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‘Develop your art collection like your signature, distinctive’

Every budding collection comprises the same artists, with comparable works. Your collection should encompass a wider repertoire, covering subjects, colours, sizes and media, says Arvind Vijaymohan.

gurgaon Updated: Sep 07, 2018 13:18 IST
arvind vijaymohan,art collection,artery india
Ali Adil Shah II of Bijapur with a Woman. Found in the collection of The David Collection. (Image used for representational purpose)(Heritage Images/Getty Images)

I’d like you to consider a scenario. It’s actually a sequence borrowed from a surreal dream I had a few years ago. You’re in an airport terminal bustling with activity, packed with people. It’s all perfectly humdrum, but for the fact that everyone is dressed identically, each wearing a single-breasted suit in a rich navy blue. Boys and girls flipping burgers behind the fast-food counter, a group of pre-teens giggling, discussing something loudly and very animatedly, flight crew walking towards security, a sea of people waiting in queues to clear immigration—all entirely ho-hum, routine, except for every man, woman and child wearing the same uniform. A man pushing a baby stroller walks in your direction, you peep in to exchange some gobbledygook with the infant. You’re now facing the youngest human you’ve ever seen in a suit, a rich navy blue. You wonder how is this possible, and if you are, in fact, dreaming. You look down at your watch to check the time, and that’s when you see it. You’re wearing the same suit as well. You’re one of the herd.

This setting does seem bizarre and the likelihood of encountering this outside of a cinematic turn by Darren Aronofsky is relatively remote. If art collections, however, were to be considered in a comparative context, most would be prancing around in essentially identical suits.

“Deja vu”. That’s usually the first word that comes to mind, rather disappointingly, when viewing most collections. Disappointingly, since most collectors are expecting a tide of adjectives more glowing in consideration of their effort.

Nearly every budding collection comprises the same artists, with heavily comparable works. These are usually the effort of a collect-by-numbers approach, and are a direct result of pursuing a hot list featuring the most popular names of the season. The works are more often than not predictable and pretty, with little context beyond the attractiveness of the its content. I’ve said this before and, at the cost of sounding repetitious, let me say this one more time. Prettiness in a collection is an essential factor that should have definite space therein, but it shouldn’t be its only facet. The collection should encompass a wider repertoire, covering subjects, concerns, colours, sizes and media.

What are the essentials to consider to avoid your collection looking like all the others rolling off the conveyor belt production line? The singularly most important pointer in my regard, and the direction I urge most to take, is that of fighting the herd. There is undoubted value in keeping one’s ear to the ground, checking on what the market is reacting to and buying, and importantly, the new names on the block—particularly younger artists displaying promise. However, to blindly follow the lead from market movement is short-sighted and, in effect, a disservice to the future of your collection.

During community interactions, I’ve had collectors pose the challenge of there being limited talent, of there being only so many works that one can react to, and the fact that there is a definite dearth of content that they find themselves reacting to. That to an extent is true. Genuine quality is hard to come by, and rich material does ascend the pricing rungs fairly sharply. This is where being an early mover makes a monumental difference. Most powerful collections would be carelessly littered with works, many being highly priced objects now, that were purchased back in the day for what seems like a pittance in the current order. Nearly each of these collectors will tell you that this now celebrated genius of an artist was not mighty sought-after and works were available with relative ease. None of these collectors followed the herd during their time and, ideally, likewise nor should you.

Your first and longest-standing stance should be to take a definitive, independent position on an artist or artwork. Listen to the words and perspective of all involved—the gallery, other collectors and the artist as well, but eventually, do as your heart says (keeping the mind’s leaning in balance as well). Learn to hear and respect your instinct. It might be rusty at the outset, but will, with due engagement, find its voice. This voice must be yours, distinctive and uniquely akin to your signature.

Once you come to trust your budding instinct, you must resolutely remain true to your taste. Hype/buzz/fads/rage can come, wither, stay, but none of these should matter beyond what that little voice is directing you towards. With this instinct in charge, even if you were to zone in on the 10 most popular artists that feature in every other collection, I would be certain that the works, series and subjects selected will not follow the typical pattern that seems to be Xeroxed across the board.

Essentially, you will still be at the airport, but in a soft beige double-breasted linen suit* that’ll ensure the herd’s staring at you.

*due apologies to all the ladies reading this, and a request to replace the suggested attire with anything that fits their fancy.

(Arvind Vijaymohan is the CEO of Artery India, a financial data centre focused on Indian art sales globally)

First Published: Sep 07, 2018 13:17 IST