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March '07

art gallery
New Delhi

Curated by
Johny ML

Column: Version True - Uma Nair

Collecting: Madness Or Passion?

Uma Nair

Eccentric, obsessive and slightly mad, collectors have been responsible for most of the art that we see-collecting is a new pastime for cash rich Indians, with deep pockets for whom collecting has become an exercise in madness rather than passion, the scene is now looking more like a daft circus!

Soon after his work Idol Thief at Hong Kong sold for $ 1,440,000 HK, last year, Subodh Gupta ruminated over the madness for speculation and the newly fired zeal of dealers and buyers for buying an artist's works and selling it even before a year or two lapses in the rush for acquiring a profitable margin. `How does someone who buys a work of art just sell it so that he can get a better margin? This is atrocious! Where is the passion? This is collecting madness!'

In Mumbai Tyeb Mehta echoed the same, `I only read and hear about buyers, there are no collectors anymore. After all collectors collect silently for years, they have a passion about their choices. Today there are so many buyers that the identity of a collector is getting blurred,' says Tyeb.

Looking back at India's top notch collectors, including Delhi's Saatchi, Amit Judge who has now turned gallery person (Bodhi Art) it is imminently clear that , collecting is both a passion and a compulsion – an intimate relationship between research and acquisition. Often there is an additional, incidental, moment that alters a collection's direction, opening new avenues for exploration.

A meticulous attention to detail, manifests itself throughout the patterns of a serious collector's collection, which ranges from exquisite to intricate ,to important  and fine drawings, including  particularly rare and exceptional works by the Progressives.

`Building a collection of this caliber takes a great deal of time and patience, says Rene Hartman another old time collector who prefers to remain silent. Hartman a lover of abstract art says that a serious collector's enthusiasm over the years remains unabated, but a collector collects long before the world wakes up to the artist, and this quest for catching them young  requires considerable energy.
Years ago when he had his first watercolour show in Delhi, it was Vikram Lal who bought Sanjay Bhattacharya's watercolours for Rs 750 each. Another old collector who  pursued his passion for collecting avant-garde art was Romi Chopra whose toilet replete with a walk in closet is lined with sumptuous watercolours of Bhattacharya.

Collectors, continually search for works that move them. Sudip Roy the artist who has a prodigious collection recalls: ' I have always responded strongly to works where the artist had achieved a new vision by breaking through boundaries ... My response to art was immediate. I always knew when I had seen something I wanted because I would stop instantly and look straight at it. At times it was as if the artist had thrown a knife into my heart. A work of art stirs you so that you want to possess it!'
The Indian art mart sees a distinct divide between buyers and serious collectors. Buyers are the new breed who decides that they will sell a work overnight Those who buy only to sell have made collecting into a maddening exercise that changes all market considerations and sends prices rocketing through the roof.
 But the new trend with auctions shows that even collectors are part of the buy today sell tomorrow speculation. What drives a modern day collector? `Vanity, passion and status!' says a an old time collector. What drives them to sell?`

A collector gets tired of works over a period and when he wants to replenish then they sell,' says Nina Pillai who had put into Triveda 2 brilliant works from her collection. `But the true collector sells only ro invest further into art,' says Pillai.

Interestingly at auctions it is Raza who has swayed heads and counts in auctions in 2006. According to the greatest Raza collector Kunwar Arya Raza has actually trebled and quadrupled in value over the past 6 years. `But only works of value,' says Kunwar who is taking his show to Mumbai Singapore, and Hong Kong next in celebration of 85 years. But collectors and dealers are in control and we have high, low and mediocre art selling astronomical prices. But that doesn't mean everything sells, cautions Pillai who points out the works that went unsold in all auctions.
For this new breed of buyers/dealers, it's a way of controlling what happens to art after they've parted with it—hence, of manipulating its value. Dealers/buyers often rejoice, and collectors despair, that the art world is the last big unregulated business in the world. Prices can be altered by steering works to the right people in the right places.

Yet it's precisely the international auctions as well as Saffronart that have caused such a spike in the value of contemporary art. The frenzy's being fueled by the discrepancy between the primary market price for works of art sold in galleries and the dizzying prices they're likely to reach in the secondary market, particularly at auctions.


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