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Art, the safest investment, say experts

With volatile markets being the trend and interest rates low on return, art seems to have come back as the safest investment option for many, says leading art curators and investment analysts.

business Updated: Mar 20, 2008 14:39 IST

With volatile markets being the trend and interest rates low on return, art seems to have come back as the safest investment option for many, says leading art curators and investment analysts.

"Art is the only commodity other than gold which is constant in giving steady returns from the very beginning. Art can make its own money over a period of time," says Neville Tuli of Osian, one of the largest art auction houses in the country.

"This means, art should not be taken as a short investment of just few months. Give it some time and this does not mean lifetime but at least around three years. It will give you good returns," he adds.

While paintings were earlier bought because of interest in such forms of art, experts say that many are now coming forward for just pure investment purposes.

"If you pick out good paintings and study their progress in the last few years, you will find out that they have given very good returns. In some cases, certain pieces of art has given 100 per cent returns and more," says Minal Vazirani of Saffronart, an auction house cum gallery.

Agrees, S Kalra, a leather exporter who regularly invests in art. "I had a Rameshwar Broota's painting with me which I had bought for a very small amount in 2000. I sold the painting in 2004 and it gave me a return of around 75 per cent," he says.

Though Kalra did make a decent profit, he ruefully adds, "I should have waited a little longer. The same painting would have given me more than 100 per cent return now.

In India, the organised art market today is valued at around Rs 800 crore a year, which experts say is growing at a rate of over 30 per cent per annum.

A number of financial institutions have come out with art funds or schemes, trying to cash in on this growing new market.

Art funds typically operate by pooling in money from select investors and use it to buy art objects that have huge appreciation potential in a short period of time.

Market sources say there are no estimates available on the number of art schemes in the market or the quantum of funds collected.

Hence, recently, Stock Market regulator, SEBI, had said that it would initiate action, including criminal case, against companies that operate Art Funds without its approval.

The regulator, in a statement, warned that the launching of Art Funds or schemes without obtaining registration amounts to violation and it could take civil or criminal actions against the erring funds.

"It is a welcome gesture. If you expect the market to grow on like this without the the tax men or regulator moving in, then you are not being smart," says Tuli.

He adds, "Art market is the biggest black market in the world. It is only now that white money is being pumped into this sector with coming up of auction houses and known galleries. With the regulators stepping in, the market would become more organised."

Artists point out that to sustain the phenomenal growth in the art market, proper steps should be taken to educate people.

"There are lot of things being said about art these days. People are confused and hence, at times, end up burning their fingers. Established auction houses and galleries should come forward to educate everyone from students to bankers about art is all about," says Goldy Malhotra, Pricipal, Modern School, New Delhi.

Malhotra, who herself is an artist adds, "A lot of hype is there. It need to be cleared."

Saffronart which recently held its Spring Online Auction of Contemporary Indian art closed at a total sale value of over Rs 27 crore (US$ 7.15 million), which was well above its total higher estimate of Rs 19.56 cores (USD 5.1 million).

The online auction which featured the work of painters, sculptors and installation artists, attracted art lovers and investment oriented people from 22 countries across the globe.

"There is a genuine interest among people about art these days. People wanted to know what art is and are very inquisitive about it, which is a good trend. From financial consultants to pure art lovers, everyone is getting on to the art bandwagon," says Vazirani.

But, he cautions, "Art is indeed a very good investment but then it is important to make correct investments. If one doe snot know about art, then take sound advice before putting your money into it." Agrees, Tuli,"See, at times a, particular piece of art can cost equal to a house on Malabar Hills. So, such investment should be made with sound judgment or advice."

With Indian artists now fetching millions of dollars at international auctions, art curators in the country say, India art scene is said to change.

"It is nice that money is coming into art. Some may say, it is leading to marketing of products which might promote certain artists but I think it is wrong. If people are buying art for investment, then it is good. It is good for everyone and for the market," says Tuli.