Last week I met Aqdas Tatli, who is doing an MA in Art Business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, and over dosas had a robust debate on whether art is art or is it just another commodity. (If he doing his master’s in art business you can imagine which side of the debate he clearly stood.)
Soon after, I read this great article in Forbes magazine about the woes of Osian’s, the world’s second largest art fund started by Neville Tuli in my humble Mumbai. It is threatening to go belly-up thanks to Tuli’s wild gambles leaving several high-profile investors left moaning. Tatli is making a presentation on Osian’s in his class (and I am hoping to sneak in).
But my point is, yes, art is a commodity. But isn’t it a consumer-durable kind of commodity? You must buy it because you like it, appreciate it, enjoy it and get some pride out of it. You don’t buy it because it will someday make lots of money for you. That said, it does carry a chance with it that someday it might turn vintage, and make a pile for you in the process.
Can we equate art to an investment commodity? The success of both art and financial instruments as an investment depends on some solid predictable indicators interacting with some unpredictable ones. In case of financial instruments such as shares and bonds, the predictable economic and physical indicators such a healthy capital investment, a balance sheet that makes sense, business plans that are clearly based on the prevailing business, political and economic environment are in tension against unpredictable elements such as wild human behaviour, natural disasters, accidents etc. In case of art, the predictable factor such as the marketing machinery behind an artist interplays with unpredictable elements such as current fashions, tastes and the artist’s creativity and ability. But I do think, that in case of the latter, the balance is deeply tilted on the side of the unpredictable indicators.
Which is why, if I ever have any money to buy art I will follow the advice by a wise bald gentleman called Girish Shahane. Yes, invest in art but always buy something that you like. So that if its price doesn’t rise as predicted, at least you are left with something on your walls that you enjoy and appreciate.
South Asian art is making its presence felt in London at two venues. First, Saatchi Gallery has a huge exhibition on Indian and Pakistani art (paintings, installations, sculptures, you name it) entitled The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today. Second, the Whitechapel Gallery in East London has an extensive exhibition on 150 years of photography in South Asia. There’s your art for a bargain, oh Londoners!