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Buying art can be an enriching and exciting experience
Mapping these contrasts and contradictions of the present-day scenario to better understand our art scene, renowned curator Alka Pande had stated in her introduction to ‘India Awakes’ show at Vienna’s Essl Museum: “I live in a rapidly changing India and I am also confronted with a global culture. I ask myself whether I – as an urban Indian – can be within a single country as familiar with a rural India as with a spiritual India, with an India of the ethnic tribes with its ethnic community, a digital India, a religious India. It would be easy to name other contrasts, but I leave it to you to imagine them.”

In keeping with the rising political and economic stature of the country, a new breed of art collectors has emerged. Their passion and fortunes seem to have only risen along with India's booming economy. The exponential growth of emerging market millionaires is tilting the scale of global art market in favor of the sub-continent. Another angle to the rising interest in contemporary art can also be treated as an outcome of search by anxious investors for a wide array of alternative assets in order to diversify their investment portfolio and also satiate their urge for the classier and aesthetic things in life.

In fact, art as an alluring asset has virtually entered into the mainstream, especially for tech-savvy younger people, who visit the portals to view not only paintings but also interactive, new media works. The newly-rich buyers are turning to passion investment, seeking out eclectic and exclusive objects perceived to possess tangible long-term worth, including art and a few other collectibles like coins, wines and antiques. A large majority of them are well-traveled business executives from software or banking industry who earn handsome remuneration.

The demand for Indian and Chinese contemporary art remains high even as art market confidence has dropped as far as the European and U.S. contemporary markets are concerned. With more than 3 million high net worth individuals (HNIs), possessing more than $1 million as estimated by the recent World Wealth report courtesy Capgemini and Merrill Lynch, Asian buyers (those from India and China, in particular) are very much in spotlight.

More than money what also matters is their willingness to be more open and flexible when it comes to imbibe new trends in the realm of contemporary art than their previous-generation counterparts, a touch conservative in their approach. For them, there is no better time to buy art than NOW. Whether they are keen to hold on to their portfolio for longer periods of time is a matter of conjecture.

Ideally, it makes sense to build a portfolio that strikes a balance between both contemporary and modern works as each category has its own market potential and strength. If the former stands for the culture and idiom of today’s times, the latter represents our nation’s glorious past and developments of the post-Independence phase. Apart from acquiring works by established contemporaries such as Paresh Maity, Jagannath Panda, Rashid Rana, Jogen Chowdhury and Arpita Singh who have recorded consistent value appreciation, many young contemporaries with immense potential, however, relatively unknown and fresh, are worth considering.

Of course, spotting them would need expert inputs so that you can choose well. Albeit a bit risky, these artists can yield handsome returns. Those promoted by leading galleries and recommended by experienced dealers harbor higher probability of rising in hierarchy and the value chain faster thanks to greater exposure – in India and internationally. The key is to invest in artists you can identify with in terms of style and form, theme and content. There are always good deals that can be struck in the range of Rs 2-10 lakh.

There are other considerations like how accomplished an artist is, how broad collector base is, and what the prevailing market trends are. Opinions and views of influential collectors and investors must also be taken into account to get a broader perspective. Develop an insight on the linkage between art and money, which is as important as the aesthetic aspect. Whether you are a general art aficionado or a serious collector, opt for advice from domain experts with proven records so that you can grasp all aspects of both primary and secondary markets.

The macro and micro elements of the art market mechanics, which help determine value, investment potential and collectability of artworks over time, should be studied and analyzed. The markets for different types of art vary due to elements like longevity, supply and demand. Aspects like liquidity, investment options, the different ways of valuing art, and price fluctuations need to be grasped. To make the task easier of buying and selling art, several online auction houses have emerged on the scene. They have simplified and democratized the process for new entrants to the market. The Web-based sales channels have opened up art to a wider user base, traversing physical and geographical constraints, bringing about a fundamental change.

A vital area often ignored is due diligence regarding the ownership history. Provenance often affects its acceptability, and hence value of an artwork. Evaluate its past history, check its origin and subsequent track record. Maintain proper documents of each work you buy. Seek assistance of specialists to determine the authenticity of a work, mostly on basis of the necessary appraisal and certification. Check whether the piece is in good condition. Know about the measures to be taken to prevent any damage to it in the future so that its value doesn’t diminish over time.

Last but not the least, going beyond the sheer investment angle, orientation and the process of building the knowledge base through constant interaction with curators, gallerists, dealers and artists themselves is equally vital so that you become an informed buyer who knows how art needs to be viewed and appreciated. Try and get a clear overview of the art scene and its social implications before you go ahead and buy art. Grasp the subtle relationship between art, markets and money. This will allow you to experience the true value and inner joy art can bring.

Critics and curators have already emphasized the need to ‘educate the influential & wealthy’ entering the domain of art. It will just take a little bit of prodding in the right direction and a proper guidance so that buyers give as much importance to enjoying the process of buying art instead of simply thinking of the artists’ market potential in view of the ideas, traditions and philosophies that drive today’s artists to decipher India’s complex social and cultural landscape.