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Invest in art, get fantastic returns!

By Aparna Krishnakumar in Mumbai
June 14, 2005 10:07 IST
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Are you one of those who wondered why a horse drawn by M F Hussain fetched over Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) or an abstract by V S Gaitonde fetched Rs 92 lakh (Rs 9.2 million) at a recent auction?

The Gaitonde painting was actually bought by Kitto De Boer, head-McKinsey (Middle East).

Surprised? Don't be.

Art as an investment is an increasing area of interest for many financial institutions, high net worth individuals and even connoisseurs of art.

Says Arunavo Nikolai Sachdev, who manages an art gallery -- Gallery 7 -- in Mumbai: "Art as an investment is considered extremely secure, and chances of an artist's work fetching a lower price than what one has paid is minimal." Their gallery handles art portfolios for some international clients as well.

Indian art has gained a global acceptance. Neville Tuli, founder chairman of Osian, the first Indian auction house states that in 1995, the market for contemporary Indian art was around Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million) and 10 years later it stands at Rs 650-Rs 700 crore (Rs 6.5-7 billion).

And contemporary Indian art is just one part of the whole of gamut of Indian art that includes ancient works, lithographs, sculptures, etchings and more.

Adds Durga Cainthola, an artist who has had more than 15 years of experience in the art industry, "Between 1995-2000, paintings like those of Tyeb Mehta could be bought anywhere between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh; in 2005 Mehta's paintings could not be purchased for less than Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million)."

Considering these various figures, art as an investment does seem attractive. But how does one go about cultivating an eye for investing in art?

Tuli of Osian warns investing in art is not for first timers, so novices wanting to make a quick buck may stay out.

Sachdev gives some tips to people who wish to acquire a taste for art and also look at the possibilities of investment.

He says, "Visits art galleries, museums, read up on artists, their work and their lineage."

According to Tuli, an exhaustive research and study will be worth the effort, after all the economic value of any art is always linked to history.

Apart from that, there is also the size.

Usually art works are available in sizes of 2 x 3 (inches) or 4 x 5 or 11 x 15 -- the bigger the painting, the higher the price.

But Sachdeva of Gallery 7 tends to disagree. He believes that while inches do give a ballpark figure on the painting, they need not be considered sacrosanct as a 3 x 2 of an Hussein from the 50s would always fetch a higher amount than a 3 x 2 of the 90s Hussein's work.

Rely on known galleries because they would be able to guide you in the art maze. Now that you know the history and the size of the painting that you might want, how do you go about selecting the artists? For investing in art, Sachdeva gives three categories of artists that will help you make your investment decision.

The first category -- 'the cream category', which, according to Sachdeva are the best investments at any point in time. These include works of masters such Hussein, Tyeb Mehta, Gaitonde, Jamini Roy, Raja Ravi Verma, Akbar Padamsee and Ram Kumar.

These 10-15 artists represent the most stable art portfolio for any art investor.

The prices for procuring art works of these people would be upwards of Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million). The second category includes works of artists such as Ganesh Haloi, Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat and Laxma Goud whose paintings would be available upwards of Rs 2 lakh.

And finally the third category includes the upcoming artists, who dabble in different kinds of mediums including digital.

According to Sachdeva, one can often come across a masterpiece even among the new artists though more often than not they tend to be a flavour of the season.

A work of art to see real growth in terms of economic value takes anywhere between 2-4 years, believes Sachdeva. There are always means to make quick money even in six months.

So, all those who always worried about the volatility of the markets and returns from mutual funds, perhaps its time that you looked at art as an alternative investment.

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Aparna Krishnakumar in Mumbai
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