Thursday, June 26, 2008


Goa Art--Fantasy Boat and other Journies

Goa Art—Fantasy Boat and other journeys

When in India we talk about the colonial period we reckon only the British Imperialism. But there was another—the Portuguese. As India’s riches were discovered by the West through sea voyages, the war devastated Europe looked for raw materials far afield. Different European powers sailed around the world to capture and ‘colonise’. They had been sailing (e.g. Vasco de Gama to Kerala and Konkan) to Indian ports as traders and earned great profits.

It was in 1510 that the Portuguese armada invaded and occupied Goa.

It was a much longer period of Portuguese occupation—451 years to be exact! Such long time forced presence brought about influences on religion, cuisine, music, dance, language, architecture, art, crafts, festivals, rituals.

The present day Goa is potpourri of a mixed cultural history that can not be undone. We do not grade cultures as higher or lower. Margaret Mead the famous anthropologist says, "We have stood out against any grading of cultures in hierarchical systems which would place our own culture at the top and place the other cultures of the world in a descending scale according to the extent that they differ from ours.... We have stood out for a sort of democracy of cultures, a concept which would naturally take its place beside the other great democratic beliefs."

The Goa we know is the land of swaying palms, coastal carnival, and sun saturated Konkani landscapes, mango groves, hot vindaloo, prawn zacuti, wines and Feni. Fertilised by cross cultural interactions Goa is like no other land. Catholic Portuguese at the time of Inquisition did wrought tremendous atrocities on Hindus and Muslims. There were predominant catholic areas and the most famous artist son of Goa Francis Newton Souza belonged to the Christian Bardez. All his life his art carried the duality of his colonial and native sensibility. His art is located in the landscapes and the Goan life and religion.

Art affects life and life influences art. Tripat Kalra of Gallery Nvya New Delhi and curator Alka Pandey came together to create a theme exhibition called Bhasa showcasing contemporary Goan artists. We have regional theme exhibitions aplenty. Recently Rupali Gupta of Art elements launched a Bengal exhibition and Uma Jain of Dhoomimal Gallery organised a Madhya Pradesh art exhibition to commemorate anniversary of Jagdish Swaminathan. The visual artists are influenced by the culture, the religion, the rituals, the traditions, history, myths, and geography. The present exhibition has artists who hail from Goa and may/ not be living there. We know that cultural influences are also consciously appropriated by artists. In Western art the influence of African ritual/totem art was prominent in the Picasso’s Cubism (the sitting figure in Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon) and intense colours in the Henry Matisse’s oeuvre. Paul Gauguin painted the primitive and Tahiti was his place of work and inspiration. Popularity of Japanese serigraphs in Europe inspired the flat vibrant colours of artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas and Henri Toulouse- Lautrec Thus if an artist wishes to borrow from a culture she/he is free to do so. But then there are subterranean influences on artist as part of growing up in a land. It is this aspect of creative influences that this exhibition presumably explores.

There are 19 artists in the exhibition. Their works range from paintings to photography, pen and ink drawings, etchings and sculptures. It is good to have such a variety of medium in the exhibition. What is remarkable in the exhibition held at Stainless Gallery Delhi is the predominance of Surrealism/fantasy. Of all the artists 8 have worked variants of fantasy in a highly individualised language. But the selected artworks seem to suggest that no artist from Goa is working in abstract mode. The great abstractionist Vasudev S. Gaitonde was a Goan though born in Nagpur. The ripe experience and long journey of another abstract artist Prafulla Dhanukar offer the soft poetry of the land. Younger artists like Suhas shilker are the new emerging voices in the field of abstract art. All works in the exhibition are form based. Young (b.1975) Priyadarshan Salgaonkar’s Untitled etchings of animals, birds, snakes, fishes transformed in a strong cryptic expression carry a magico/mystical quality and at least I felt in them power akin to William Blake’s etchings. His Jogger’s Park has strong theatrical quality. It sounds more like theatre of the absurd with images like paper cut-outs. The work is not without humour and the pigs, dogs, hen and chicken and cats nestling close to humans enhance it. Shripad Gurav etching Behind the Curtain is evocative of mysteries that are out side of rationalist constructs. Santosh Morajkar using watercolour and pencil on paper creates hybrid images that seem to have human bust but are transformed into fishes and other strange forms. He embeds the human busts with erotic fantasized imagery. It is the free play of the id in Freudian sense that these images are released from our subconscious and are a rich source of artistic creativity. Viraj Naik working in rich paint body using oils creates awe-inspiring imagery that revels in the illogic of logical a la Salvador Dali. A goat with three human heads and flying mouse with wings like a butterfly and other such images emerge from his creative ability to re-form given realty by rehashing it by quirky combinations. Theodre M. Mesquita is another practioner of the art of unexpected juxtaposition so much a part of iconography of Surrealism. His very strong understanding of the rendition of figurative adds a realistic sinewy touch to his oeuvre. His yellow male human figure with blue phallus sailing in the watery bubbles in ether while a cat sit with her back to the viewer and a coiled mini serpent floats above offers metaphysical reality of being and beyond. His works not easy to decipher at first offer some clues. He uses a passionate red on the ground that elevates to tinged blue in the ether. The material, physical ground is the rendered in red and the spiritual—as one rises—is blue. Hanuman Kambli works his paintings in overlapping crowded space. He works the simultaneity of dream-scape imagery where images and objects proliferate. There are elements of social concern hidden in his imagery. In his So What! There is an image drawn in the Picasso’s style in Guernica where the mother has her baby on her stomach and a lance is piercing the child probably a reference to child foeticide. He draws images using the folklore and myth—a satyr jostles for space with crawling scorpions. By using a web of lines he creates a visual confusion of sorts on his pictorial space so useful for depicting a dream world. Using hatching lines he draws human figures that appear to give feeling of embroidery. Kambli has wedded painting and print making techniques. This he owes to his art education—a B.F.A. in fine art and M.F.A. in print making.

Chaitali Morajkar and Querozito de Souza are two artists who view Prakriti with deep erotic feminine sensibility. Chaitali works are highly sensual and use subtle symbolism of body kissing orb (sun?), needle, and fishes transformed into humans. The element of the feminine softness shines in rendition of the curvilinear female figures and decorative motifs like flowers and arabesque.

Querozito de Souza uses a more simplified direct meshing of the body in the infinity of Nature or space. He uses a style akin to etchings to create his human (female) figures. The figures as metaphor of Nature dominate the pictorial space. He also regales in the poetic sensuality of Nature seen as feminine.

When I confronted Rajan Fulari’s works in the exhibition it evoked a literary universe of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen—the 19th century British novelist. Fulari born in Bardez did B.F.A. form Goa College of Art and his Master’s degree in printmaking from M.S. University Baroda. Presently living and working in Delhi he is Print Studio Incharge in L.K.A. Garhi. His intaglio triptych called Playing with Senses juxtaposes four senses (seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling) by zoomed in images of sensory body parts. He beautifully combines smelling and touching by showing a butterfly seated on a nose. He has an image of mouth done in pulsating red invoking to me very hot and spicy Goan food. In the third image an eye in profile cuts through a rhythmic female outline on which sit a crouching human figure. Thus in his own subtle way he introduces seeing beauty in female shape. Fulari is clever with poetic understatements and it shows in his works! In his acrylics on canvas—Object of Desire-Heart and Object of Desire—Brain he depicts the traditional duality which Jane Austen in her novel tried to resolve. He uses effectively part torsos of woman and man and the organs of feeling and reasoning –heart and brain in a nearly flat pictorial space. Fulari thus uses senses and sensibility in the context of human relations.

Antonio E Costa brings a dash of primitivism as against rational-logical elements in visual creativity. His free innocuous dabs of free floating colours (water colour?) eke out primitive simple forms. His painting titled—Housing around in Goa—I think a typographical mistake has crept in. It could be Horsing around in Goa. This work has an ithyphallic figure and an adumbrated animal figure. His near abstract landscape Dream Reflections in Goa is a marvel of minimalist handling and opacity and transparency. If you are familiar with Ram Kumar’s rich chromatic sinewy abstract landscapes Antonio brings an alternate soft whispering rendition of the same. He is frugal with his means and imbues the landscape with silence of the infinite. I read in his life sketch that he was born in Kenya therefore probably the African cultural ethos had an influence on him.

Rajeshree Thakkar uses the ploy of figure repetition more like moving film frames and her work appropriately is titled Stencil Birth. Figure repetition started with Egyptian art and it helps to create a rhythm and highlights the form. Vitesh N Naik follows European realism in style. Similarly his themes like the Last Supper and card players owe them to –Christianity and Europe (Paul Cezanne’s Card Players).

Sonia R. Sabharwal presently seems to seek inspiration in Tantric art and decorativeness. But I am more impressed by her earlier works depicting Goan women and life. Even her animals have an eerie primeval power. Yolanda de Sousa plays more with surface, texture and relief giving out neon like effect. Her figures lonely or in reverie carry cutting humour and symbolism e.g. from the eye of surrealistically rendered face a swastika hangs by a chain or a human figure with fan like blinker on eye has an earring with pierced fishes hanging down. She makes effective use calligraphic style to evoke mysterious unknown. Wilson D’ Souza’s drawing is done with good skill and harks back to academism. There are two photo artists Roy Sinai and Subodh Kerkar. Roy is in search of time past like (Marcel Proust) and uses cemeteries as memories of ephemeral life. Kerkar on the other hand imposes manmade shapes on the untrammelled infinite sea thus making a poetic statement of human-Nature mutuality. His sculpture of a boat symbolically talks about the desire to sail to unknown seas. Boat is the human being who journeys from one world to another as in Indian mythology. But on seeing this work in the exhibition I was also reminded of Rimbaud’s long poem Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat) a metaphor for humans who sail to unknown lands. Vamona Navelkar exhibits ink drawings in the exhibition. He uses a subconscious auto style to draw a continuous tableau of human figures without lifting the pen. Nirupa Naik uses point and dash style to paint images of devotion and faith.

Many of the artists in the exhibition combine painting and print making since they trained in both the media and have used it to aesthetic advantage and expression. In the end I would like to share my personal relation with Goa.

My maternal grandmother Dr. Subhadra Anagarika (nee Prem Dasi) was part a group of freedom fighters who arrived in Goa from Delhi in August 1955 to fight for freedom of Goa from Portuguese yoke of more than 450 years. Many were injured including my grandmother and quite few lost their lives in the firing on peaceful satyagrahis. It’s a joy to have a free Goa where soul and spirit soar higher and yet higher and art and culture flourishes untamed.

Victor Vijay Kumar

Painter, Assemblage artist

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bacon, Freud, Mehta, Souza — Human figure in the shadow II War and India’s partition

India’s emerging muscle in global business arena is widely recognised and increasingly respected. It is said that art and economics feed each other. The years of economic sluggishness also reflected in the tough time for Indian artists economically. There were artists with finest expressions who struggled to keep their bodies but it must be said they did not allow their soul—their art—to attrition. To the long list of artists who fought their battle for material survival the likes of M. F. Hussain and Nikhil Biswas should be put in the forefront. While Hussain painted cinema hoardings to invoke his art muse, Nikhil Biswas used old newspapers to paint on. The folklore of the struggle of Indian artists is long, varied, and full of verve and fortitude. We should, as a nation be grateful to the ilk of such courageously obsessed artists that today we have a vibrant patrimony of Indian art that is increasingly been appreciated not only in India but globally.
While India struggled against the long yoke of British imperialism, the II World War intervened in Europe to enact a human catastrophe unknown and unimagined in the history of mankind. Nazi armies singed and devastated life, habitation and cultures going back to human history. The concentrations camps spread all over Europe systematically decimated men women and children in diabolic gas chambers. Franz Kafka vividly portrayed demented diseased mindset of Nazi war machine in his short novel, In the Penal Settlement. A visit I made to one of the most dreaded concentration camps The Auschwitz left me with nightmares for many months. The art and literature of Europe would change forever as a result of the war. From Diaries of Anne Frank, to the autobiography of Polish pianist Szpilman (made into a film by Roman Polanski) a new interpretation and portrayal of Man would be essayed in literature, films and art.
A new human situation was to emerge from the creative imagination of artists. The suffering, bent, traumatised humanity as in the drawings of Henry Moore of the people in underground bomb shelters and in the hopelessness of hope as in the play No Exit (Huis Clos) by Jean Paul Sartre or The Plague—an allegory of innate violence of Man by Albert Camus. The Guernica by Picasso will resonate a Kafkasque universe of futility and absurdity. The impact of II War will devastate the artists’ sensibilities. Satish Gujral spending time in Mexico under likes of Diego Rivera will paint another catastrophe—the partition of India.

Death destruction and suffering of II War helped create a dissembled, distorted human figure like never before. Picasso played a kingly role in this decimation of the accepted tenets of human form drawing. Picasso in his Cubist renderings treated human form as an assemblage of a mechanical contraption—devoid of the inner dynamics of being.
It is in this socio-historical context of the II War and the time thereafter that I locate the works of the four artists— Bacon, Freud, Souza and Tyeb. Francis Bacon the first of these artists with his grotesque open mouth figures, at times prevaricating between human and animal (one is reminded of Gregory Samsa—the man transformed into a giant spider in Metamorphosis by Kafka) disturbs our inner core. It is in line with existential anguish which Norwegian artist Edward Munch in his The Cry resonated before him. Bacon studied pictures of mouth diseases and created paintings with gaping, distorted mouths. Though Lucien Freud happens to be grandson of the great Sigmund Freud, but it is to Bacon’s works that some psychologists apply psychological interpretations and suggest that his open mouths are suggestive of vaginal anxiety of falling in a dark mysterious bottomless pit and as a homosexual it instilled fear and foreboding in him. Whatever may the source of his open mouth figures what is of interest is that he was able to put a mirror to the ugly warts of humanity in post War period.

The other artist who comes nearer to Bacon in expressing anguish, angst, and a kind of dualism and guilt bread through a spiritual conflict was Francis Newton Souza. Growing up in Goa as a Catholic wrought a conflict in him between the canons of religion and his own bohemian spirit. He revolted against the Puritanism of church and regaled in the portrayal of voluptuous female bodies. But the feeling of guilt never deserted him. His expressionistic style carried this conflict of body and spirit. Many of his works from this early period are in the private collection of the gallerist and theatre doyen Ebrahim Alkazi. I had the opportunity to savour these works in Nineties in an exhibition mounted by Alkazi in Arpana Caur’s gallery in Delhi.
Souza’s women figures are always large, rotund, fleshy presence. But it’s the way he renders the face that turns them into horror apparitions. It is this tension between his joy of the physical and the guilt he felt because of his Catholic upbringing that runs through his most landmark works. The faces of women with popping eyes and upturned distorted faces became the hallmark of Souza oeuvre. Souza carries the influence of Pablo Picasso in this. In the present exhibition a chestnut horse with nervous energy rearing to break away is held back by a rope is symbolic of the conflict Souza had between raw bodily desires and their reigning in. The horse is the raw crude libido and the rope the guilt and the effort to tame it. This work I reckon is among masterpieces of Souza’s art and I am sure not many people have been aware of its existence.

Lucien Freud the other British artist, son of émigré Jew parents at the threshold of II War is a practitioner of realism. His is a personal world of capturing the body with uncanny honesty. He does not gloss over the scars and blemishes of sitters. Those of you who regale in the neo-Romantic soft, dreamy figuration of a Suhas Roy or Angalie Ela Menon will find the portraits of his sitters nakedly vulnerable. He does not use a photo shop soft ware to the make skin young and taut—he just presents what his artist’s eyes see. It brings back to me the time I spent on beaches in Europe and Anatolia in Turkey. The Mediterranean sun brought in focus the contrast of flesh young and old. It was so dichotomous that I became pensive on the ephemeral nature of beauty specially the body. In 1999 in Vienna I saw a video art by an Egyptian artist. It was titled the hamams and was shot in a public bath for women. The nude figures from childhood, youth to old age led you to a journey of human body and its decay and distortion. Lucien is no painter of Grecian demi gods and goddesses. Lookup his etching in this exhibition—Woman sleeping and you will realise how with uncanny honesty he presents to us the material body truths.

In the end I will talk about Tyeb Mehta. He like the rest of his generation was witness to the bloody mayhem of India’s partition. He has evolved a style of flat colour surfaces and to build up diagonally flat colour figuration in alternate colours. He entwines dual images in unified pictorial space. He uses a smudged drawing line to render images that are flat and like paper cut outs. His sinewy drawing line brings the eye in to the figures from the surrounding flat surfaces and enhances the turmoil of his imagery.
His palette is frugal but his play with limited colours results in simple and direct expression focussing on the diagonalised gravity-infected imagery. What Bacon did with built up of painterly surface using oils Tyeb does with flat colours using acrylics. While Tyeb as a young man was appreciative of Bacon’s art, he found his own instruments of expression that combines pain and pathos using Indian iconography.

In sum the artists in the exhibition were witness to a period of gory history of Europe/India or had their personal crisis of faith (in case of Souza). Their artistic expressions are not only a lesson in fine aesthetics but also in diabolic war and hatred. The history did play a role in shaping their expressions. But in case of Lucien Freud it is the individual sitter’s persona that comes out crystallised in his realism. We hope more such exhibitions will come our way in India as juxtaposition of Indian and European and in this case British art.

Victor Vijay Kumar
Painter, Assemblage artist

(Published in Creative Mind magazine)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Abani Sen

Sunday 15th June 2008
Sometime back a retrospective of Abani sen's work was held in Delhi By Art Indus Gallery.

Abani Sen—the forgotten Maestro

We live and serve the slice of time we are placed in. The life of artist Abani Sen unfolded in an agitated, catastrophic and clouded period of India’s history. The times posed many challenges for Indians of all hues and calling. The most important was to unite India as a nation of people to fight the demeaning imperialist yoke of British Empire.
The year 1905 in India’s history is important. It was the year of first partition of Bengal. It also effectively implemented in Bengal the policy of divide and rule by British Imperialists. But it also fired the Indian Nationalism against British rule. In this year of political turmoil was born Abani Sen—the artist whose sterling contribution to art of the period was substantial. Somehow he seemed to have been consigned an opaque, nearly forgotten existence in the annals of art of the period. While we know a lot about his famous contemporaries, the students of art and art history seem nearly ignorant of his contribution at least outside Bengal. Vijay Lakshmi Dogra the soft spoken suave Art Indus gallery owner in Delhi should be thanked for removing the dust of time on Abani Sen’s art by organising a large exhibition of his work and bringing out a professionally produced book Whispered Legacy edited by Ina Puri.
Reverting back to backdrop of times in which Abani Sen waged aesthetic battles through his creativity. We know that first five decades of twentieth century were full of upheavals and trauma for humankind. The first partition of Bengal galvanised Bengal and the rest of India in a nationalistic fervour and led to the birth of Swadeshi Movement. It was during this period that Indian National Congress emerged as a pan India entity to fight for freedom from the yoke of British Imperial bondage.
It is necessary to be familiar with other catastrophic happenings till about India’s independence from British yoke. The First World War and the 1920’s Great Depression caused havoc to people and especially to peasantry. For Bengal the misfortune was accentuated not only by the II World War but far greater was the misery to people because of the manmade or rather British Raj made Bengal Famine of 1943-1944. Around 4 million people died of starvation; the civilian and military sexual abuse of starving women and girls was the side show of this imposed inhumanity. (Refer Jane Austen and Black Hole of British History a book by Dr Gideon Polya)
How could the artists remain aloof from this chain of upheavals castrating the social psyche of an ancient proud people?
The early Bengal school and the later day Avante Guarde Bengal artists explored new vistas, styles and fresh expressions to translate the mayhem wrought on the innocent people of their land. The artists working during this epoch especially Nandlal Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Hemen Majumdar, Ram Kinkar Baij, Pradosh Das Gupta, B.B. Mukherjee, Abani Sen, Nirod Majumdar, Gobardhan Ash, Chitto Prasad, Zainul Abedin, Somnath Hore and many more would provide a new freshness, national and social concern to the Bengal art. The last three artists would paint the Bengal famine with power and telling effect.

Abani Sen thus inherited the socio-politico-economic situation of his times to which he was a witness and a sufferer. His art from the beginning did not focus on depicting the dark happenings of the time. Abani chose instead to work through evocation and metaphor. He did not directly paint pain and suffering of the people as did Chitto Prasad, Zainul Abedin, Somnath Hore and others. He painted from his subconscious. As a child he had grown in the verdant nature-kissed land of Bengal. It was this he drew upon as a source for his art forever. He painted landscapes, animals birds and ordinary people in the street. He did not overtly record the happenings of the period. But in a subtle depiction of moods he conveyed sadness and melancholia that inhabited whole society. His agitated handling of pictorial space, use of black and grey, and whimsical line albeit suggestive of Chinese and Japanese style rendering conveyed a sombre mood.
His bulls, horses, elephants, birds and the lion family (1968) are rendered to bring out the character of the animals and their moods in nick of time. There is strong element of expressionism in many renderings of animals specially when he works in water colour.
Abani Sen’s art was influenced by a variety of movements and styles. You can find semblance of the BATHERS by Cezanne in his 1962 oil painting or the touching simplicity and directness of naïve and folk art in his ink drawing from 1962 of a woman holding chicken. Looking further on his oeuvre you come across his minimalist handling and control of line like a Zen maestro (page 48 watercolour in Whispered Legacy). He also uses geometric linear simplification of forms like in the cowherds of 1965 watercolour. Apart from KS Kulkarni one finds the resonance of this geometric divisionism of forms in the works of Prof. Niren Sen Gupta and the young artist Neeraj Goswami.
A theme that Abani Sen painted persistently and repeatedly is the mother and child. He focused on the gestural rendering of line to convey the soft mother child relation. Like always he excelled while working in water colours and ink. In most difficult of the times a mother is protective of her child and the Bengal Famine was a period when the motherhood and human values were tested to the core. Abani Sen’s mother child works from around this period are highly evocative of love, care and protective shield of a mother for her progeny.
Abani Sen worked in variety of styles because as a guru he taught his students differing paths to creative expression. But if you look around you can find his best. His man with a rose and seated woman in a landscape (page 29) is a masterpiece of expression, modernity and exquisite emotions. His 1968 watercolour of lion family is a powerful work. One has to understand that all works from great artists are not masterpieces, whether you talk of Picasso or Hussain. It will require effort to cull out the best of Abani Sen and to focus on his creative journey that was not only modernist but visionary. There are traces of academism in quite a few of his works but they are not the foundation of his art.
For long (since 1948) he worked in Delhi where he had a long association with fellow artists and his students. On the opening of his retrospective exhibition by Art Indus at LKA recently I discovered many a senior artists who were associated with him as students or otherwise. The nostalgia flowed back about an artist who worked hard for his art and to create a new generation of artists in his studio.

I do not know whether all the works in the exhibition have been documented/exhibited earlier? The efforts of Ms. Ina Puri and Ms.Vijay Lakshmi have created documentation which would help build authenticated pricing for his works in future. Few words on the book by Ina Puri. All paintings are without titles. In case there are no titles to the works, for easy reference they should have been numbered. Also for some works there is no detail i.e. year medium size (works on pages 11, 27, 34-35, 48, 66-67). There is a blunder in the 12-14 lines of third paragraph on page 17. Abani Sen was now much married and father of four children. As I understand that Abani Sen was married only once and never was much married like Picasso, Bertrand Russell or Salman Rushdie.

These glitches can be taken care of in the next print of the book. Though one can say some of the archival photographs of the time of Abani Sen are really precious. Also useful are the analysis and impressions about the impresario Abani Sen by Santo Dutta, Prof.Rajiv Lochan’s account saturated with childhood memories retailed from his father Ranvir Saksena—another illustrious student of the maestro, K.K. Nair’s comments on Abani’s art and his son Ranjan Sen’s empathic memories of his father. It is unfortunate that another bright and famous student Manjit Bawa (brought to Abani by his elder brother Manmohan Singh) lies seriously ailing. Well known artists Jagdish Dey, Umesh Verma, Ranjan Sen and many others found their artistic rudders in the studio of Abani Sen, Art historian Sovon Som’s writing on Abani Sen’s art is incisive. I hope this exhibition and the book will awaken interest in the art of Abani Sen and allow art historians to take a fresh look at the oeuvre of this forgotten genious.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tulips and Art

Tulips and Art

Tulips are so beautiful to look at. They come in different colours, shapes and designs. The Dutch love them and so does the rest of the world. But if you go back to 17th century tulips became a source of great speculative wealth creation. Prices rose by the hour to stupid heights. The prices were such that only the very rich could indulge in its trade. Then the bubble burst causing the ruin of many and a long depression in Dutch economy. In 70’s Hunt brothers manipulated/speculated in silver and raked in big profits. Their greed led them to large borrowings (100’s of million dollars) to finance their futures transactions. The bubble burst and they went bankrupt causing widespread economic disruption.

Is art market like tulips of yore? The question requires to be addressed specially for the newly baptised in the business of art collection. The size and the players in the market and the functioning of the art market have to be investigated to find an answer to it. Why this question is being raised now. Because a very short time back few cared about art and the art market was tiny. Mostly majority artists lived tight or in penury. There were seniors who had passed through the same mill of penury—Hussain included who painted cinema hoardings and made toys. Son of a very renowned artist D. D. Deolalikar who was Hussain’s first teacher would go around without money and his daily food was based on benevolence of someone in art fraternity. There is an art college named after Deolalikar in Indore! The son—he was always happy to paint. He had poetic expression in his paintings. He is no more God bless his soul. There was nothing to titillate. Any way masses were not interested in poor bedraggled crankish artists. There was art, artists and art addict collectors. It was a small world of zealots.
But then India started arriving economically on the world scene. Cash registers/ credit card machines started working often and enough. Prices started climbing and suddenly artists and art arrived, arrived because now art works were sold for tens of millions of rupees. A new religion was born. It was exotic and sensual like the full bodied beauties on the last pages of newspapers. There is zing now. Arun Vadhera of Vadhera art gallery guesses Indian art market at about $350 million presently and expected to grow with economic growth. New galleries, risqué dealers, media hype, and a lot of new artists make it more difficult to separate serious art. How there can not be drift wood afloat when the river is in spate? An artist along with some others was invited by a businessman to sign an exclusive contract to supply paintings. With great pride he told the gathering that he can sell anything! What would happen to those who buy from him. Unfortunately it is true in some cases. So there are tulip traders in 21st century also.
I don’t wish to scare you from art. This is one side of resurgence story of art. Good art, good galleries, serious collectors are also there. I will unfold for you the story of art
Choose your art at right prices
When you buy a standard product it has nearly a fixed price. But in art it is not so. An artist may be good or good for nothing. A good artist produces good works and bad works or not so good works at different times. Picasso’s paintings are not sold by square centimetre rate better and smaller works have higher prices than inferior bigger works. Collect good art and not the artists. It is a difficult proposition therefore to find good art at right prices. There are artists who have arrived at top price brackets. But to be at the top does not mean their prices are stable; they tumble as happened with some top names in Indian art recently. One must remember that in 1980’s and early 90’s the Japanese bought a lot of great art like Picassos, Van Gogh (paying then $82.5 million), Modigliani, Renoir etc. at mad prices and later as the Japanese economy speeded down hill plagued with losses and bankruptcies the works were sold at heavy losses. In contemporary art the high priced works may not protect you from losses when slide begins. The real manna is to choose good art (and artists) that has not ‘arrived’ in higher price brackets. Therefore there is the need for fair eyed experts who do best what they can better than others. At what price a good work is bought will affect the financial return to the collector.
Second as an asset class art is unique. The owner of a particular work has a monopoly over it. Here I am not talking about limited edition prints.
An art work has a lower frequency of transactions. A painting may be brought to market after may be 5 years or 10 or 83 years as in the case of Jan Vermeer painting. (It sold for $30 million in 2004). Thus art is not a very liquid asset. As more and more quality art works enter museums availability of works in the market further goes down thereby pushing the prices through scarcity principle.
Let’s see the nature and structure of art market. Art market is of two types basically—primary and secondary.

The major participants of art market are 1.Artists 2.Galleries, dealers houses 4.Collectors 5.investment banks and art Funds 6 Museums 7. Art fairs, 8, curators, art critics, art advisers, evaluators, restorers. 8 State.
Artists are the fountain of the art market, and let’s be fair to admit that there are artists who have aesthetic, virgin imagination to impose new landmarks in creativity and there are those who do not have. Good art transcends the familiar. Art is not cerebral, it is celebration of timeless. It is the job of galleries, dealers and educated collectors in tandem with curators, art advisers, and art critics to cull wheat from the chaff in earnestness and honestly to position the good artists in the market place. To see what others pass by is their job. It requires poetic vision.
The State or Government has to be an important player by supporting art through state funding, state museums, art education, and art projects. Investment banks and art funds provide specialist services to collectors and advise them on art and artists. Art Funds issue units to the investors and manage portfolio of art assets. In India new laws for the safety of investors have slowed down the creation of Art Funds for the time being.
Market Friction and Inefficiencies
The structure of market alone will not determine the functioning of art markets. What is the state of competition and efficiency in price determination? About competition it has to be understood higher the price brackets fewer the competitors. In economics it is called oligopolistic competition. Presenting 2007 accounts William F. Ruprecht of Sotheby’s says, “And this is a business where your success is traditionally wed to a relatively small group of people who drive the business” Sotheby’s had $6 billion turnover in year 2007.
Mind it market is not able to value/price correctly all good art. Market inefficiency can be out of (a) nascent inability to judge art or (b) a conscious manipulation of the price mechanism. The inability of the market to identify the visionary art of Van Gogh, Edgar Degas and Rembrandt was that they were rejected by the market. But you know how market treats their works now! So be a visionary leader to spot good art.
The conscious manipulation of prices is possible because as I said it is an oligopolistic market. Some dealers, collectors or even well heeled artists may bid high for a work in an auction because they have a high inventory of the said artists’ work. The bids help to create a higher bench mark for nearly all the works of the artist and as a corollary can also be used to take higher loans from banks using the artist’s works as collateral. Robert Hughes a great aesthete and art expert in his Art and Money says—
The art market can be set pitching and rolling by a single act, which is why it is so notoriously vulnerable to manipulation. A ring of three of four promoters can bid up the price of a dubious young star painter at auction, and although the New York art world may know what’s going on, the collectors in Akron, Ohio, are not so likely to - all they see is the price, which was, after all, publicly bid and duly paid, and is henceforth true.

Indian market is substantially unorganised and is not free from the follies I have talked above. There is lack of data and research and at times aesthetic knowledge. A lot of buying is presently seen in low priced art works most of which do not stand aesthetic scrutiny. There is a tendency in India for new collectors to go for low price bargain hunting which may be disastrous by creating a junk collection. In time such works will find no place in the annals of art. The books/articles being written on artists who have yet to prove their artistic worth are often shameless eulogies rather than a fair analysis of their art. The aim in many cases is merely to sell rather than uncover creativity alongside where it exists.
Supply of paintings/art work at least in primary markets is controlled by some galleries and artists selling direct from studios and in West by Art Funds also. Taking out a monopoly contract with artists specially the young and upcoming is getting commonplace to build up prices through scarcity principle.
The funny thing is the artist/dealer/ collector may sell the work for lower price but want it to be shown at higher price in the market. Auctions are the best way to do it, scrupulously or otherwise.
One has to guard against these follies if one wishes to be a serious art collector.
Art as social capital
Why buy art only with money making objective? We all pass on from life to another dimension and paintings/artworks can’t be forwarded there. Likes of Solomon Guggenheim and Mr Henry Clay Frick left their finest collections for the people of this world to enjoy in Guggenheim Museum and Frick Collection. Persons with smaller gold chests have been known to gift works to museums so that our cultural lineage and memory does not lead to amnesia for our great grand children. Art gives more than the joy of increased asset value; it makes life more meaningful and joyous. It opens new vistas in your life. But it is for earning profits that in India art will be bought now on. It is a virgin field for many to collect art. As the dust settles art will be collected not for media impacted artists but for substance. Substance will bring higher returns—worldly and other worldly in many instances. I hope likes of Ratan Tata, Ambani brothers, Mittals and their ilk will bequeath to future India its art history in the form of their art collections and museums. This will also provide an impetus for others to learn to gift works to the museums. Mumbai is a classic example of art philanthropy and Parsis have whole heartedly contributed to make life culturally rich. Jehangir Art Gallery created by Cowasji Jehangir is a glowing testimony of such a singing patrimony of the city. Kolkota has its landmark Birla Akedemy while in Delhi Jindals have created Stainless Steel Art Gallery, and in Gurgaon Anupam Poddar is planning a private museum of art to showcase his and his mother’s collection, more must come. It is not cultural poverty that we suffer from rather it is the absence of will to synergize the sweet petals of art in a beautiful rose.

Like the ownership of designer houses and rare wines fished out of sunken old ships art collection makes a statement about the persona and social class identity of the owner. Emotional purchases or media hype induced collecting of art is likely to mislead the collectors and they end up buying for prices higher and suffer when prices decline to realistic levels. High brow art collecting showcases those who have made their millions and billions and have acquired a ticket to visible refined tastes in art and culture. But looking at the current go especially in U.S. the refined tastes come with a double question mark.

Can we arrive outside of immediate time to judge good art? From inside the sea you can not see the flourishing landscapes on the land unless you are a clairvoyant. Many famous and high priced artists will be lost in terms of market and popularity while some of those who are not so well promoted/propagated will be ‘discovered’ in future. Art is a product of a contemporary society and to buy trendy art is always full of pot holes. The real worth of art work should last till contemporary vanishes into past. Art should not be treated as fashion changing by the minute. Internationally and in India I have seen many artists who were a rage vanish into oblivion. What better reason is needed to avoid collecting seasonal flowers!
Art is different as it needs not the faculty of understanding but feeling. In one of my exhibitions of abstracts quite a few persons asked why did I not put some object or figure to give a meaning to the painting. Problem is we expect familiar to be present in a work of art. Gustav Klimt was commissioned to do four murals for a new university—Aula in Austria in 1900. In those works he explored new dimensions away from his familiar style. But there was a scandal that the works were morally degrading and they were never exhibited. These masterpieces were lost when Nazis burnt Immendorf Castle in 1945. The murals were the basis for his emergent style but the society junked them. Art goes beyond the familiar and into nascent corner of our inner experiences. Hilla Rebay the American abstract painter says, "Painting, like music, has nothing to do with the reproduction of nature, nor interpretation of intellectual meanings. Whoever is able to feel the beauty of colors and forms has understood non-objective painting."

Culturally Indian art is more on the quieter side of creative search. Whereas western art and especially U.S. art revels in shock value, and the use of crass product-marketing culture to decimate the fine difference between commerce and art. Pickled cows and sharks, self portrait in own blood, artist canning his own shit, diamond studded platinum skull mould, or the Piss Christ photograph, ad infinitum can shock a society but can not last as abiding aesthetic creation. I think art here has less to do with communion with spirit rather it is the use media to create brand value through shock for the artist. We know media picks up more on sensational news and with instant communication it is easier to propagate an art work which sensationalizes. It brings in focus sensory rather than spiritual. In the year 2004 I visited Andy Warhol exhibition in Museum Kunst Palast Dussaeldorf. Looking at giant silk screen works sitting lonely in mega size halls, I realized the unitary influence of consumerism in American society and how Warhol through his art put a mirror to it. Mass takes away personal spaces and robotizes our responses to life. Unfortunately use of crass mass Pavlovian culture to decimate the fine difference between consumerism and art has also emerged. Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has turned art into a factory product marketed more like Wal-Mart turnovers. I am sure art will survive it for it is pedigreed to be different than the mass produced mass consumed products.