Thursday, 3 May 2012

Art: The Skoda Prize, India ~ Creative Incentive

Sakshi Gupta: Iron shutter, concrete, resin, fibre, mat, hair roller, motor
 (This article was written in 2010)

With the announcement of The Skoda Prize worth Rs 10 lakh for contemporary Indian artists under 45 in August 2010, questions throng the air. What connects automobile major Skoda with art? Is the recession over? How will the final January 2011 prize announcement impact the 20 artists on the October shortlist out of 169 original contenders?

“Associating with art is a natural extension of Skoda's brand positioning for an audience aspiring to premium lifestyle choices,” says Thomas Kuehl, Director, Sales and Marketing. “We believe that art in India has come of age — proof is in the growth figures of the industry, art as an investment is drawing investors and returns on investment, besides the unprecedented success of the India Art Summit (from 2008 onwards).”

The prize, an initiative with the London-based Seventy Event Management Group, moves Skoda's focus beyond its branding connect with the Lakme Fashion Week. Skoda has sold over 95,000 units since it entered the Indian market in November 2001.

Srinivas Prasad: Some day it all has to end. Thorny bamboo, GI wire.

The prize, loosely modelled on the 1984-launched £25,000 British Turner Prize, has a shortlist akin to the Booker Prize. Aimed at exhibitions/ presentations over the past year, it hopes to “bring public attention to winners and those shortlisted, and have some beneficial impact on their careers,” according to independent writer Girish Shahane, a member of the advisory committee.

The often controversial Turner Prize, of course, provided a route map to evolving British art. The 1995 winner was Damien Hirst, for animals pickled in tanks of formaldehyde. By 2008, he bypassed his galleries to auction 218 works directly through Sotheby's for £111 million. Today, Hirst himself collects art.

Will the Skoda Prize find an artist who can do a Hirst? Will Indian collectors ever put their money on a performance or perishable installation? That's anybody's guess.

Of the shortlist, which includes N.S. Harsha, Sakshi Gupta, Nikhil Chopra, Shahid Datawala and Srinivas Prasad, Shahane observes, “Our final list has six artists who work broadly with sculpture, six who work mainly with canvas, seven who focus on lens-based images, either stills or video, and one artist working in performance. Because each form has a history of its own, the jury could come to a conclusion about how well artists had tackled and modified those histories.”

How are these 20 under-45s distinctive from, say, the generation preceding them such as Subodh Gupta, Bharati Kher, Sheela Gowda or Pushpamala N.?

Dr Kavita Singh, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University's School of Art and Aesthetics, a juror on the Skoda panel chaired by Tasneem Mehta (honorary director, Bhau Daji Lad Museum), responds, “Perhaps I could say that in the slightly older generation one often sees their concepts resulting in the production of quite spectacular large-scale objects. Some younger artists are able to dedicate themselves to performance as a genre, while others are willing to take the risk of not producing a material object.”

Meanwhile, on June 10, S.H. Raza became India's priciest modern artist when a seminal acrylic painting Saurashtra by the France-based 88-year-old sold for Rs 16.42 crore at a Christie's auction in London. Five days later, 12 paintings by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore illuminated the Sotheby's Asian Art Sale in London, fetching £1.6 million.

The market abroad is open, then, to both Tagore and Raza. Members of the 1940s Progressive Artists Group, including F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta and Raza, have fared well. But who bought the recent Raza? It was Kiran Nadar, wife of the HCL founder, for her art museum in Noida.

An interview by Sean Silverthorne with Mukti Khaire, Assistant Professor, Entrepreneurial Management, Harvard Business School, in August deconstructs the Indian art market.

“Before 1995, fine art was produced in India but there was little demand largely because Indian art was considered provincial or decorative. To create a market, this art was redefined as a new product category — modern Indian art — by a variety of participants including artists, academics, commercial auction houses, and critics,” Khaire notes in a study with R. Daniel Wadhwani, Assistant Professor, University of the Pacific. “And as Western museums and collectors began to take notice, prices for pieces in the category rose from a few thousand dollars to as high as… millions of dollars.”

Shahid Datawala. Photograph. Still Growing Legs.

Some home truths first. Solo shows abroad this year have highlighted global appeal beyond mere Indianness. For instance, Jitish Kallat's Public Notice 3 (Chicago Art Institute), or Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher (Hauser & Wirth, London). Yet, no contemporary Indian artist has international recall as Hirst or London-based Anish Kapoor do, while only Husain has pan-India recognition.

No reliable current guesstimates are available for an Indian art market, pegged at roughly Rs 1,000 crore in 2008. Of a post-recession upturn, Premilla Baid of Gallery Sumukha says, “Though there are more footfalls now, most buyers are not looking at values beyond Rs 1-5 lakh. Earlier, collectors walked in with lists, acquiring particular works as investment.”

Another Skoda juror, Coimbatore-based art connoisseur/ philanthropist Rajshree Pathy, says, “I see a positive trend towards buying once again, but more for the Moderns than the Contemporaries!” Do Tagore and Raza have greater appeal than post-1970s art?

Bangalore-based collector Harish Padmanabha says, “The Skoda Prize will help young artists gain visibility, but little beyond. The truth is that art is difficult to liquidate. Any other investment, be it stocks, shares, gold or fixed deposits, can be sold within three or four days.”

Geetha Mehra of Sakshi gallery asks pertinently, “Is there a commitment from the Skoda sponsors on how long they will sustain the prize? The Sotheby's Prize, worth Rs 3 lakh, survived just two or three years. One can only gauge the impact in the long term. In the short term, its value is pure advertising.”

Shahane stresses, “The focus of the award is on quality, rather than mere prices. If just pricing is the focus of buyers, we'll have a market dominated by investors rather than real collectors. That's a recipe for another crash in the future. People should buy art they cherish, and can afford.”

Would Skoda have been wiser to launch an annual programme like the 2002-initiated Rolex Mentor instead? Shortlisted Srinivasa Prasad of Bangalore made it to the Rolex shortlist too. He says, “I even met Anish Kapoor in London in February. But finally, I didn't make it… If I do win this time, it might help me to dream of a big artwork in perishable materials. That apart, it will not make a big difference.”

A final verdict? Mysore-based N.S. Harsha won the prestigious Artes Mundi prize worth £40,000 in 2008. He notes, “Prizes come and go, so do art auctions. Being creative is never about the destination. All art is a beautiful journey.” He, by the way, currently drives a Skoda Octavia!

(The Hindu Business Line, 2010) 


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