Pay Rs.5,000, take home a Husain for a month

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

New Delhi : Drawing room and corporate display art have just scaled new heights. In the first rent-an-art scheme in the country, corporate houses and art lovers can now take home a ‘master’ on rent for three months to one year and then return the art work to the bank after its ‘term’ expires.

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The Art Bank, set up two months ago by Delhi-based curator Adeshwar Puri in south Delhi’s bustling business hub of Bhikaji Cama Place, is almost like any other rental agency, except for the fact that it loans art works.

“We have a database of 70 artists, including Maqbool Fida Husain, from which clients can choose. If after a year, they feel that the art work is worth it, they can always acquire it permanently,” said Puri, the owner of Exhibitions India, which is promoting the bank.

The rentals are between Rs.500 to Rs.5,000 per month depending upon the size of the work, the artist and the period for which it has been hired. The artist gets a commission for the paintings and the bank keeps the rest of the money.

Puri sources works of top masters from private collections. “I have tied with a Delhi-based private collector, who owns six M.F. Husain canvases,” Puri said.

The tie-ups have three advantages. “It saves me the trouble of going to the artists personally, many of whom are busy displaying throughout the year, it gives the collector display place and generates income for both,” the promoter said.

Tier Two artists, whose works who sell for around Rs.1 million are the most sought after. And the popular genre is abstractions in acrylic on canvas.

The idea struck Puri after a recent exhibition-cum-direct sale of art at the Chinmaya Mission in Delhi, modelled on the Miami Art Fair in the United States. “I had collected over 1,000 art works from artists across India and was flooded with portfolios. I decided to set up a database and an art rental agency,” Puri explained.

The scheme, he said, was primarily meant for corporate houses who wanted to change their boardroom and lobby décor once every six months. But the response from middle-class one buyers and private collectors forced him to expand his clientele.

Puri has rented out art works to three leading multinationals, one Delhi-based bank and a hospital, besides several small-time collectors. “The rent-an-art scheme helps clients in the sense that they can walk in without any knowledge of art, carry an art work home for a pittance, get to know about it and is free either to return it or keep it forever. The chances of being hoodwinked by consultants and professional promoters are minimal,” Puri explained.

The Art Bank adds diversity to the booming Rs.60 billion art market in India, dominated by corporate buyers, investors, galleries and private collectors. The latest addition, however, is the well-heeled individual buyer, in the age group of 27-40, who loves showing off quality art in the drawing room. And they have grabbed the market by the horns.

This category, says Ashish Anand, owner of the Delhi Art Gallery, forms a whopping 75 percent of the buyers “They are mostly young successful professionals, MNC employees, high net worth individuals with personal enterprise and non-resident Indians.”

Some of them, according to Arun Vadhera, owner of the prestigious Vadhera art gallery in the capital, are as young as 25. “They start their careers with salaries as high as Rs.10 million and make their own decisions,” he said. For them, purchasing art is a good way of telling the world that they have arrived.

Nearly 75 percent art buyers, says Anand, are young people and the remaining 25 percent are old collectors. “Eighty percent of the buying takes place in Delhi and Mumbai and the rest of the 20 percent is spread across Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai.”

The metro art market has also been witnessing a boom in the sale of works by second tier masters, “especially those who did extremely well in their prime time, but were not very well promoted”. They are getting their due now, Anand said.

Some of the revival artists, who have grabbed the largest market pie, include Sohan Kadri, Amba Das, Jyoti Bhatt, Amitava Das, G.A. Sultan Ali, Shanti Dave and Gogi Saroj Pal. “Works of Chittoprasad have seen a big-time revival this season,” said Anand.

Arun Vadhera, however, divides the fraternity into six tiers on the basis of the prices artists command, availability of their works and their popularity. “The last three tiers who usually sell at Rs.2 million, between Rs.500,000 to Rs.1.5 million and below Rs.500,000 have been doing well,” he said.

Reason: affordability. Buying art is a new trend. “Even 10 years ago, people were not ready to shell out Rs.500 for an art work,” said Vadhera. Forget investment.

But awareness and access to information are gradually changing sensitivities. And art is reaping the harvest.