a ridiculous Rs.24 Lakhs for a five by five canvas while its actual price could be and should be somewhere around Rs.5 lakhs, if one thinks in terms of investment and profit using the logic of banking. The new reality would put the contemporary artists in a tight spot. They need to work hard and should be satisfied with realistic prices. It is applicable to the gallerists and middlemen too.

I am happy that these auction houses fill in us with a sense of reality. Each auction result should hammer sense right into the heads of all those players in the art market, including the artists and gallerists. Last winter and the ongoing summer have been quite terrible for art players as the funds have been considerably dried up with the absolute absence of buyers from the market. The auction results, I hope, will bring right thinking buyers to the primary market who would offer (and would be offered) logical prices to the works that they would like to collect. I am sure that those collectors with a plan for the coming twenty five years only would make some profit out of their collection of contemporary art. This is a challenge for all. My words on art have never gone wrong.



The Cusp of Culture Change

Kynkyny Art Gallery, Bangalore presents a solo show of recent works by artist Elayaraja. The show titled, ‘On the Cusp’ is a series of oil on canvas paintings, rendered in a realistic style and captures the essence of rural life which is fast fading.

Elayaraja, a Tamil Nadu based artist with a Masters degree in painting from the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai, works in various mediums, oil on canvas being his stronghold.

Taking inspirations from great masters like Raja Ravi Varma, Elayaraja tries to capture the essence of Indian-ness and rural life in his works. Essentially painted in the realistic style of figuration, he builds the visual with sensitive light and shade play in the image and the protagonists, mainly women, seem to blend in the composition yet appear distinct and appealing.

Elayaraja’s show, ‘On The Cusp’ is about his concerns for the slow degradation and diminishing of culture and tradition which was rich and vibrant especially in rural India, by the onslaught of rapid urbanization.

The show is on view from the 30th of May 2013, to the 17th of May 2013.

United with a Difference

Galerie Max Mueller, of the Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai, presents a unique show titled, ‘United Machines and A Collar System’ by two artists with a disparate background of professional, social and every other aspects between their lives. The show is a unified yet individually incompatible array of artistic expression.

The participating artists are Jens Ulrich a German artist in residence in India, and artist Davinder  Singh Sokhi, originally from Punjab, but settled in Mumbai for decades. Jens on his research in the gullies of Mumbai came across specific hand- painted signboard cutouts in the business district of Mumbai, which mostly were of machines and machine parts. The sign boards done by Davinder, were rendered in a matter of fact unostentatious way and with precision.

Jens himself has adapted to the way of dressing ever since his stay in India and he creates his own clothes out of fabric and paper cutouts. In this show, painted metal cutouts of machines, made by Davinder are juxtaposed with the paper and fabric cutouts of Jen’s clothes designs to portray two very varied aspects of culture and their possible similarity. Though the similarity may only arise in the liking of materials, thin oil paint on metal and casein paint on fabric, by the artists.

The show attempts to essentially comprehend the nature and beginnings of their exchange to fully understand the scope of this exhibition, socially and aesthetically.

The show is on view from the 30th of May 2013 to the 18th of June 2013.

Revisiting Kalighat Art

Arts Of The Earth gallery, New Delhi, hosts a show of traditional paintings, of the Kalighat style. The show titled,’ Kalighat - II’ presents works from the patua artists of Bengal and the Kalighat paintings on display are a reminder of this beautiful and simplistic art form.

The golden age of the Kalighat paintings stretches from the mid 19th century to the 1920s, when it flourished.The painters of this art were found in specially set up bazaar like places around the areas of the Kalighat temple  from where they get their name and anyone could find the works for purchase easily.

The charm of the Kalighat paintings lies in the fact that they captured the essence of daily life and they influence modern artists like the late Jamini Roy in his works.

This show is an attempt to revive those moments of fame of the diminishing art form and perhaps encourage people to buy and learn it from the masters of this art. This show exhibits some rare and never seen pieces of that period on display.

The show is on view till the 24th of June 2013.

Moving Ahead with Abstraction

Jamaat Art Gallery, Mumbai, presents a solo show of recent works by artist Krishna Pulkundwar.  Th show titled, ‘ Moving Ahead’ is Krishna’s progression in his abstract language and art practice from his earlier series.

The development of an artist’s oeuvre is amply visible in Krishna’s new work. He has chosen to display his recent works which derive inspirations from his childhood and his movement in life from a rural to an urban scenario. Krishna has been a landscape painter, and his earlier work saw glimpses of nature related abstractions. This series however, displays distinct understanding of the surrounding changes, and visuals of a daily commuter in a city. Buildings, windows, doors, interspersed with memories of childhood gulmohar trees, rays of sun light in the homes, all of these things act as muses to this artist.

His recent works, dominated by the use of bold colours, and definitive, confident textural nuances, and inimitable relief work on the canvases, announce the arrival of the new age, dynamic abstractionist.

The show is one view till the 30th of May 2013.

(News Reports by Sushma Sabnis)

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