The collecting of Indian art and the tribe of Indian art collectors really started to take shape post Independence. They were a handful of galleries back then, most of which do not exist today... but the real collectors in the 40's and 50's were largely friends, acquaintances and relatives of the artists who loved the artists, and collected their work for the pure pleasure and aesthetics that appealed to their senses. They didn't collect works of art because the artist was well known or for monetary value.
Raja Ravi Varma, who is considered to be among the greatest Indian painters, started what I call the revolution in Indian consciousness with his European style and technique but with a beautiful union of Indian tradition. Others followed at the turn of the century like M.V. Dhurandhar, Hemen Majumdar and Amrita Sher-Gil, and their works are prized possessions today.
Then came The Bengal School of art and artists who were the first ones to consciously challenge the idea of modernism by opting out of both internationalist modernism and historicist indigenousness, and try to create something of their own. According to me, the old Bengal School was the beginning of the art renaissance in India.
Being half Bengali myself, my soul has an intrinsic love for this school and era, and inadvertently artists of that time like Gaganendranath and Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Jamini Roy, Ramkinker Baij, and Chittaprosad Bhattacharya began to have a huge influence on me, which explains why half my collection revolves around these artists.
Art galleries in India slowly started opening shop around the 60's and by the late 80's the interest among collectors of Indian art started gaining momentum. Those galleries were like a second home to the artists, particularly of the 'Progressive Arts Group' which began to showcase their works and develop deep relationships with the likes of Francis Newton Souza, S.H. Raza, M.F. Husain, Akbar Padamsee, Sadanand Bakre, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, K.H. Ara, V.S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna and many more.
Art collectors began acquiring works directly from the galleries and willy nilly became patrons of these artists as well, by commissioning work from them.
Later, as the years rolled by, the Internet age brought art collecting to a new level. One no longer had to make long arduous trips to galleries and artists all over India. Instead, everything started becoming accessible on your computer. Art galleries and art auction houses began mobilising the power of the Internet and collectors had access to Indian art not just in India but globally as well. Today, buying art online in India is probably 50 per cent of total sales, though the issue of viewing works in person, particularly of high value, remains a challenge. Of late, auction houses like SaffronArt and Pundole's have managed to solve that problem to an extent by making 'viewings' available across major cities.
On collecting, my advice has always been: collect what you love and what moves you. It's never about the value of what you buy, because finally it's going to adorn your walls for a considerable amount of time and you will be looking at it every day so it must bring you a lot of joy. Ask any collector of repute and he or she will tell you exactly that.
It does help to read and research about the artists that stir you from within, before actually making a purchase. Remember good collections are always built painstakingly over time. Therefore, understanding the art market in all its forms, from connecting and building a rapport with gallery owners, artists, auction houses, and constantly developing your own sensibilities and knowledge, does take a long time.
Building a great art collection involves considerable investments too, but it appreciates in value over the long term, particularly works of great quality and provenance. It is that process of deep involvement and building your own expertise, that makes it so gratifying in the end both spiritually and financially.
In India we now see a huge spurt in the younger generation, most in their late 30s and 40s, as art buyers and they are approximately 40 per cent of the Indian market now, which in my view is a very good sign. For the Indian market to mature and grow there has to be a huge shift in the buyer profile.
Traditionally, it has always been the wealthy patrons, business houses and Trusts that buy the Razas, Tyebs, Husains and Souzas which gave 'art collecting' a kind of elitism that people sensed as being only for the rich and wealthy. Those barriers are being broken slowly... but very slowly. Today of all the famed 'Progressive's Group' the top selling Indian artists of all time are Souza, Gaitonde, Raza and Husain in that order with a price range of Rs 20-30 crore each.
The Indian contemporary market has till date been struggling to find its place in the sun, with sales of less than 5 per cent of the overall Rs 1,500 crore-market. That is abysmal for a country our size and I do hope the newer breed of Indian collectors will change that in the years to come.
Look at any Indian art auction catalogue today, even from Christies and Sotheby's, and you will invariably find that the top 10 artists would constitute 80 per cent of the sale value which makes it a rather incestuous marketplace that doesn't augur well for the growth of art in India. Having said that, it does take 2-3 decades to realise the true value of a collection, and my advice is that one should always have an eclectic balance between The Masters, The Bengal School and good contemporary artists in one's collection. My journey has always been across a wide portfolio of artists, which gives me immense pleasure when I wake up every morning.
Art all around the home brings in positive energy and a sublime existence when you think about the pain, joy or even eccentricities in every work that hangs on your wall. It's as if each artist evokes a telepathic connection and brings a beautiful story to your home that lingers on in your soul every time your eyes gaze at it.