In Delhi, art is on ‘sale’. Those who have shopped in metros know what the word ‘sale’ stands for. Buy one get one, three in two’s price, buy one get something else for free, fifty per cent off, clearance sale- ‘sale’ means all of these. Humans are such gullible and susceptible beings that anything sold for lesser than the printed MRP, whether they really want it or not, they will go for it. This middle class tendency is the basis of all kinds of market. Online shopping platforms too offer such ‘sale’ opportunities but with a different strategy; they offer what you really need along with it they say, those who bought what you are currently buying have also bought the following. So you end up buying your sun glasses with a pair of mountaineering boots, a copy of Catch 22 and a non-stick tawa, all for a song. But you don’t really see the ones who go to the bank all the way singing are those portal magnets.
Do not imagine a huge art fair scenario when you hear the phrase ‘affordable art fair’ in Delhi these days. Delhi is a place where the government calendar has more red digits than the black ones. The Hindu calendar is all printed in red digits for every day is an auspicious day therefore worth celebrating. A celebration in this part of the world means hitting the shop and shopping till you drop dead. Hence, throughout the year in Delhi you see malls and established shopping areas offering ‘sale’ opportunities. Pick up your daily newspaper, Hindustan Times or Times of India and you come to know which festival is currently on. As we know Times of India management had once famously said that they used news to sell advertisements, there is no surprise in seeing so many ads coaxing people to leave everything behind, take loans and hit the shops. Newspapers are the real barometers of current market or festival.
Affordable art fair in Delhi means only this much: Anyway, you guys are spending a lot on other things. Why don’t you just drop in and pick some works of art which we offer in very affordable prices, from Rs.5000/- to Rs.200,000/-.’ It’s not really an advertisement or a glamorous call. It is some sort of pleading. ‘Please come and help us out. Look, we are in a very bad shape.’ Still I do not think there are too many takers for affordable art. Perhaps, art is the only property in the commodity market, which commands some sort of understanding and very personal liking of the buyer than the persuasive tactics of the advertiser or seller. That means even if you give art in throw away prices there won’t be many to add it to their cart. Offer a cheap Husain or Gaitonde to a fresh art collector along with a Paresh Maity or Shakti Burman in the same price, it is not necessary that an art collector goes for Husain or Gaitonde. This is not the case in the other commodity markets. You offer a Ray Ban and Ray Bun for the same price, a conscious consumer knows he should look for the correct spelling.
Then, what could be the logic behind this affordable art market? Who are collecting art from these affordable markets? And what are being sold there? We need to find answers to these questions. To go by the working notion of the affordable art market, we understand that the works of the lesser known artists are sold for attractive prices. Attractive prices mean it is attractive in comparison with the real price of the established artists. For example, Rs.5000/- for the work of X or Y, looks dirt cheap therefore terribly attractive when the seller tells the buyer that the same sized work with more or less the same theme done by Husain would cost Rs.1500,000/- in the market. Affordable art market simply means art done by artists whose names are never heard of before in slightly less than what they would otherwise command in the market. That means an artist who commands Rs.5000/- in the affordable market cannot drive Rs.50,000/- in the regular market for the same work. Then how does it become affordable?
I do not want to say that these artists are cheap artists. No, I will never make such condescending statements. Artists are precious in their own ways. They are selling it for cheaper prices because they are not able to afford their own lives or the making of their own works. They are in fact offloading. No artist who could afford to live a life and produce his art works without struggle would ever allow his works to be hawked off like that. What are these people who manage these affordable art markets doing then? They in fact are telling that everyone should have a work of art in their houses and they should add art also in their festival shopping list. In that scenario, what kind of value or quality they would add to the existing art market? In my opinion, selling off works of art done by comparatively lesser known artists at throw away prices does not mean that the market of art becomes affordable. I do not argue that the market of art should be always expensive. It should be affordable but the need for buying the affordable art should come from within the people who buy it. Price should be a criterion while it could be a motivation.
An affordable art market could be called so only when good art is sold for affordable prices. A person who buys a fridge need not necessarily be interested to shell out the same amount on a work of art even if he has dispensable currency in his wallet. That does not mean that he would not buy works of art at all. He does buy it, but not from these affordable art fairs. He buys from the local furniture and interior decorating shops. Perhaps, he shells out more money for those works than he would do in the affordable art market. Why, because he knows what he wants and what he buys. How does he know? Because that’s what the popular culture of good living has taught him. A good watercolourist named X or Y could be ignored for a poor water color done by a faceless artist in one of those interior shops. Why because the affordable market operators do not treat their affordable artists as artists. They are just artists who need some money.
What could be done to make affordable art markets thrive in our country? First of all, the status of the artists should be recognized. I am talking about the artists who are not in the mainstream market. There should be critical evaluation of the artists in the affordable art market too. These artists should be talked about for their workmanship and their lack of interest in making ‘huge’ money out of their works. That attitude need not necessarily be an outcome of their failure to make it big in the mainstream. But it could be a life philosophy; make art for the masses. Then there will be so many artists like that in the market who would get a face, a name, fame and fortune. Ganga Devi is not the only Madhubani artist. She is marketed in that way. Janghar Singh Shyam was not the only Gond artist but he was packaged like that. All those artists who are working for and in the affordable art market should be treated like artists with their own name and fame. Their connecting idea should be the philosophy of life. Art for life and art of life and art for all. Suppose, if some of them become much sought after in due course of time, they should be allowed to migrate to the mainstream art market.
If we are not giving face to the artists in the affordable art market, these markets are going to fail. The galleries who have initiated such a plan do not have any strategy, unfortunately. They think that what is not sold in the mainstream could be syphoned down into the affordable art market. Another form of affordable art market could be established by making the mainstream artists socially conscious about their roles and release at least ten small works in a year in the real affordable art market so that those people do not have much money to buy their mainstream works could also collect their works. But then, in the typical Indian way corruption will come in. Public Distribution System in India is the best example. Rice meant for poor people are bought by alibis and sold in the mainstream by the mainstream shop owners. I need not explain it in the art market terms. We should exercise control and there should be some market regulations regarding such works released for affordable market. It is possible. In Nandan Mela and Baroda Mela very established artists have sold their works. But they never come in the mainstream as their mainstream works. There is a self-restraint about it. We should learn to practice it. Then we can have an affordable market in India. Otherwise, we will go for our sun glasses and come back with a non-stick Tawa, a foot massager and a pair of high end under wears.