Eat, talk and buy art at India’s unique art platform

November 22nd, 2008 - 10:39 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 22 (IANS) A bunch of women, clad in chiffon and smelling of expensive perfumes, sip their cappuccinos and discuss art prices. In another corner, college students talk excitedly about their favourite painters. The venue is Arts-I, India’s first one-stop arts shop in the capital.Located at Scindia House in downtown Connaught Place, it promises to position art as a complete experience. Little surprise then that it boasts of a cafe, a store, a gallery, auction space and more.

Behind the endeavour is Religare Enterprises Limited, which says it is India’s first institutional finance firm to venture into the business of art.

“Since the economy started booming nearly seven years ago, every wealth manager in the country has been trying to diversify portfolios - to provide a wider range of services,” Amit Swarup, head of the Religare Arts Initiative, told IANS.

“Art fits the bill because it is emerging as an independent asset class globally where people can invest and reap rich returns as art has the highest appreciation index even in times of economic instability.”

“So we decided to set up an art fund last year. But we soon realised that the art market was interlinked - the galleries, collectors, investors, artists and auction houses could not do without each other and the best way to bring all the market synergies together was to create an integrated destination, and not just a stand alone art fund.”

Arts-I, spread over a 12,000-sq ft area, has a documentation-cum-archival zone, education programmes, investors-artists’ interaction space, advisory services for investors and residency programmes.

The fact that the company was a hardcore financial institution helped because it was sound enough to plan long term - so as to make art affordable and ensure uniformity in prices in a scenario where art prices are often artificially inflated by the media blitz and sale of particular art works over and over again by galleries.

Religare got in touch with architect-cum-creative visualiser Mukesh Panika, who headed an integrated art project, Art Aid in New York, to conceive an innovative platform.

The high points of the facility are the art cafeteria that extends to the open-air terrace and an art store selling wood and metal sculptures, limited edition prints, miniatures and bric-a-brac.

The library-cum-documentation centre is under construction. The facility, done up in whitewash and glass, has hosted three exhibitions so far.

“The Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai and the Triveni Kala Sangam in the capital also have value-added services, but not a complete platform. My idea was to take art to another level and position it as an experience to clients since we were leveraging business for the cause of art,” Panika explained.

Delhi-based art lover Ankhi Khurana, who likes to hang out in cafes and galleries, feels the fact that it is open to all helps.

“One need not always buy art. One can just visit the place, see art, chill out and catch up with some reading. It is a kind of place that one likes going to,” said Khurana, who purchased an installation, “Laila”, from Arts-I recently.

Aarushi Chadda, whose grandfather owns the property, has bought three art works.

“Despite the fact that markets were tumbling and the future of art seemed uncertain, we decided to let out the space because the concept was so interesting. It gives an upmarket feel to the experience of buying art and ensures maximum participation,” she said.

Buyers and investors, explained Panika, can bring their families and friends unlike galleries, where one either sees artworks or just buys it. “The concept of 360 degree platforms for art promotion is the trend of the future,” Panika predicted.

Among the existing art funds and promotion facilities in India, the Mumbai-based Osian’s Connoisseurs of Art Private Ltd - which has an art fund, an archive and an auction house - comes closest to the Religare Arts Initiative.

Others like Crayon Capital and even the Kotak Art Fund are primarily art funds, which might follow suit in future, the Arts-I team said.

The art market in India, which has seen a steady growth over the last decade, currently stands close to $400 million, according to a conservative estimate by art fund guru Phillip Hoffman.

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