Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Smart Skills
Managing art
Usha Albuquerque

ON September 2005, Tyeb Mehta’s painting ‘Mahisasura’ broke the $1- million threshold at the international auction house, Christie’s and opened the floodgates for Indian art. Since then, many modern masters such as M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, Ramkumar, Akbar Padamsee, V.S. Gaitonde and J. Swaminathan have comfortably passed the once difficult-to-imagine Rs 1-crore target.

Over the past five years, Indian art has been sizzling hot; appreciating a staggering 10 per cent faster annually than the stock market. In fact, an art investment made a year ago would have doubled its value in two-thirds the time taken by equity shares. No wonder, financial institutions are also getting into the fray. Banks in India, such as the UTI, IDBI, ICICI and others, have started accepting art as collateral for leading art-cultural institutions like Osian’s, and art galleries such as Vadhera Art Gallery and Delhi Art Gallery, even corporates are being offered working capital on the basis of their art collections.

Indian art has come of age, and for those looking at a career in fine arts, this is the time to get in. Art galleries have mushroomed, exhibitions of works of art, and art auctions attract more than just connoisseurs and critics, and even new artists can expect to eke out a decent living from their artistic endeavours. It is not surprising, therefore, that in such an environment, art management is gaining in importance.

Art management involves art curators, art gallery owners, art restorers, valuers and marketing professionals working in this field. Art management is now rapidly developing into a full-fledged profession, with a huge potential for growth.

Role and responsibilities

Art management requires you to be knowledgeable about art and works of art and understand their aesthetic and financial value. The job of an art curator is highly creative and stimulating. To be in today’s art market, the curators not only need to know all about the artist’s work and style, but also have an eye for what is good and what will sell. Curators plan the artists for the shows, the catalogues, which include the images of the work to be shown and a carefully developed argument in support of such an exhibition. Decisions about the number of works in a show, where the show is to be installed, which galleries are to be used, the appropriateness of images, and many other procedural issues are all the responsibilities of the curator. Curators may also be called upon to help corporate houses, institutions, hotels and other such organisations develop their art collections.

Some curators also own or work at art galleries where they are constantly in touch with artists, aware of new artists, trends in valuation, exhibitions and the like, while also encouraging more people to learn to appreciate and buy good works of art.

Conservation clues

Restoration and conservation is a specialised skill that aims to bring old or existing works of art to conform as closely as possible with their original condition. Restorers are also required to distinguish between fakes and the original, as works of art continue to be smuggled out, and covered up through fakes. Conservation work basically covers the preservation of all original art materials, be it paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, cloth, metal etc. and their treatment to prevent further deterioration. These are jobs requiring specialised skills. Restoration work involves using the latest laboratory technology, such as the infrared and ultraviolet scans, X-ray and chemical and microscopic analyses to assess the damage and decide on the appropriate treatments for each work of art. The process, on a single oil painting, can take between 15 days to one year to complete, depending on the extent of the damage. Sculptures, manuscripts, old photographs are also handled in a similar manner.


This field is open to anyone with a love of art. While a background in fine art, or an education in history of art is useful, it is not necessary to become an art curator, dealer or valuer of art works. What is more important is to have a passion for art and to keep educating yourself. If you are basically creative you will be able to create a niche for yourself through exciting and creative ideas for exhibitions, shows and auctions.

Professional training is mandatory for those getting into art restoration and conservation, as a damaged work could be ruined by an untrained person.

Some colleges and universities offer courses on the history of art. The National Museum Institute of Art, Conservation and Museology at the National Museum in New Delhi has set up a faculty for conservation science which offers full-time courses in art restoration and conservation. The institute also offers short-term certificate courses in Indian Art and Culture, and Art Appreciation.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has also set up restoration facilities with trained specialists, and trains professionals on the job.

However, as those in the field point out that while the technical aspects, and aesthetic abilities count for a lot in this field, knowledge, reputation, a finely tuned visual sensibility, a quick observant eye, empathy with and respect for both art and the artist are equally important.

Value addition

With so much money coming into art, art valuation is another important area of work. Without an approved valuer for art, financial institutions need art experts to help them identify and valuate an artists work, the best period of an artist and the investment prospects. There are also opportunities in areas linked to insurance of art works and the paperwork and custodial documentation that will be required.

Moreover, improvements in computer technology and the spread of personal computers have provided artists with new tools and a forum for display and auction of art works and for inter-acting with potential customers, marketers and other artists. Today, there are sites dedicated to art and art auctions. Video art is also becoming popular. Interactive computer installations and completely virtual environments are coming up, where the viewer uses a data interface such as a joystick, helmet, glove or other such item to move through two or three-dimensional projections and to interact with virtual figures or objects.

Today, more people are realising the need to preserve their investments and restore damaged objects. This has created a growing demand for skilled restorers and conservators.

The writer is a noted career expert