Monday, April 23, 2007

The Economic Times : Artists drive a hard bargain now


[ MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2007 12:49:50 AM]

KOLKATA: Pricing of artworks has become a crucial factor in today’s evolving Indian art market. Of late, one has been noticing a resistance, especially to paintings, at the highest levels.

Even at the middle level, prices seem to be blowing out of proportion. Although, buyers still appear to be lapping up works at price points which are below the high-end prices.

“Anyone buying art wonders about the functionaries who decide the price of the piece. The artists of the earlier times like the Tagores or Nandalal Bose used to gift their paintings because they were shy of mentioning a price for their works. Artist Kshitin Majumdar was taken aback when a painting of his was sold for Rs 5,000 by Chintamoni Kar to the Indian Museum. He was expecting a fraction of the price and needed the money for medical treatment. Those times have changed radically of course,” an art market source told ET.

In the initial years of the art market, buyers would bargain a lot and galleries acted as the via media to broker a deal. This saw the artists getting the maximum possible price. As things progressed, the artist in consultation with the galleries set the price for his or her works. This system still continues and has progressively become more pronounced.

“On several occasions, artists today call the shots in fixing prices of their artworks,” the source said.
The auctions created a different value system where the auctioneer sets the base level price and the buyer final level. In this system, distortions sometimes tend to creep in.

“Now, the artist gets the chance to consider the highest price bid for his works as his base price. Often, the buyer, at large, is unaware of the base price of the artist and accepts the base price of the auctioneer as the true level. The auction catalogues have virtually become the reference point for prices,” the source said.

According to the source, once the artist is both quoted and sold at a high price, the artist sometimes is led to demand the same price in group and charity shows. As the criteria for setting a price is not entirely clear, the artist or gallery can always go for an inflated price and get away with it.

“The buyer basically is at a loss to fathom whether he or she is paying a fair price. Only reputed galleries can help the buyers in shows. Nowadays, the history of the artist and his price trends determine his tags. This opens up the scope for price rise which could climb to unsustainable levels. Earlier, galleries tempered prices in the interest of the buyer and prevented a price spiral. Also, auction sales did not exist for artists to claim tall prices. Now, an artist has the possibility of selling at multiple times the auction estimates which creates a benchmark,” the source said.

Pricing in the art scene, the source said, is passing through a transition phase and in this situation all stakeholders should realise that hiking prices will impact the buyer base and push a part of them out of the market.

No comments: