SIMONE MODY, 25, a Mumbai-based brand strategist, has been collecting art for three years now. Her diverse portfolio includes everything from paintings to sculptures, photographs, ceramics and other collectibles. Her collection includes works by artists such as M.V. Dhurandhar, Ramgopal Vijayvargiya, K.H. Ara, K.K. Hebbar, Austrian artist Walter Langhammer and Sarah Bahbah, an Australian artist of Palestinian descent, among others. "I invest in art that speaks to me and tells a story. The purchases are sporadic, though. Sometimes I may buy three-four pieces in a year; sometimes, none at all," says the London School of Economics alumnus.
For six years, Arjun Agarwal, 37, a Bengaluru-based entrepreneur has been collecting paintings, textiles and lithographs with a "point of view". For him it's not about how "good" the piece looks but the creative process behind it. "It's important for me to know about the artist before I buy his work — why and how he made the piece, and what he's trying to say. I pick the brains of the gallerist and if possible the artist himself to understand what I’m getting into," shares Agarwal. His favourites include Jangarh Singh Shyam, Baiju Parthan, Laxma Goud, Riyas Komu, Shanthamani M. and Joydeb Roaja.
New Class Of Buyers
Not long ago, most art buyers in India were deep-pocketed businessmen or industrialist families who snapped up blue-chip artists, including M.F. Husain, Amrita Shergill, Raja Ravi Verma and S.H. Raza, at rarefied auctions or through close-knit arty cliques.
Not anymore. New-age art investors encompass a wide range of individuals — from millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) to Gen-Z (born 1997 onwards), middle-class enthusiasts and urban-educated professionals, some beginning their investment journeys as early as in their twenties.
A 2021 report from Art Basel and UBS investment banking company found that millennial collectors were the highest spenders on fine art in 2020, with 30% having spent over $1 million on art, an average of $228,000.
Women Art Investors
Riddhi Bhalla, director, Blueprint Gallery, New Delhi, points to an emerging new segment of art buyers — women. "Women constitute a substantial chunk of our buyers. While earlier, they sought validation from male relatives before taking the plunge, now they are confidently going ahead to pick up pieces," she informs.
This gender inclusion, adds Bhalla, augurs well for the industry, fuelled by women's increasing financial empowerment. Also playing a catalytic role is increasing outreach by galleries — art events organised specially for women artists and buyers. Programmes by organisations such as FICCI are initiating women into art. The emergence of women artists has also contributed to this trend, says Bhalla. "In fact over 70% of artists on our gallery’s roster are women," she adds.
Social Media Spurs Sales
The exponential growth of social media and technology has provided further impetus for untraditional art investors to foray into buying art. This demographic is majorly sourcing art online and through social platforms such as Instagram. In fact, online sales helped the art world to survive, even thrive, during the pandemic, even as economies and other businesses faced headwinds, according to experts. Social media engagement has also helped boost careers of a younger generation of artists as millennials are keen on buying art by young and upcoming artists whose work and price points they relate more to, points out Bhalla. "There is a strong preference for artworks priced below ₹2 lakh," he says.
Not just India, galleries abroad, too, are registering an uptick in a new class of art buyers from India. This includes scions of industrialist families looking to diverge and get involved in the arts industry, or those passionate about launching a foundation or starting a museum, informs Conor Macklin, director, Grosvenor Gallery, London. "Many are also buying for historical reasons, perhaps with a view that modern works are getting rarer and rarer. There's also a renewed interest from long-time buyers as with art there's always something to add to a living collection," he adds.
Rising Disposable Incomes
Auction houses say rising disposable incomes and infrastructural development in non-metro cities have further propelled this trend. "India has witnessed a substantial rise in emerging entrepreneurs and high-net worth individuals, which has expanded the art-collecting class beyond businessmen," explains Siddhanth Shetty, senior vice president, business strategy & operations at AstaGuru Auction House.
The recognition of Indian art globally and diversification of auction categories have also contributed to this emerging class of collectors. They are often bullish in the bidding process if something catches their eye. "At the same time, building an art collection is a time-bound process, so several new collectors are looking to start this journey with works at relatively affordable price points and later foray into more expensive and serious works. The young generation is open to exploring fresh perspectives, innovative techniques, and contemporary themes," says Shetty.
The proliferation of digital platforms has played a pivotal role in connecting young collectors with the art industry. "Since inception, AstaGuru has enabled collectors to explore a wide range of artists and styles from different periods. Our Collectors Choice Auction, for instance, is a highly anticipated event, providing a unique opportunity with a 'no reserve' format and bidding starting at ₹20,000. The comprehensive and finely curated selection and ease of access in this auction serve as a gateway for new collectors," explains Shetty. Mushrooming online venues, art festivals and biennials, as well as state-run museums and cultural centres such as Lalit Kala Academy and National Gallery of Modern Art are also offering a platform to discover new artists and foster a deeper understanding of Indian art among the youth.
Such contemporary events and spaces also facilitate dialogues, knowledge-sharing, and networking opportunities, enabling young collectors to gain insights into the art world and make informed decisions when building their collections, say analysts. The process of collection also hinges upon numerous factors, including personal taste, aesthetic sensibilities, prevailing artistic trends, cultural influences, and individual narratives. "Passionate collectors, motivated by specific artists, subject matters, series of works, or particular artist groups, are constantly in pursuit of their next significant acquisition," opines Shetty.
Manoj Israni, 55, CEO & owner of Blue Cross Laboratories, says his own journey as an art collector over the last two decades has seen a big shift in perspective. "Over time, I have come to understand that the artworks one acquire become an extension of the owner. Therefore, I purchase works of specific artists whose style and themes resonate with me...There's also been a transformation in terms of motivation. There’s no element of investment any more, I buy art that triggers an emotive reaction."
Tips For Investors
What tips do passionate investors have for newbie collectors? "Get started by acquiring good-quality artworks of progressive artists. But most importantly, buy what you like and have the courage to follow the path less traversed," advises Israni. Agarwal feels it's important not to go for just aesthetics but "delve deep into the artist’s thought process which will also augment one's own understanding of art in general".
Mody, however, strikes a cautionary note: "Don't buy art purely as an investment option because it never guarantees assured returns like other traditional investments forms. Follow your gut; see how the market is responding to a particular artist and consult experts to check the work's authenticity. If it's a fake, there's no going back!"