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Art:Have Money, Buy Art

What is interesting is that Ultra HNIs are increasingly treating art and paintings as an integral component of their wealth portfolio

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The recent Kotak-EY report on Ultra HNI Indians would have us believe that there are 146,600 households with a wealth portfolio in excess of $5 million (about Rs 33 crore, though the calculation used in the report is $1=Rs 50). This number is expected to double to 294,000 Ultra HNHs (High Networth Households) by 2020-21. In a country of 1.2 billion people, that is not really such a large figure. But the current lot of ultra rich between them have a combined net worth of Rs 135 trillion, which is a serious sum of money.

What is interesting is that Ultra HNIs are increasingly treating art and paintings as an integral component of their wealth portfolio. According to the report, for 68 per cent of Ultra HNIs art and paintings are impulse purchases. The balance 32 per cent engage in a fair amount of research before making a purchase decision. For more than 80 per cent of respondents, passion and status were the key drivers for acquiring art. Some attributed continuation of family traditions as a reason for patronising the arts. Whatever be their reasons, the average Ultra HNH spends nearly Rs 25 lakh a year on buying art. That comparatively small amount spent on art in itself may not be music to the ears of the art fraternity but the very fact that art features as a prominent expense item/investment destination, should be heartening for the art business.

So what do Ultra HNIs buy? Sixty four per cent of them opt for Indian art while 56 per cent prefer Western. Thirty five per cent lay emphasis on the historical importance of the art piece and another 24 per cent favour contemporary art. And, a surprisingly large 33 per cent say they would like to buy Far Eastern art. No wonder China, and in recent years Vietnam, are becoming big art destinations for Indian collectors.

Seventy one percent of art is bought from art houses; 50 per cent at Indian art auctions; 20 per cent at international art auctions; 58 per cent at artist exhibitions; 38 per cent online; and 16 per cent buy art in resale from the secondary market. What this means is that there is no single preferred channel for art acquisition.

So if you are lucky (and blessed) to be an Ultra HNI, and even if you are not, and want to start building an art portfolio for the future, here is what to look out for.

Be real. Don’t even think of a Master at this early stage: When you are just starting out a new portfolio, don’t even think of an S.H. Raza, a Hussain or a Gaitonde original. Practically, and realistically, they are outside the realm of your consideration. Any one such purchase could wipe out your entire budget. There are limited edition prints and lithographs available. But these too tend to cost a lot. In our opinion, you are always better off with an original rather than an authorised print or copy. Hence, avoidable. At least, at a very early or nascent stage of collecting.

Respect seniority. Go for it: Senior artists normally command a premium. And it is well worth paying that premium for their maturity and experience. We recommend buying Ram Kumar, Jatin Das, Badri Narayan, Prabhakar Kolte and L.P. Shaw. Works of these artists are likely to get more and more rare as they get older and perhaps are lesser and lesser prolific in their output. Older artists also have well established styles which are recognised easily in art circles. This gives an art piece the benefit of longevity in terms of value.

Rarity of works: We suggest acquiring some rare works of Nandalal Bose, Sunil Das, F.N. Souza, Badri Narayan and more. These would be treasures, for now, and for the future. And prices of most works these days are well near historic lows because the Indian art market has been in doldrums since 2008. These works would still not be ‘cheap’ but current market prices are about the lowest in many years.

Go for style, not hype: Stylistically, Brinda Miller and Rini Dhumal are amongst our favourites. Brinda’s colours and compositions are mesmerising. They dance alive on canvas, imparting joy and happiness. We would seriously recommend a Brinda Miller for your walls, both for cheerfulness and good return on investment. Rini’s works are sculpted on canvas. Her wood-cuts especially are unique. Stylistically evolved and different. A must-have in any collection. Another must-have in any collection is of course Jayasri Burman. She works mainly in watercolour, using rich strong hues and bold themes with a mythic element. Signature hybrid animals with human heads and female figures. Jayasri and husband Paresh Maity are currently the toast of art circles.

Best-to-buy a painter’s ‘best known’ signature style: If you are buying a Manu Parekh, it is best to go for his Benares series. It is his ‘best-known’ signature style and those will most likely remain his most valued works. Similarly, Subhash Awchat's ‘Parampara’ series with tonsured monks is really his signature. We own clowns from his early 2000s period too, but most art lovers, and dealers, hardly recognise them. It can also happen that sometimes a current style of an artist almost obliterates his earlier output. Charan Sharma, for example, today does mostly Buddhist monks. His older works, the distinctive puppets he used to do, are almost forgotten. We would still recommend picking a puppet if you can find one. It is more his ‘signature’. Similarly, Sanjay Bhattacharya is renowned for his doors and gates. They are the ones that are easily recognised as signature Sanjay Bhattacharyas. At a recent art fair we picked up a beautiful composition of ‘bandwallahs’ but most seasoned collectors also mistake it for a Krishen Khanna!

So on what basis do you choose your portfolio? Well, as we said before, there are no rules. But guiding principles could be:
Medium: Sunil Das’ charcoal, K.S. Radhakrishnan’s bronzes are the best to pick.

Size: A 36”x 36” is a decently large size. But even a 6”x4” of Nandalal is worth it, provided it comes with good provenance.

Potential for appreciation: Brinda Miller, Rini Dhumal, Subhash Awchat, Ramesh Gorjala, Amit Bhar are all worth ‘investing’ in.

Disclaimer: Works of most of the artists mentioned in this article are in the private art collection of the authors, under the aegis of The Kailasham Trust

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
art collection magazine 28 November 2016 ultra HNIs

Tanya Goyal

The author is chaiperson and trustee of The Kailasham Trust

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