In an interesting trend in the Indian art market this summer, parity in prices between works by contemporary artists and modern masters is prompting buyers to settle for the latter.
A large body of first-time buyers are choosing works by established artists primarily because of the timeless quality and the brand attached to their works. According to industry estimates, the Indian art market is valued at nearly Rs.500 million.
A painting by top line contemporary artist Subodh Gupta now costs almost the same as a small "good quality" canvas by M.F. Husain measuring 3 feet by 3 feet.
According to Ashish Anand of the Delhi Art Gallery, a buyer would rather settle for a painting by Husain priced at Rs.10 million than a big canvas by Subodh Gupta for the same amount.
"Primarily for safety's sake. It is always reassuring to buy a master's work. One has to be very discerning to buy contemporary art," Anand told IANS.
Works by top contemporary artists like Atul Dodiya, Anupam Poddar, Sudarshan Shetty, Mithu Sen, Anju Dodiya, Sibu Natesan, Jagannath Panda and Bose Krishnamachari are priced in the same range as Satish Gujral, F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain, Ram Kumar and S.H. Raza.
It is not that buyers are rejecting contemporary art. Works by artists priced between Rs.100,000 and Rs.1.5 million are selling well, but there is a lot of resistance when the prices shoot past the Rs.1.5 million-mark, says Anand.
Modern masters, on the other, are priced at Rs.3 million to Rs.4 million on an average. "So buyers are willing to fork out a little more to take a master home," says Anand.
The astronomical prices commanded by leading contemporary artists acts as a psychological barrier, says veteran art promoter Sunit Kumar Jain.
"There is a rethinking at the top level about contemporary versus masters. Masters are time-tested and potential investors look for value for money," he says.
Analysing the strange dynamics, he says what the masters took 50 years to achieve in terms of prices, a clutch of talented contemporary artists have done in five years.
At the annual group show of the Delhi-based Chawla Art Gallery last week, which showcased works by several top-of-the chain modern and contemporary artists, a private collector settled in favour of veteran artist Ram Kumar when asked to choose between a contemporary artist and masters.
"Ram Kumar to me represents everything that creativity should represent. It is open to so many interpretations," says K. Jagjit Singh, who came to check out his favourite artist.
Another Delhi-based collector, who refused to be named, says he would "rather buy a Souza than a new artist because contemporary paintings are shallow and somewhat monotonous".
Roshni Vadhera of the Vadhera Art Gallery, however, feels that the segment that looks for modern masters is usually the "first time buyers, who want established masters when they are starting a collection because modernists have brand value". At the same time, many collectors want to add masterpieces by modern masters to their collections to enrich them, Vadhera says.
Quality names sell, says Shivani Chawla of the Chawla Art Gallery, one of the oldest in the capital. Big corporate houses and senior collectors always look for a quality work by a modern master because they find it to easy to relate to the veterans.
Artists like Gujral, Ram Kumar, Souza and Husain are still "very much in demand", says Chawla.
But there is a pitfall, warns Narendra Bikhu Ram Jain, owner of the Art Mall in Najafgarh in west Delhi.