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KITTY ART

Here’s a joint venture that makes the masters affordable. Pool in the money and buy a Raza with your friend. But, we wonder, who keeps the canvas?

So thota vaikuntham’s voluptuous women and the anguish spilling out of Jogen Chowdhury’s canvases are beyond your wallet’s reach? Well, there is comfort in numbers—find a few friends (never mind their eye for colour), pool in the moolah and pick up that gouache. Samar Mehra did.

When this 30-year-old management executive from London visited his home in Mumbai last year, he had business on his mind. So off he went shopping in the art mart. “I had read a lot about Indian art, the skyrocketing prices and its impact across the world. A few rounds of the galleries in Mumbai were enough to convince me that this was a sure means of multiplying my money,” says Mehra. When he zeroed in on a portfolio, he found he did not have enough money. So, he approached a few friends and one of them agreed to pitch in with the money. The duo ended up buying four works that include small canvases by Jogen Chowdhury and Gopi Gajwani. “That collection came to Rs 40 lakh. I was convinced about my choices and did not want to compromise on the number or quality of works,” he smiles.

Mehra is not alone. As prices of Indian art reach new heights, fussy connoisseurs and hard-nosed businessmen alike are coming up with new ways to tap the art mart—from renting canvasses to pooling in to buy one.

Tripat Kalra of Gallerie Navya reveals that many of her clients invest as a team. Says she, “They are often friends who may not be able to buy the works individually. Some are new entrants in the art market and do not want to take the risk of taking the plunge alone.” Renu Modi, owner of Gallery Espace, has come across larger groups of five or six who jointly invest in a range of works with the sole purpose of selling them when the prices peak. “Many of these function like a kitty where all members pool in and purchase works by several artists. They sell them at regular intervals and reinvest a part of their profits.”

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Sunaina Anand, owner of Art Alive Gallery, says, “The groups usually comprise two to six individuals, all of whom come together either to purchase a single work or several works. Usually all of them contribute equally to buy all the artwork. Senior artists are popular with those looking at collectively purchasing works. At the recent exhibition of Yusuf Arakkal’s works we sold one of the canvases to a duo.”

Now, the big question: whose wall does the canvas adorn? Mehra has chosen to leave all the works with his friend in Mumbai. Others like Delhi-based Seema Shah keeps half the canvases and lets her partner take care of the rest. Shah has been buying canvases with her friend for over two years now (her possessions include a large canvas by Manu Parekh). “We started out with two works, but several purchases followed once we were clued in. Rotating the canvas is bound to be cumbersome so we prefer to keep some with each of us,” says the 44-year-old, eyes resting proudly at the Manu Parekh canvas on her walls. Some of Anand’s clients have arrangements where they each can keep the canvas for a few months. “A work could be with one of the members till it is sold, or it could be rotated so that all can enjoy it.”

With no rules to guide the still-nascent trend, collaborators draw terms and conditions on their own. “The works could either be owned jointly or can be transferred in the name of one individual. The second member could be a sleeping partner. Trust is the key and it is important that the partners have similar likes.”

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The popular picks for the joint ventures? Sharan Apparao, director of Apparao Gallery, who has sold works to innumerable small groups based in Mumbai, rattles names of blue-chip artists like Anjolie Ela Menon, Jogen Chowdhury, S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain.

According to Kalra, works by Thota Vaikuntham are most coveted. Young artists like Viraj Naik and Gurdeep Singh are also being up picked up.

The art world is divided about the trend and its long-term impact. Neville Tuli, founder chairman of Osian’s is not too impressed. “It is not viable in the long run and only structured formal platforms such as art funds will eventually bring recognition to art as a genuine capital asset.”

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Jogen Chowdhury is clearly uncomfortable about the trend. “The ultimate objective in most of these cases is selling the work. There is no sentimental value that the purchaser has with the creation.” But Arpana Caur is more optimistic. “Joint investments could emerge as a possible means for genuine art connoisseurs to take home artwork that they could not afford till recently,” says the artist, who sells her works on installments when a buyer cannot afford to pay at one go. Anand refuses to label the practice commodification. “Even individual collectors buy art for investment. So the criticism that the works are bought with the sole intention of being sold is not fair.”

Away from the debate, Mehra is a satisfied man. “The value of our works has nearly doubled. Just goes to show that two minds are always better than one.”
(Some names have been changed to protect the buyers’ identity )

First published on: 13-07-2007 at 03:21:01 pm
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