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MAY 2008 NEWSLETTER
Reports from the Front, by Carole Leiff Artworks on artnet  

India: The Art Apocrypha Capital of the World (or, the Seven Chakras of People Who Don’t Buy Western Art & Never Will)

In their ferocious quest to find truth, justice, and the American way of collecting art in developing countries, certain anonymous, letter-writing, emerging collectors have withstood extreme hardship, windburn, even ridicule at the hands...I mean feet...oh heck, maybe I do mean hands...of six-foot-two barefoot boys who travel in packs in select neighborhoods of certain undeveloped nations.

And why? I don’t know. Why not?

What I do know is that there is an inexorable thirst to find out whether and if western emerging art flies in developing countries.

Simply put, can western contemporary art have the same idiotic stranglehold on collectors from burgeoning nations as it seems to have on the developed world?

Not one to give away surprise endings, I’m quite incorrigible, and the answer is, surprise ending or no, yet another resounding "no."

And by the way, for those cynics among you, Indian art has crept up (well, maybe exactly crept) 830% in the past ten years.

(This is not to say that an untenable trade deficit vis-à-vis Western and Indian art hasn’t developed. While voracious Americans will collect anything exotic, those darn Indians just refuse to reciprocate.)

We now offer critical excerpts from our arcane stolen letters. Read on:

"We are back from India. We visited many artists at their homes (which usually double as their studios) as well as galleries. We spent time with key Indian collectors.

"The market is dramatically high priced, as wealthy Indians (ed. note: including, but not limited to, Czae Shah, Lekha and Anupam Poddar, Priti Paul and Vijay Mallya - India’s response to Richard Branson and infamous for his ‘Kingfisher Beers and Airplanes Empire’) are emerging faster than almost any other international group. They love contemporary art, but only their own.

"It’s sort of a closed economic system with several committed art players bidding up the value of their own artists. (ed. note: Hmmm...now where have I heard that before?) Some artists’ works are already too expensive to buy comfortably. And the collectors just want to own these works and don’t seem concerned with selling them later on. (ed. note: We’ll see about that.)

"Less well-known artists make very good work that fits into any good contemporary collection and is still affordable. (More on these artists later.)

"We also encountered a fascinating new type of auction house/gallery: Saffronart.

"Saffronart holds regular auctions online and publishes a fine catalogue. Very good Indian artists give the online auctions their work with the support of their galleries (ed. note: Chelsea dealers take heed.) Folks then bid only online for a defined short period of time. When the bidding gets down to a few ‘finalists,’ it continues unabated until one ‘wins.’

"Pricing seems fair and this is actually a pretty good place to find very good things. Indians are kings of the internet. So all this makes sense to them and probably the rest of us as well.

"Your last art letter was very strong, and I would agree with much of what you’re preaching. It’s probably the case that the very rich will continue to buy culture at any price, but the rest of us simply can’t afford to do that.

"Being able to make money on art in a short window gave this market a huge jolt -- in fact, it repositioned the entire ‘art as an asset’ category into something sexy, exciting and adventurous with the seductive overtones of gambling.

"It also made the pursuit of art much more fun for everyone. It would be sad if this all went away. (ed. note: That depends upon whom you ask.)

"We’re finding that collectors who have been at this can now concentrate on buying new things that fit into a collection, but are not yet beyond the pale in terms of price. One can then reach into one’s storage (ed. note: if you actually have enough art to need storage) and shift things around to satisfy the need for change, and change drives us all.)

"Our personal buying is less frenzied, but not less enjoyable. The results continuously feed a habit while enriching a collection.

"The Indians may have it figured it out best:

   1. They buy their own art.
   2. They pay high prices for things they like.
   3. They support thier own emerging culture.

"Few of them sell. Increasing numbers buy. Their artists get better by the minute. And they love to show off emerging art by artists of their own locale. Now that’s a good collector!"

Now these opinions do not reflect those of our station manager because he’s never been there, and we have no responsibility for the data contained herein, but you really have no choice unless you want to go to India yourself. And that’s expensive.

Furthermore, not only do we here at artnet expose the rudiments of art collecting in developing nations, but we also give tips on whom to collect.

Once again, for you big buck guys (and you know exactly who you are), the names are: Anish Kapoor (at $2.5M), Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher (Subodh’s wife), Sudarshan Shetty, Ravinder Reddy, Chintan Upadhyay and India’s answer to Damien Hirst, Atul Dodiya (sold recently in Hong Kong for $400K).

For those of you Florida-type early-birders, the names are: Jitish Kallat (definitely up-and-coming) and a very young artist named Avishek Sen (superb), as well as Shibu Natesan and T.V. Santosh (also sold in Hong Kong at $410K.)

And could someone please tell me what’s up with these guys in Hong Kong?

Some museum directors have also cited: Mithu Sen, Reena Kallat, Shilpa Gupta and Kabir Mohanty.

So for now, grab some Evian, go get some spurs (because you’re going to need them in India), and hop onto someone else’s sacred cow. These paintings are going faster than a pastrami sandwich at 6 o’clock in Miami Beach.


Anish Kapoor
Spire, 2004
Gladstone Gallery


Jitish Kallat
Sundried Afternoon - Emerald Rain, 2004
Bodhi Art


Mithu Sen
False Friends [Half Full], 2007
Bose Pacia


Subdoh Gupta
The Way Home, 1998-1999
In Situ


Shilpa Gupta
Untitled, 2005
Bose Pacia


Shibu Natesan
Untitled, 1998
Great Banyan Art Company Private Ltd.



T.V. Santosh
Untitled, 2002
Great Banyan Art Company


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