Thursday, September 24, 2009

Art, artists, collectors and the gold rush

SHIVA Viktor Vijay 78"X58

Art, artists, collectors and the gold rush

A clever collector apart from targeting big profit also climbs up the socio-cultural tower and is viewed as the prince charming by ordinary mortals on ground. The success with money is as daunting as failure with it. But a true collector collects for love and love alone shall prevail. To be rich is not a curse, the curse is if it makes us fall.
Fundamental to high speculative profits is near monopoly accumulation. Decades early in Delhi I knew of consortium of investors/speculators many of them in top jobs in IBM and multinationals in India who would accumulate individual company shares. When the market had risen spectacularly and they dumped them to reap high profits. It worked quite a bit. In art the accumulation principle is applied with a caveat. Each artist may produce works of differing quality and aesthetic value. Here the role of collector, art advisers, dealers and galleries becomes crucial in buying the right kind of art.
Collecting unsung new artists is normally low risk but may offer possibility of very high return if the collectors are able to foresee the future growth and value of particular art or artists. When Durand Ruel (1831—1922) the French art dealer supported and collected works of Impressionists—Claude Monet, Degas, Renoir, Manet and Pissarro and others there was hardly a value attached to them. Impressionism was not recognized as a new art movement then. In all Durand collected thousands of works of these artists straight from their studios to the extent of going near bankrupt. People must have thought Ruel to be nuts when he bought such visionary art. It is still the largest single collection of Impressionists art. But today this collection may be worth hundreds nay thousands of million dollars.
Charles. Saatchi known to bulk collect works by artists he thinks have potential to go big time and then off loads wholesale at right time to reap big He collected YBA, Hirst Sean Scully etc, and got richer by millions of dollars.. Collectors of the ilk of Aby Rosen collect large number of works from an individual artist. Remember bulk ‘collections’ of known collectors are worth much more than individual works separately sold belonging to an artist.
Bulk buying is not same as herd buying. Some names become fashionable for a short time and then take long vacation. When market was booming some artists’ paintings were touted in the art circle as a good buy (mind it not as good art) and everyone was trying to buy without knowing any thing about her/his work/history or art journey or in some cases about what she/he paints.. I hear many of such artists are in dire straights and so are all those who were buying their works more like a stock market hot tip. The collectors in many cases are not able to sell them even for 20% of the price they paid.
Nearer home in India in 80’s Badruddin Daya a shoe-business magnate would buy up whole exhibitions of artists that were yet untested at highly discounted prices. Ashish Anand of Delhi Art gallery is also known to buy up whole collections from artists. But the obverse side too, I know of many bulk buyers who have lost quite a bit by ill advised collection of junk art or I should say only junk. But who can tell you that you have junk if you are deep pocketed dollar billionaire. What happens if the genie in bottle vanishes and has to be replaced with a fresh sea catch it still is art if the artist /collector says it. And of course other lesser mortals willingly bite the bait. I remember Bertrand Russell in one of his books on nuclear holocaust said what would happen if a mad person become President of U.S.A. who would dare tell him that and he could jolly well blow up the world.
There is uncouth speculation and possible price doctoring in art market of today. If you look at long, very long time it took for the art of Van Gogh , Renoir, Manet, Monet, Kandinsky, Juan Miro etc took to arrive at the millions of dollar value in comparison to the very short period it took many of the present day artist celebrities to arrive at stupendous prices—selling for 10’s or 100’s of million dollars.(many of them have turned their art into a factory produce churned out by coolie labour and only signed by them) Imagine and compare the creative worth of a diamond studded platinum mould of a skull with the Sunflowers by Van Gogh. Van Gogh changed our life for good with his paintings; he imbued passion, romance and freedom of soul unheard of earlier in artistic expression. What does the diamond skull proclaim other than that it required a very rich person to create it and another very rich person to buy it with no talk of virginal imagination or creativity? Unfortunately quite a few middle level artists in India have come to imitating the path of the Western current market celebrities. I would call them market celebrities for their worth—real or doctored—is seen as price leaders and not necessarily imaginative path creating art leaders. No society recognizes its boorishness, its left to later generations to recognize it.
Like the totemic cult societies of yore one of the most secretive markets in the world is art market. The mechanism of price determination is therefore one most unreliable. Who are the price players and bidders is not visible. Allegations surface that the sellers and the buyers are proxies especially in auctions. When it comes to greed of making a fast buck quite few market players are Madoff like.
There are more pitfalls in art market structure but it definitely does not mean white winged angels do not exist. Otherwise how you have such stupendous collection of art gifted to state museums or exist in private museums. There are smaller mortals who have become legends for their visionary collections and at times against tremendous odds. Dorothy and Herbert Vogel have collected thousands of art works with their very modest incomes from jobs of a postal clerk and Brooklyn librarian. They lived in one bed room apartment and stored thousands of art works from likes of Christo, Andy Warhol and Donald Judd They gifted away all their collection to Museums all over U.S. Imagine they used one spouse salary for their living expenses and with the other they collected art. They are a legend and to me and of course to many around the globe they are in line with Frick, Solomon Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and others who gifted so much art to humankind. I hope some of the Indian billionaires are listening.

Viktor Vijay

Monday, September 21, 2009

An Indian Modernist—D.K.Roy Choudhery

An IndianModernist—D.K.Roy Choudhery

In the dust of time settle great till someone with discerning eyes take the dust off. I look around me a mad rush and networking to proclaim in a cacophony of market place even flying-in-the-wind pieces as great art, but there were others who worked a lifetime to explicate from the deeper recesses of their souls to give us lasting and refreshing art. They were not daunted by the exigencies of the market place; they painted what emerged from deep within.
One such was D K Roy Chowdhury. His students from college of art Delhi or Kolkata and his colleagues likewise say he was one exceptional—as a human as a teacher and as an artist. He was unassuming about his creations or may be what he created was so way ahead of times that he did not bother about appreciation.
The present exhibition titled ‘An Indian Modernist’ is mounted at Studio Vasant. It has a cross section of his works. From watercolours done in softer floats of colour to life studies and minimalist and expressionist near-abstractions, he did it all.

The water colours carry the stamp of mastery that can emerge from Kolkata alone Look at his soft musical rendition in Landscape-IV and Landscape-II .The Landscape-III and ‘Snow’ are semi-abstract warm orange and yellow sunny landscapes and. in more ways than one are kindred with landscapes of Ganesh Holoi. The loving care with which he handles portraits is visible for example when you see ‘A portrait of a hill girl’. The amazing ease with which he jumps from academism to creative freedom can be seen in works like ‘Children at play’ and ‘Face of a lady.’ reminding one of Matisse’s portrait of his wife. His minimalist Symbolist expression is at its zenith in works like ‘Breeze’, ‘Evening’, and Desertscape’.
Lest you may miss, look at Roy Chowdhury’s example of very contemporary abstraction. His grid like compositions with thick moody brush in ‘Juxtaposed’, ‘Boundless energy’, Urbanscape, leave you asking for more. He to me is an Indian Robert Motherwell whose large canvasses in The MoMa New York Stunned me into submission with the seductive dark and black line work. Ram Kumar romances colours in his abstract landscapes while Roy Choudhery renders silence with his muted frugal palette (see his Hill View) and we love both.
A wide range of creativity from form based to abstraction by this versatile artist are in line with the contemporary German artist Gerhard Richter who works very realistic smudged portraits to total abstract celebration of colour rhythms.
This is an exhibition that should not be missed for historical context, and a landmark art that has incidentally gone largely unrecognized but holds high aesthetic value.

Viktor Vijay Kumar

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Journey of an Artist,......20

L' Homme qui tombe Viktor vijay 34'X42"
Night was long and I was tired. I decided not to complicate things, and did not intend to sound brash to the fine hospitality so lovingly offered. Two great cultures separated by time and space were brought together by the quirk of fate in the same bed. So be it, life, love, humanity and civilization must flourish and bloom. Rules and taboo are subservient to the time, space, and evolutionary process. There are no absolutes. I bowed to the destiny. Whispering night and sweet Tana spun a magical web, she sailed with me to unknown joyous lands. The spirit climbed glades of unparallel beauty. She made me realize the string music of my body and opened the closed doors to my soul. I offered my soul at the altar of love that transcended the physical into eternal. Soon I would realize greater truths about life and living. The eternal journey was on.

Dawn breaks quite early in Himalayas. After crossing hills and valleys of love, I left the bed at day break. The warm bonhomie of the previous day continued through the new day. Tana offered me milky hot tea and her refreshing dew-fresh smile. We had talked long in the night and I discovered her soul's finesse. Even one night of sharing souls could invest lighted joys in humans. And we were no different in this regard. I breakfasted with the family. Mani enquired if I had a comfortable night. I said yes, though it was replete with strong winds and mighty blizzards. He told me that he was delighted that I felt good and relished their hospitality. I thanked Mani profusely for all that he provided me. As a mark of my gratitude, I offered Mani a jacket and Tana an old Byzantine silver coin. I left general use medicines for the village for common maladies. For myself I carried away a lot of folk history, and a fairy tale night of celebration. Fragrant memory of my stay among the forgotten warriors of Alexander was an additional gift.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Spark in down turn art Market

New York Times carried a piece by Roberta Smith on the survival tactics of New York City galleries in the face of economic downturn. Different solutions worked out to survive mostly revolve around operational cost cutting--shifting to cheaper spaces, reduction in employees, holding fewer and longer duration exhibitions,reduced advertising and curatorial expenses, avoiding participation in art fairs and so on.
But one gallery is spending time to unearth little known or undervalued artists who have not made it big.
The business model found resonance while I discussed the down turn in art market with artist friend Pramod Ganpatye. He said it is time the the undervalued senior artists were looked up by galleries and curators. There is great substance in this argument. Market lifts prices continuously for artists who arrive in so called higher circuits of galleries and auctioneers. This one -way focus on select artists is built by HNI who have personal interest o built up prices of their collection. Just imagine what the auction price of $136 million for the Klimt's portrait of Lady Adele Bloch Bauer
might have done to the prices of Klimt that were held as inventories by deep pocketed collectors. But think what happened to the Irises and Vase with 12 Sunflowers by Van Gogh that were sold for millions of dollars to Japanese collectors and who on bankruptcy found the sales value depleted to half or even less.
Market is an ass and builds on blind following. The good artists get left behind for they do not know to market themselves quite often. To look for keen value in art and to find good art among artists who have slogged for decades unsung and living in the isolated privacy of their studios is what the galleries should be doing in India too.
There are those who found name and money but then slipped many a notch to find problems in paying apartment EMIs or to maintain trucks/SUVs they bought while the going was good.But others never had an impact of down turn for they were never part of the senseless upturn.
The art world must find values in art not based on glitter but iron strength of creativity. its high time someone in India also does what New York gallery is doing in uncovering the dust from unsung but mean priced art.