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Art: More Than Just Artistic Appeal

ROI from art as an asset class requires patience. And an eye for beauty, howsoever personal it may be. If you pick right, a good artwork will give you handsome returns while peacefully hanging on your walls

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The Progressive Artists Group (PAG) was formed in 1947 by six members: F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, M.F. Husain, K.H. Ara, H.A. Gade and S.K. Bakre (the only sculptor in the group). In 1950, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna and Mohan Samant joined the group. Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta were also associated with the PAG for a period. The PAG was ultimately disbanded in 1956.

The members of the PAG, without doubt, individually and together, are India’s most famous artists by far. Recognition and fame have catapulted not just their reputations to stratospheric realms, but the value of their works have multiplied manifolds in the last 15 years. Check this out — $100 invested in 2000 in a work of Souza is worth $1854 today; in Husain $1051; in Ram Kumar $1528; in Raza $651 and in $5504. (Source: Artprice, the foremost authority worldwide on prices of art).

Indian art prices were at extremely low levels at the turn of the century. And worldwide recognition for Indian artists was near negligible. Around the year 2000, Souza had a worldwide ranking of 7,239, Raza 7,177, Husain 2531 and Gaitonde 8,369. In 2006, the best year for Indian art, most of them hit upper circuits. Souza’s global ranking hit an all-time high of 63 (the highest ever for an Indian). Raza too was close at rank 88, and Husain in hot pursuit at rank 92. In 2016, Gaitonde peaked at a global rank of 116.

All of the above, however, is about the posthumous market for Indian art. But, if you were to invest in good Indian art for good ROI over say, the next decade, where would you place your bets? Unfortunately, there is not much empirical data available on Indian art except auction prices from Saffronart, DAG, Pundole and Astaguru, and the occasional Sotheby’s or Christie’s sale. But then most of what sells at these hi-profile events is again expensive art.

So what’s a good winning formula? Pick seniors, living contemporary artists, who are selling today at much lower than their all-time highs, mostly achieved around 2006. This may sound far too simplistic but there is simple rationale to the suggestion: living artists are easier to prove provenance on; and have newer works still coming to the market.

On price itself one would have to count-out stalwarts Krishen Khanna, Anjolie Ela Menon, Ram Kumar, Satish Gujral, Sakti Burman, A. Ramachandran and even Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh. They are all at top-bracket. The same price criteria would rule out Thota Vaikuntham, Paresh Maity and Jayasri Burman. And because they are no longer alive, this filter eliminates Sunil Das, K.G. Subramanyam, Badri Narayan, Suhas Roy, A.A. Raiba and Yusuf Arakkal, all of whom passed away in recent months.

K. Laxma Goud, best known for his masterful small paintings of village life in a palette of monochrome greys will have a long shelf-life, and a consistent fan following for years to come. Buy a Laxma work blind-folded. You can’t go wrong.

A trip to Kolkata is a must if you have to pick good art at not-so-expensive prices. Bengali contemporary masters Jogen Chowdhury, Lalu Prasad Shaw, Rabin Mondal and the highly talented husband-wife duo of Shuvaprasanna and Shipra Bhattacharya automatically vote themselves onto the must-buy list.

Rabin especially is now in his 90th year. He no longer paints large works. A large canvas from the artist would be a treasure-trove over the next decade. DAG recently had a 6’x3’ work of his on display at Rs 28 lakh. Don’t be surprised if Rabin Mondal doubles every-other-year.

The symbolic ambivalence of Jogen Chowdhury’s motifs, make his images come closer to inexplicable experiences. With his new-found pre-occupation as a Member of Parliament, Jogen’s works are getting more and more difficult to come by. A good Jogen can just not go wrong, any which way.

Lalu Prasad Shaw is said to be having a solo in February. On show will be an awesome collection of his bronzes. Life-sized. Exquisite. Picking one of Lalu’s bronzes, or even a gouache or tempera would be a rock-solid investment.

A Shuvaprasanna ‘owl’ or ‘crow’ in charcoal would be worth buying any day. Or a ‘golden flute’ of his with Lord Krishna. Bound to give good ROI in years to come. Shuva’s wife Shipra’s works are equally valuable. Her canvasses depicting women with an inner void of simmering desires are detailed and dramatic. Shipra Bhattacharya currently sells at prices well below her talent. Buy now, reap later.

But the most under-leveraged Kolkata artist by far is Ramananda Bandyopadhyay. The works of this artist have stagnated on the pricing front. With advancing years as his output diminishes, you can expect a strong demand at much higher price levels. Good to invest in.

Gogi Saroj Pal is still sprightly at 72. Her female form is expressive of the vicissitudes and pain of a woman's life, sometimes tormented sometimes titillated, but never tarnished. Gogi has undersold on price in the weak market of yesteryears. Collecting works of Gogi would be a sensible investment.

Despite his indifferent health of late, Prabhakar Kolte, 71, is producing beauties at his Mumbai studio. The ‘Indian Paul Klee’ Kolte’s works are simply mesmerizing. His talent has not been adequately rewarded in the sluggish market of yore. Kolte is a safe bet. Invest, and be rewarded. And, if you like Kolte, you are sure to like Gopi Gajwani too. Their styles, and symbolism are similar. Gajwani, now in his 70s, is having a solo these days in Delhi. Well worth checking out.
Vinod Sharma’s surreal landscapes can be seen hanging behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi many a times in media pictures, presumably at the PMO. Vinod's Colossal Sandscapes, Furious Oceans and Serene Expanses are a gem of an investment.

Baiju Parthan pioneered inter-media art in India, deriving his inspiration from counter-cultural depictions and alternative reality environments. Parthan is relatively young at 61. Owning one of his creations is well-worth every rupee spent.

ROI from art as an asset class requires patience. And an eye for beauty, howsoever personal it may be. If you pick right, a good artwork will give you handsome returns while peacefully hanging on your walls.

Disclaimer: The works of many of the artists in this article are part of the collection 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.


Tanya Goyal

The author is chaiperson and trustee of The Kailasham Trust

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Carol Goyal

Carol Goyal is a lawyer by training. She also has a Masters from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York.

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