Perfect platform

Art galleries can transport visitors to an altogether different world. Artistic creations, combined with the ambience, can spell magic, writes K. D. L. Khan

THE art market in India, for the sale and purchase of paintings/sculptures by 20th century and contemporary Indian artists is booming. The Indian Art section manager of the famous international auction firm of Christies estimates that in the recent times, the potential of the market has risen from Rs 600 crore (2005) to Rs 1100 crore (March 2006) and is still rising.

The artist selling straight to the buyer depends on many factors. Normally he does not have enough savvy for the task. As such he has to sell the art creations with the help of auction houses, art consultants or art galleries. These institutions work in different ways.

Auction houses acquire their art treasures from collectors or if the artist is well known, then direct from him/her. A minimum price range is agreed upon, known as the reserve price, and the work of art is placed for auction. So far there are only two auction houses in India, namely the Saffron Art and the Ossian’s. Art consultants comprise dealers and art experts who interact between the artists and the buyer charging a commission of 20-25 per cent.

The third category is the art galleries. An art gallery is a space for the exhibition of art, usually visual art, and primarily paintings and sculpture, and is mostly used as a location for the sale of art.

As on date there are 112 art galleries in India and the painting fraternity are graduating from the 62 schools of art in the country to provide art works for these enterprises. These galleries vary from the huge halls of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi, spread over three floors, to small private galleries in medium-size cities like Ludhiana in Punjab.

For the artist community, namely painters and sculptors, art galleries provide the perfect platform to exhibit their works. For when artistic creations are combined with the right ambience, it spells magic and one transcends into an altogether different world. Add perfect management by way of public and media relations and the artist can boast of having a successful exhibition. Till recently artists outnumbered dealers and collectors but today, in 2006, things are the exact reverse.

There are two types of art galleries—public and private. Of these public galleries are owned by Trusts/Foundations and the private ones are owned by individuals or corporate firms established for the purpose. The public galleries charge from Rs 2000 to Rs 5000 per day for permitting the artists to show their works in their halls while private galleries charge commission on works sold during shows.

Public galleries like the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai and the Museum Art Gallery in New Delhi are inundated with applications from various artists, with the waiting time for each artist stretching from two to four years. As such the artists have to approach private galleries. Of late in view of the great demand and the opulent art market, private galleries have mushroomed in major cities. In Mumbai alone the number had increased from 25 last year to 40 in March 2006. This is due to the fact that on analysing the success stories of contemporary gallery owners and on gauging the need of more venues, many art experts have been lured by the great fortunes to be made by opening a private gallery.

But all aspirants are not fitted for the task. "Opening of a gallery has a huge responsibility associated with it," says Dadiba Pundole, owner of the famous Pundol Art Gallery of Mumbai. It takes years of research and it is only by constant association with the artist that a dealer can master the art of identifying a good painting.

In addition to the high expense of getting the gallery premises in city-centre locations, there are many other decisions to be taken by the gallery owner. The general practice is that the gallery gets one third of the total sale price of the works sold by it on behalf of the artist. Hence it is important, that the artists selected are really top ones and have a good reputation in the art market. Occasionally based on the opinion of art critics, some private galleries might take the work of new artists. Then the burden on the gallery owner is more as he has to take care of the promotional activities, logistics, printing of catalogues, etc.

The artist invariably prefers a private gallery, for unlike the public galleries, he gets expert advice in making catalogues and marking the price of his works. If the price is too high the sales would be nil and if the price is too low he may not even recover the expense of spending months of tough grind on the work. What is more sad is that the art world quickly comes to know of the poor sales and would start quoting a lower price for the particular artist.

In recent times another nightmare for the private art galleries is the authenticity of paintings.

Usually the galleries are expected to return the money if after purchase, the buyer finds the work of art to be a fake. As such it becomes necessary to have eminent experts to advise the galleries, as once the reputation for being a careless gallery spreads, art collectors will stay away from it.

But for the first time in history, Indian artists are well sought after and the money savvy art galleries will ensure that they will profit by the boom. — MF (with inputs from Kalavishkar)