Friday, October 19, 2012

Profit OR Pleasure? Exploring the motivations behind Treasure Trends

Here's an interesting article on investing in so called collectibles like Art, Wine etc. Enjoy

In May 2012, a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, sold for a record USD$120 million at Sotheby’s in New York1 after a period of bidding lasting just 12 minutes. It joined one of only a handful of paintings that have exceeded the USD$100 million mark, including Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which sold for USD$106 million.

The world of collectibles thrives on such fairytales. Stories of investors who bought paintings, wine collections or antiques for a song and then sold them years later for millions abound in the popular media. In 2011, a painting by Roy Lichtenstein sold for almost USD$40 million. Thirteen years previously, its owner purchased the artwork for just USD$2 million. Also in 2011, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath by George Stubbs sold in London for GBP£22.4 million (USD$36 million), which was amongst the top five highest prices ever paid for an Old Master at auction. The painting had been previously purchased in 1951 for GBP£12,500 (USD$20,000).

These stories of exponential growth understandably stoke investor interest in the world of collectibles. With traditional financial markets still highly volatile and interest rates at record lows, the possibility that art, wine, antiques and other collectibles could earn handsome return that is uncorrelated with broader financial markets is certainly alluring. Add to that a post-crisis mistrust of esoteric financial instruments, and a perception that tangible, scarce and non-fungible investments could provide a stable store of value in uncertain times, and it is no wonder that a growing number of investors have increased their exposure to art, wine and other collectibles.

For today’s wealthy investor, acquiring and holding collectibles is akin to building a store of treasure. The rationale for accumulating this treasure can vary considerably. First and foremost, wealthy individuals acquire treasure because they enjoy it. It may give the man emotional or aesthetic pleasure, or be an interest that they want to share and discuss with friends. They maybe passionate and extremely knowledgeable about art, antiques or sculpture. They may enjoy exhibiting it in museums, or basking in the status that the ownership of a rare and beautiful item can bring. These are perfectly legitimate reasons for accumulating treasure, and these personal holdings can rightly form an important part of any individual’s total wealth.

Gaining access to the market for collectibles, or treasure assets, is now easier than ever. The Internet has opened up the auction process, enabling collectors more easily to bid for and acquire objects anywhere in the world. Collectibles now increasingly share the characteristics of broader financial markets. There are market indices and specialist funds, which enable individuals to invest in art, wine or other treasure assets indirectly. There are even asset-backed financing products that enable collectors to borrow against their treasure assets.

This combination of increased investor interest and more robust market infrastructure has led to a surge in activity across a wide range of different treasure assets. According to Art price, 2011 was the best ever year forsakes of art at auction. Auction house Christie’s had bumper year, with sales up 9% over the previous year to a record USD$5.7 billion. Rival Sotheby’s did even better, with a 21% increase in annual sales to USD$5.8 billion.

Boom times for auction houses however do not automatically translate into strong returns for investors. Collectibles markets are riddled with inefficiencies, are frequently opaque and illiquid, and are extremely volatile and risky. They involve high transaction, storage, insurance and appraisal costs. Appreciation in value can also incur a higher tax burden in some jurisdictions, such as the U.S. Some categories of treasure are also highly susceptible to vagaries in fashion, which can cause prices to fall as dramatically as they have risen. Of course, for many collectors the cost and financial risk of treasure are irrelevant given the intellectual stimulation and aesthetic pleasure it brings to them. But when acquiring such assets primarily for their financial benefits, extreme caution is essential. It has long been known that investors in equities and other financial asset classes can be susceptible to a host of cognitive biases that make it difficult for them to make rational decisions. With art, wine and other treasure assets, these biases can be even more pronounced. When buying a painting, for example, collectors can all too easily let their heart rule their head. The emotional and social attachment to treasure means that investors are extremely likely to make sub-optimal decisions about when to buy, sell or how much to pay.

In this report, we examine the financial and emotional motivations for holding treasure assets, and explore how they should be treated in the context of an individual’s total wealth. We look at recent trends in key collectibles markets, and assess the risks and behavioural biases associated with holding treasure as part of a broader financial portfolio. At a time when investors continue to be concerned about financial markets, tangible assets, such as art and antiques, hold strong appeal. But as we argue, they should primarily be held for the pleasure they bring, rather than any potential financial benefits.

Originally published in "Wealth Insights" from

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mahishasura - Tyeb Mehta's work may fetch £1.2-1.8m (Update - Mahishsura fetched £1.38 on 11th June 2012)

Mahisasura by Tyeb Mehta
Mahishasura - Tyeb Mehta

THE SEASON of auctions in contemporary Indian art starts in London in June and the three main auction houses, Christie’s Sotheby’s and Bonhams, have major sales coming up in the first half of the month.
The highlight of the Christie’s auction of South Asian modern and contemporary art on June 11 is Tyeb Mehta’s Mahishasura, 1996, the most important painting from this groundbreaking series, estimated to sell for between £1.2 million and £1.8 million. A painting, Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw), by Mehta, who passed away in 2009, was sold for record price of £1.973 million at the Christie’s auction in London in June in 2011.

Mehta’s Mahishasura was the first Indian contemporary painting to have crossed the million-dollar barrier in 2005 when it was sold for nearly $1.6 million.

The Indian modern and contemporary artists do not command high prices in auctions compared to European artists — Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s iconic pastel drawing, The Scream, made history in May as it was auctioned for $119.9 million by Sotheby’s in New York.

The Christie’s auction is also offering Cinq Sens, 1958, a quintessential work by M.F. Husain, which was formerly in the collection of the world renowned Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini and his Indian wife Sonali Dasgupta. The painting, estimated to sell for £400,000 - 500,000, was a gift from Husain to his friend, Rossellini, who left India with newfound love, awareness and creative consciousness. “Christie’s is delighted to be offering the seminal painting, Mahishasura, by Tyeb Mehta; one of the artist’s best and most iconic works to come to auction,” Yamini Mehta, director of South Asian modern and contemporary art at Christie’s, said.

“Heavily inspired by ancient mythology and Hindu literature, Mahishasura recounts the legend whereby the Brahmin demon-king Rambha produces an invincible son through his union with a she-buffalo,” Christie’s said.

The auction house also compared the Tyeb Mehta painting with Picasso’s Guernica. “Mehta fuses ancient imagery with simplicity of form, colour and line, resulting in powerfully modern works full of fresh vitality. Stylistic devices evident in the present work — such as the simultaneity of perspective and figures, the juxtaposition of linear and volumed representation, and varying frontal and profiled angles of vision — conjure images of Pablo Picasso’s pivotal work, Guernica. Just as Mehta was inspired by the bull, Picasso also regularly depicted multiple forms of the bull and most often the mythological creature, the Minotaur,” the auction house explained.

(As printed in The Asian Age )

Read more about the Modern Masters of Indian art - on how they became the auction house favourites

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fall in art prices – artists follow the affordable art route

The market in 2011 has not been very favourable for Indian art. After the euphoria that existed in 2006, the prices of Indian artists have mellowed down. Both modern and contemporary artists have shown a falling trend. For instance, there has been a 20% drop in price of Raza’s paintings (source: Art trust).
Artists however have adopted a new strategy to make sure that their art is still affordable to the public. There is a noticeable two-fold strategy they are following:

Artist are creating smaller format works and reducing their per square feet prices a bit. The combination makes sure the works are affordable and does not hurt their overall market price (in terms of square feet).

The other strategy to provide the public with affordable art is to move to the use of pen / pencil mediums rather than acrylic or oil as they can justify the lower prices. Most of these are done on paper, which again is a relatively inexpensive material.

This is a win-win situation and a quite innovative one at that. Art lovers get to buy their favourite and/or renowned artists at lower rates than the usual canvases. This also makes art more affordable to a larger base and helps bring in new collectors wanting to possess an artwork. On the other hand, this strategy helps the artist increase their fan base and keep their tillers ringing. It also encourages innovation in their works in terms of subjects.

I think now is the time to make purchases of renowned artists, as they may not be this affordable a time later. It’s a good chance to possess some previously unaffordable signatures and names.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Masters and the economics of art

When Syed Haider Raza moved home from Paris to Delhi last December, it was a monumental decision for him. Personally, it meant the artist was giving up a city that had made him an internationally recognised artist.

Professionally, the only surviving member of the four top-selling masters of modern Indian art was shifting back to the land of his inspiration at a time when the other great of this quartet, MF Husain (1915-2011 ), had quit the country due to controversies.

Art watchers know well that any movement in the lives of Husain and Raza always came loaded with possibilities as the two, along with FN Souza (1924-2002 ) and Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009 ), commanded - and continue to command - 50-60 per cent of the total Indian art market.

Though there is no established monitor for Indian art - with the field relying mostly on independent estimates by various agencies - a majority of the experts agrees that the Big Four hold more than half of the total market. The market itself is valued at anywhere from $100 million to $ 400 million (roughly Rs 1000-1600 crore).

This is, however, a finite market, as Husain, Souza and Mehta have passed away. Mehta, anyway, was not a prolific painter and created only about 200 canvases in his lifetime though it was his 'Mahishasura' that had first crossed the million dollar mark when it fetched $1.54 million at a Christie's auction in September 2005. Husain and Souza were productive but the frequency with which their canvases will come into the market will depend on the collectors who hold them.

True to form, in less than a year after his shift from Paris, Raza mounted an exhibition of his latest works, 'Punaraagaman' (Return), in Delhi recently. Given the gestation period that each painting has to go through before it becomes hot property, the paintings may not immediately set the auction world afire. But they are important in a market that is beginning to expand beyond Mumbai, Delhi and overseas where 90 per cent of it is located.

Ashish Anand of Delhi Art Gallery, who had hosted the most ambitious show of the Progressive Artists earlier this year (Souza, Husain and Raza were founder members of this group and had blazed a trail by giving an Indian identity to modern art), says, "An established collector would aim for paintings from Raza's best phase from the past. But for those who have just got acquainted with art and want to possess one of the top signatures, these new paintings are important as older Raza paintings don't come up easily in the market. That's significant for Indian market if it wants to expand."

The Indian art market that has come under sharp focus ever since it started growing rapidly in the early years of the last decade is highly lopsided - the collector base is of just about 500, largely located in two cities. That's ridiculous if it wants to make a dent internationally like China has done. The Chinese art market is 40 times that of India's.

If the market has to grow, it will soon have to expand base to newer territories. Art watchers hope that as Tier II and III cities acquire more money power, art will find takers beyond Mumbai and Delhi. Sapna Kar of the India Art Collective initiative, whose online art fair, the first in the country, concluded last evening, says, "I have received queries from Hyderabad, Surat and Gaya. The database of Indian collectors is not more than 500 in number. How much art will an individual consume? A big chunk of the future of Indian art lies in smaller cities where the people have the money to buy art but no exposure yet." Menaka Kumar-Shah, the Mumbai-based head of New York auction house Christies, cites the example of collectors in Coimbatore who are beginning to set up art institutions.

Another big push that Indian art would soon need is in the form of non-Indian foreign buyers. Dr Hugo Weihe, who heads the Indian and Southeast Asian Art department at Christies, New York, says, "At one of our sales last year, a Husain canvas was picked up by a non-Indian American buyer for $1 million plus, and there is a lot of interest in Indian art by Chinese and Indonesian buyers at our ongoing Hong Kong sales. This curiosity will help Indian market to grow."
But even as the market grows and embraces new collectors, a demand for canvases by the big four continues to remain high because anybody with enough money to buy top-end art wants to own a Husain, a Raza, a Souza or a Mehta. The enduring popularity of the super sellers had even survived the recession with aplomb, taking a dip initially but recovering quickly. The November 2011 report on the state of the Indian art market by London-based analyst ArtTactic also says market experts remained strongly positive about modern Indian art though the overall ArtTactic Indian Art Market Confidence Indicator was down by 28 per cent from April 2011 due to a drop in confidence in the Indian economy by 69 per cent.

Maithili Parekh, director, Sotheby's India, says that it is the historicity of modern masters - a term that would also include, besides the top four, artists like Jamini Roy, the Tagores, VS Gaitonde, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar and a few others - that makes them so attractive. "They forged a new identity for Indian art with their path-breaking work when a newly independent India was seeking its own identity. They captured the strong political and social influences of the time beautifully," says Parekh. Arun Vadehra, Christie's consultant in India who also heads the Delhi-based Vadehra Art Gallery (and host of Raza's latest exhibition), adds that buying a canvas by a top-end modern master is like buying "a piece of history."

As Published in the Times of India

Profile of S.H Raza

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What’s the secret behind the demand for the top Indian modern artists?

Indian modern art

S.H.Raza, F.N Souza, Tyeb Mehta, V.S.Gaitonde, M.F Husain, Amrita Shergil are the current auction house favourites of the Indian Modern art market. The paintings of these 5 artists form the top 10 most expensive Indian paintings sold till date.

How were these artists able to influence western art collectors and create a million dollar market for themselves? A careful look at their careers show that there are some common factors between them

One of the most uniting factors is that all the above artists except Amrita Shergil were part of the Progressive Artists Group. Infact F.N Souza, S.H Raza and M.F Husain were the founding members along with two other artists.

The Progressive artists group was founded in 1947, after the Indian independence, in Mumbai. It was formed as an antithetical movement to the nationalist style of art followed by the Bengal School of Art (the foremost art institution in Indian at the time of Independence). The Progressive Artists Group combined Indian subjects with post-impressionists style, cubism and expressionist styles. The group was a key influence on the way Indian art evolved from then.

The second factor that binds the Indian Modern Art favourites is that most of them either lived or worked in centres of western modern art like London, Paris or New York. The only exceptions were M.F Husian and V.S Gaitonde. Their works were influenced by the styles and techniques of the western artists.

S.H Raza graduated from the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, after which he lived in Paris with his wife. Amrita Shergil was born in Hungary and also graduated from the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts and worked in Paris for 5 years before moving to India. F.N Souza and Tyeb Mehta spent a good part of their careers in New York and London.

One could assume that the combination of a style that the western art market is acquainted with and the exotic Indian subject could have made art collectors gravitate towards these artists. The western audience would have preferred styles that they were familiar when venturing into foreign territory.

The third common factor is that 4 of them, Husain, Gaitonde, Souza and Tyeb Mehta, are alumni of the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai and Raza and Shergil from the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

"Well, I think we have a winning combination to pick Indian modern artists – progressive art group members who have extensive exposure to western art markets and alumni of either the JJ School of Arts or Ecole Nationale" ;-)



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Arpita Singh's mural to create a new record in Indian art

ARPITA SINGHWish Dream, 2001, Oil on canvas, 287 x 159 in

NEW DELHI: The leading ladies of Indian art seem to be on a roll. Just five months after Bharti Kher's elephant sculpture fetched a record Rs 6.9 crore, Delhi artist Arpita Singh is set to establish a new high. The sale of her mural — estimated at Rs 8-10 crore — will make her the country's top-selling woman artist.

The 16-panel mural, an impressive 24 ft x 13 ft in size, will go under the hammer on December 9 at the Saffronart winter auction. Thus far, women artists were not in the all-male charmed circle of sky-high prices.

Both Kher and Singh are changing that. So in art, as in life, does gender matter? Not for the flamboyant Amrita Shergil , the first to reach the crore-mark, but then came a slump. Says Dinesh Vazirani of Saffronart, "During the era of the Moderns, male artists such as those from the Bombay Progressive group dominated the art scene."
In a way, it's fitting that Arpita Singh has turned the spotlight back on female artists. The unbeautiful middle-aged woman has always been a central figure in her paintings. "I begin by painting a figure and it turns out to be a woman," Singh said.

The work going on sale has two women as pivotal figures, both elevated to goddess-like beings that seem to hold together and direct the rest of the painting's diverse cast of characters and everyday objects.

Times of India 16 Novermber, 2010

Bharti Kher's Elephant

Monday, November 15, 2010

Affordable Art Market Picks UP

Untitled, R.B.Murari, 2010 -
coutresty Monsoon Canvas

The art market has had a spate of activities in the recent past with a lot more slated to happen in the next few months. Despite the increase in the number of events and exhibitions, sales in the primary market are yet to reach the levels seen prior to 2009.
However, there are indications that there is a rise in sales of art which can probably be categorised as 'affordable' and is in the range of Rs 20,000 to Rs 75,000. This segment is probably expanding and benefiting the most. Artworks by young contemporary artists, especially those who have created a niche for themselves in the last few years and have also sustained themselves through the period of recession, continues to find buyers.
This segment, although priced higher, is sustaining itself thanks to a loyal buyer base, and it is clear that the artists benefiting the most are those who have continued to focus on quality and have been less prolific than others. A recent survey of confidence levels in the art market which based its analysis on results from secondary sales and auction reports indicates that the strength shown earlier in the year was unable to sustain in the recent months.
According to the report, 'The Indian auction sales season failed to meet market expectations. The total auction value for modern and contemporary Indian art at Sotheby's, Christie's and Saffronart came in 20 percent below the low presale estimate'.
However, it goes on to clarify that a probable cause for this could be 'over-ambitious valuations' and 'lack of quality works' which may have put off buyers. But, the overall prognosis suggests that the market is levelling out after a period of recovery. Interestingly, although there is a marginal dip in the positive sentiment in the market, the report suggests a promising short-term outlook in the next six months, although the pace is likely to be slow.
Economic Times online 15 November 2010