April , 2019
The business of art
14:03 pm

Nikhil Raghavan

Art related to paintings has achieved great commercial success over the years. In the days of great painters like Raja Ravi Varma and Vincent Van Gogh, paintings expressed one’s creativity and talent. That many of yesteryear’s painters did not sustain themselves on their artistry is another matter altogether.

The commercialisation of the art form of painting evolved gradually during the turn of the century and, today, has reached a status of sound business for both the creators and the dealers. Art collectors and even hoarders of art have been written about from European countries like Germany and Russia.

In India, with the success of painters like M.F. Hussain who attained cult and celebrity status, many well-heeled businessmen, industrialists and corporates have invested in art, not just to create a wealth for themselves, but also to preserve the paintings for posterity.

Consequently, art galleries, curators and consultants specialized in paintings have emerged all over the country. The Piramal Art Foundation, based in Bombay, founded in 2014 by the Piramal family was formed to preserve the artistic heritage of modern and contemporary Indian art. The foundation undertakes the collection, preservation, and documentation of artworks for public display as well as for research and education.

“The Piramal family have been collecting important works of art by modern and contemporary Indian masters. The collection has grown to become one of the most important collections of modern art in the country and the artworks form a seminal representation of works by each artist. The collection, as a whole, tells a grand story of the history of Indian art from the early 18th century till present times. With each new acquisition, a great deal of thought and care goes into creating this story of Indian art that weaves itself through time and India's cultural heritage,” says Ashvin Rajagopalan, Director, Piramal Art Foundation.

The Piramal Art Foundation hopes to provide art connoisseurs with not just the ability to view the works in their collection but also access to a large volume of resources for research and study. “We have one of the largest libraries dedicated to books and documents on Modern & Contemporary Indian art as well as several resource networks that can be beneficial to scholars. Over the years the Piramal Art Foundation has supported various Arts projects. We have supported the archival and digitization of materials in artist's studios, sponsored important national fine art exhibitions and have supported arts management programmes in the country,” says Ashvin.

“The art market in India is a developing market. The establishment of auction houses within India has definitely aided the rise in this market. There are around seven (important) auction houses in India with respect to art. These are a mix of those that were started within the country, as well as big names like Sotheby's and Christie's. Sotheby's inaugural auction, Boundless India, was held in November 2018, which makes it a new player in the market. The market includes both Modern and Contemporary art, with 90 percent of sales at auction probably taking place in the Modern Art sphere. Contemporary artists seem to receive individual grants, funds etc from foundations and the like, and they participate in residencies and events like biennials/ other public art events,” informs Ashvin.

Piramal Art Foundation is a collection of about 2,000 art works across Modern and Contemporary Indian art. The collection has some of the biggest and most valuable names in Indian art including those by S.H. Raza and M. F. Husain. Piramal Art Foundation’s roster of artists include George Landser, F. N. Souza, Akbar Padamsee, Jules Schaumburg, Hemendranath Mazumdar, Gaganendranath Tagore, Abdur Rahman Chugtai, Bikash Bhattacharjee, J. Swaminathan, Jehangir Sabavala, K. G. Subramanyan, K. Ramanujam, Krishen Khanna, Manjit Bawa and Ram Kumar.

While organisations like the Piramal Art Foundation operates on a level of archiving, researching and collecting valuable paintings, the art dealers like Focus Art Gallery in Chennai endeavours to take art to the art lovers while at the same time ensuring that the creators – the painters, are given their due in terms of good value for their paintings. Says Ramnik R. Shah, who along with his son Mayur, does his business from a 20000 sq ft art gallery-cum-showroom, “In the initial days of our business we specialised in framing works of art. Painters and customers who bought these creations on canvas or paper from painters or from other sources would want their possessions to be safeguarded. We had specialised techniques in framing them so that the vagaries of nature would not affect these precious paintings,” says Shah.

Later on, when his son Mayur came into the business, Shah felt that they have to move upwards in their line of business, covering more territories in the realm of art. “So, we invited artists to showcase their creations in our gallery so that the public would get exposed to their works. Since we had a large area in our gallery, we even invited artists to hold workshops, spend time to create their works and interact with the buyers. This worked wonders as paintings started getting sold almost immediately. There are instances when we have bought up several works of a painter and set aside specific areas in our gallery for their works,” says Shah.

Ramnik and Mayur realised that while they were promoting art and artists, not only were they creating a good business model for themselves, but also ensuring that the creators of these exquisite works of art were compensated for their talent. “If writers and authors, music composers and singers all of whom are creative artists in their fields, could commercialise their art for their livelihood, why not the painter? He has a family, too. He has to save money for the next generation of his family. He has his financial commitments. Why should a talented painter live in penury? He may not be a businessman and adept at trading his wares to the general public. As an art gallery, we are not like middlemen; we are a conduit, a means to take his creations to the end buyer, the collector, and the investor,” says Shah.

Some of the painters whose works are displayed at Focus Art Gallery include Ramkumar, Laxma Goud, Senaka Senanayake, Vinod Sharma, R. B. Bhaskaran, Achutan Kudallur, Ramesh Gorjala, Thota Tharrani, S. G. Vasudev, Surya Prakash, K. R. Santhana Krishnan, G. Raman, M. Suriayamoorthy and many more.


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