Pheroza J. Godrej, founder of Cymroza Art Gallery, Mumbai.
Her call: After a correction, art sales have picked up within a range of up to Rs. 5 lakh.
Her investment idea: Start small. Buy works of art that you are prepared to live with. Returns will come eventually.
To many people, Indian art became investment-worthy, a commodity to trade in, when the capital market peaked three years ago. Investors, some of whom did not know a brush from a spatula, bought, bought and bought more. They were heavily influenced by the growing interest in Indian art, on the back of highly successful auctions and increasing participation of Indian artists in international exhibitions. Naturally, they did not want to be left out. These “money rollers” had already invested in real estate, commodities etc., and came to art last. Unfortunately for them, that was when art had attained a high premium. When the inevitable correction came, many such investors were romping mad. Illustration: Abhijeet Kini
Today, the changed scenario in the art market is that there is no desperate selling. Prices are not increasing. There is not much good work available that can be bought at a throwaway price. If people who bought at the peak of the market were to sell now, their portfolios would receive a terrible blow. What I do see now is that artists whose works were artificially priced high — and this happened through auctions — cannot expect their works to continue to command those prices now.
Sales have picked up within a particular price range. Works under Rs.5 lakh are selling briskly. This is a healthy trend and the price level could gradually be pushed up to Rs.10 lakh. However, any price upwards of that would be difficult. People are getting 5 percent returns. They are not even getting their hurdle rate, if they had committed a hurdle rate. This is not a very healthy sign. My personal view is that something as precious as art should not have been treated as a commodity to be traded in the market. Art is something personal. You have to develop an interest in it, you have to do so with a passion – not just to make money and definitely not for a short-term.
The surge had taken place during all of 2007 and the first half of 2008. The top of the moderns went up haywire. There were paintings being sold for a crore, a crore and a half, rupees. Similarly, in the case of the contemporaries, works of the top ten kept rising.
I believe that the correction has been a big leveller. Frankly, I do not think that we are going to see those prices again unless something radical happens — even in the case of F.N. Souza’s work of which there is no shortage in the market.
In the present scenario, however, you may wonder how should artists react. There are two things that celebrated artists can do: if they are working independently, they could negotiate a price with the buyer; or they could instruct a gallery to act on their behalf. Between the gallery and the artist, the price would again be lowered. I have been in this field for 38 years and I know how difficult it is to negotiate with artists, sensitive as they are. This is the ground reality and artists have no choice but to learn how to face it.
In the case of sculptures and similar works, the material cost is high, be it for copper, marble, bronze or brass. Besides, many artists don’t do everything on their own. They bring the creativity aspect, but have studio assistants for the execution. They have these costs to take care of. Further, there is a saturation point up to which a work can be pushed. A new phenomenon is that of Indian galleries tying up with reputed galleries overseas. These galleries have done well for themselves by taking Indian art to the international market. They have also raised the profile of our artists. However, when the recession started hitting America and Europe, this led to Indian art taking a knock as well. Source: ArtTactic Research
Being connected with an art fund as an advisor, I naturally have to be very, very selective and calculating. How do we go about purchasing works, you may ask. Frankly, for every work that we recommend, the first question I ask myself is, if this work goes on the market, would I buy it. As a result, except for one painting in that fund’s collection, I would buy all the paintings, if I had that sort of money. It is indeed a very good collection.
Investors in art funds should at first look at the credibility of the people managing the funds. There are no paintings when the fund is launched. Purchases come later. Investors have to take the trouble to find out who the people are, under which group are they operating. They should form a personal relationship with the asset management people and get to know, if not meet, the people entrusted with the buying. One would be skeptical of giving away one’s money to someone who would just turn it around very quickly. One could do that by investing in gold or bonds or in something one is familiar and comfortable with, but not in art.
A word of caution to young collectors who do the rounds at art galleries and find that every time they decide to buy a good painting, the price of that particular artist has gone up. My advise to them is to buy a smaller canvas within their budget. Don’t buy a signature for the sake of a signature. Be prepared to live with it. Buy one that you would continue to enjoy. You have decided to put your hard earned money into art, so why don’t you get yourself a good work of art? Don’t buy only from the point of view of how much it will appreciate. So I tell any new collector who I feel would value my advise: the gestation period is very long, buy what you like, enjoy it and look after it. Your returns will eventually come, and irrespective of what happens in the meantime, you will be the winner. (Co-ordinated by Saumya Roy)
(This story appears in the 22 January, 2010 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)