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The Anatomy of the Art Collector


The Anatomy of the Art Collector

Anita and her partner Rohan just moved into their new villa in palm springs. This one is in Gurgaon and not in California. At the housewarming party she was talking about the art she wants to buy for the new house. What amazed me was her knowledge of the art market. For first time art investors, Anita a 42-year-old entrepreneur, and Rohan a 35-year-old techie, definitely know which artworks to invest in. New age buyers are as knowledgeable about the market as any seasoned collector. They no longer depend purely on the advice of the art advisor at an auction house or a gallery, their own research is spot on. 

The Indian art market has had a good run off late, and it continues. An Indian Art Investor and Grant Thornton report studied the overall market performance at auction in FY23. Their findings suggest it clocked an impressive turnover of INR 1,145.5 crores ($ 144.3 M) through a sale of 3833 artworks. Further, the average price of artworks sold were INR 29.9 lakh ($37.7 K). 

New Kid in Town 

Seasoned collectors make up a large portion of the buyers in today’s art market. Be it a preferred artist, subject, series of works or group of artists, avid collectors are continually seeking their next substantial purchase. Having said that, the Indian art market has witnessed a recent uptick in new collectors who are keen to delve into art and collectibles.  The market has seen an influx of young buyers who are keen to experiment with their first collections. To encourage budding collectors, our ‘Collectors Choice’ auctions offer unique works from the oeuvre of eminent artists. This auction has no reserve and bidding begins at INR 20,000. This allows new buyers to confidently bid and acquire some rare works, says Sunny Chandiramani, Senior Vice President, Client Relations, AstaGuru Auction House. 

Talking about the India Art Fair, Director, Jaya Asokan says, the buyer base has definitely grown. We have seen a wide range of visitors at the India Art Fair over the last few years, from seasoned collectors to young buyers, and even students. Our ‘Young Collectors Programme’ aimed at nurturing a new generation of art collectors

has done exceptionally well. It pairs emerging galleries showcasing work below INR 5 lakh with young patrons in an effort to encourage young collectors to engage with and acquire art. 

Modern or Contemporary, which way is the collector leaning? 

Modern masters have established market values, historical significance, and a proven track record of appreciation over time. They are sought after by collectors and investors for their enduring appeal and potential to hold or increase in value. Established modern masters continue to hold significant value and appeal due to their historical importance and scarcity. 

Some investors are drawn to the potential for acquiring artworks by emerging or mid-career contemporary artists who have the potential to achieve greater recognition and value in the future. Contemporary art offers a fresh perspective, reflects current social and cultural contexts, and can present opportunities for high returns on investment if an artist’s career takes off. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in contemporary art, driven by the rise of art fairs, curated exhibitions, and increased visibility of younger artists, says Tanvi Kanchan, Head – Corporate Strategy, Anand Rathi Shares and Stock Brokers. 

One is seeing the contemporary art market making a mark. Gallery representations, artist residencies, biennials, have all contributed to a higher exposure quotient for contemporary artists, says Asokan. If you look at it from a market perspective, in India, paintings and sculpture are still the best-selling works. However, these days we are seeing collectors keen on digital art, as well. 

Speaking about contemporary art, Chandiramani says, notable contemporary artists that have gained international recognition include Subodh Gupta, Raqib Shaw, Bharti Kher, Atul Dodiya and Jitish Kallat. Earlier this year at AstaGuru, Raqib Shaw’s large-scale artwork titled ‘Fall of The Jade Kingdom II – Paradise Lost II’ was auctioned for INR 2,56,55,424. In 2022, an untitled work by Bharti Kher from her oeuvre of works utilising ‘bindis’ sold for INR 1,00,01,267. 

In addition to adding value aesthetically, newer collectors are looking at art as an asset. These are savvy investors and want to diversify beyond real-estate and stocks. However, in their bid to build a solid financial portfolio, they engage in the practice of art flipping, which has raised eyebrows in the art world. 

Did you say Flipping? Shh!

Flipping an artwork in simple terms means acquiring it and then putting it back in the market fairly quickly. Collectors do this to make profit on investment, or at times to dispose of a piece and add a new piece to their collection. There are ethical concerns around the practice since experts believe it negatively impacts the careers of young artists. The opinion on ‘flipping’ in the art market is divided, it doesn’t matter which side of the argument one picks, but the fact remains that it does dictate the market. 

The practice of flipping art depends on the investor’s knowledge of the demand of the said art and the value of it being readily available. Flipping has positive and negative connotations in the art world, ultimately, it depends on the motivations, approach, and impact it has on the art market, artists, and collectors’ own relationships with art. Striking a balance between financial considerations and the appreciation of art’s cultural and creative value is crucial for a sustainable and ethical art ecosystem believes Kanchan. 

For now, Anita and Rohan are considering a Bharti Kher artwork for their home. Along with the traditional patrons of art, India is also home to these new age collectors for whom art is no longer and emotional purchase but also a thought-out investment.

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