To my mind one of the biggest trends this year will be the lack of faith of senior artists in the gallery system both in India and abroad
I am usually upbeat about the new year for I feel it is more than a mere date – it is a collective feeling when new feel-good emotions are generated with a certain amount of gaiety to hope for a better tomorrow individually and collectively. To my mind, sycophants notwithstanding, the biggest negative start to a new year is the Kejriwal dampener of the even-odd number cars. Ill thought out, ill planned, insensitive; it is a terrible idea of a bad joke.
It smacks of class envy, where the real problem areas – trucks, buses and two wheelers have not been addressed, instead thousands of badly maintained decrepit buses and taxis have been let loose on the roads with scant regard to people for whom it is not possible to carpool and or drive. Delhi must be one of the few cities which perhaps has the best maintained cars in the entire country. But we middle classes have to suffer when political vote banks rule the roost. One of the reasons I am griping is that I have missed four exhibition openings and I am terribly miffed about it.
Each year by the very definition of 365 days of life and living, is a mixed bag. Like life, it can’t all be bad or all good. Only percentages vary. And by the same logic, this year promises to be no different. To my mind one of the biggest trends this year will be the lack of faith of senior artists in the gallery system both in India and abroad. Even an artist the level of Damian Hirst chose to sell his works away from the galleries when he auctioned his works for a whopping nearly pounds 200 million. It was an unsaid protest of sorts.
Not surprising, for the role of the galleries — especially in India — has undergone a change. From nurturers and supporters they want artists to be partners who take on the major brunt of expenses like catalogues, media management, part hospitality, apart from of course framing and a couple of years spent creating a show. And after all this they expect to be paid 40 to 50 percent as gallery commissions. Buyers and artists have woken upto this that it makes more sense to sell independently and this is exactly what has caught on.
Another trend that I believe will certainly catch on this year is buyers’ faith in buying art for its own sake. In a house proud city like Delhi especially, I feel people are done with listening to half-baked interior designers with equally bad taste in art and are looking for art that they like as opposed to its matching the upholstery. As masters get into the prohibitive price brackets it is about time that alive and growing artists who reflect today’s reality are given a chance.
Another reason for the masters getting even more prohibitive is that internationally Indian art is being projected as the flavour of this season and many of the Progressive masters will keep the Indian art banner flying high. For once abstract art is being given the attention it so well deserves for abstract art is the only kind of art that transcends international borders and regional sensibilities. Besides it is impossible to fake it! Even an artist is unable to recreate his own work. As I am so fond of giving the analogy that essentially we are all so racist in our heads that I don’t see a Chinese buyer buying a brown Indian realistic painting and vice versa — for sheer reasons of aesthetic sensibilities.
I am hoping that this year artists and gallerists will raise the question of a problem area that deeply affects the legitimate art market the most: The 12.5 percent tax. This tax was introduced when there was a huge boom in the market and now with the art market still not in a healthy state, this is a huge deterrent as far as sales go. With big prices bandied about for big names with prices selling in lakhs and crores, the fact is that average artists are neither able to sell in double digit lakhs nor are paintings selling everyday. Even a usually sound investment like Husain has fewer takers.
A problem area that certainly needs to be looked into is authentication of paintings. Legitimate owners of genuine works are having to run from pillar to post to get works authenticated and fall into the clutches of artists’ greedy families, homegrown foundations wanting to gain power and declare themselves to be the whole sole authenticators of artists’ works and of course galleries holding all the keys to specific artists’ works as far authentication is concerned.
Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org