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BW Businessworld

Bringing Democracy To Art

Crowdfunding will not only allow art lovers to own a 'part' of the painting but could also boost india's art market

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Last week 25,000 strangers came together in one of the first ever ‘crowd funded’ cash raises worldwide to buy a Pablo Picasso painting for 2 million Swiss francs (about 1.7 million Euros). None of them will get to hang the masterpiece on their living room wall, but each one of them will ‘own’ the art work nevertheless. The 1968 painting titled ‘Buste de mousquetaire’ (Musketeer Bust) was offered up on Swiss bargain site Qoqa through the issue of 40,000 shares, each at a price of 50 Swiss francs. Eventually, 25,000 art lovers paid up to grab a piece of the masterpiece’s ownership.

Fractional ownership of art is a new phenomenon. In an art world often described as ‘closed and obscure’, it was the brainchild of Pascal Meyer, the founder and CEO of Qoqa to ‘democratise’ the buying of art. When he first mooted the idea, nay-sayers thumbed it down; when he proposed the sale of a Picasso, the universal verdict was ‘impossible’. Not to be deterred, Meyer obtained the 58 x 28.5-centimetre painting, which portrays what looks like a man with a pointy beard and moustache, and a lacy collar from a European seller. He put a team of specialists on the job to certify the authenticity of the painting, and to arrive at a ‘fair price’ for the art work to be put on offer. Meyer’s public offer on the ‘musketeer’, in keeping with the spirit of the painting, also mandated that the owners would agree to comply with a ‘all for one, one for all’ pool decision making. The first decision was on where to display the painting. That honor has been bestowed on to the Mamco modern art museum in Geneva. Each of the 25,000 owners of the ‘Buste de mousquetaire’ has been issued an ownership card, bearing individual unique numbers, and a picture of the painting, allowing them to come admire the painting at will, for free at Mamco. And of course, the ‘musketeer’ is open to public viewing till October 2018 at Mamco, post which it will move to a new destination voted by its new owners.

Art ownership has always been a preserve of the ultra-rich. Paintings change hands at global auctions at stratospheric prices and then almost go into hiding into private collections, rarely to be displayed for public view. Only very few works get moved into the public domain at museums which can be accessed by the general public.

The new movement towards fractional ownership in art, like in the case of the ‘Buste de mousquetaire’, could have two very significant points of impact for Indian art. Ownership and display. For example, very little is known about the 1965 Vasudeo S. Gaitonde abstract work that fetched a whopping $4,415,008 (then, approx. Rs 28 crore) at Christie’s in 2015, the highest ever for an Indian painting. It obviously found its way into a private collection and is largely hidden from public view. The Top 500 most expensive Indian works of art sold so far collectively are, as per Artery India, priced at a cumulative amount of $367.9 million (Rs 1,936.6 crore) and come from a total of 32 artists, 17 of whom are modernists, five are pre-modernists and 10 are contemporaries. An educated guess is that these 500 works could be owned by less than 100 top collectors. And most of these top works never get to be seen except in the privacy of very, very elite homes in India, and abroad. Fractional ownership of art, were it to happen in India, would broaden the base of ownership by perhaps 10,000 per cent!

More importantly since the artwork would not belong to any one collector, it would willy-nilly have to be put up in a museum, hence become a more ‘public property’.

The fractional ownership of art could also provide a new fillip to the Indian art market which is, and has been, in doldrums since the past 10 years. While art funds have had a lukewarm record in India, with past experiments by The Yatra Fund (2005) and the Osian Art Fund (2006), not having done too well, crowd-funding of single artworks could perform much better.

First and foremost, many young art lovers, currently still contemplating getting into buying good art, could join the ranks of art collectors. To illustrate this, let us consider that an F.N. Souza priced at Rs 2 crore were to be on offer. If the fractional ownership could be divided over 200 owners, then the individual outgo of every buyer would be a mere Rs 1,00,000. A small price to own a potentially high growth asset for the future. Unlike the art funds that failed in the past, this crowd-funded approach is completely transparent: the pricing is known to all, decisions to exhibit or sell would be taken by pooled logic and most likely the artwork would remain in full public view, to be enjoyed by all.

There is also a possible upside for the artist in this model. While early-career works of artists cost a relatively small amount when first sold (and so don’t bring much income to an artist) they can go on to be some of the costliest pieces in an artist’s oeuvre. Fractional ownership can put aside a small but significant stake for the artist who then continues to benefit from incremental value created at every subsequent sale of the artwork.  
Fractional ownership is a democratic way to bring equity into the art market. It is the way to the future. As evidenced by the ‘Buste de mousquetaire’. India awaits.

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.

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Magazine 12 May 2018 crowdfunding art gallary

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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