Friday, April 21, 2006

Hoard now, get a windfall later

Permission to reprint this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

By storing paintings, a trust wants artists to get a better price for their early work

Shevlin Sebastian

Here’s a chance for artists to have an experience like Rip Van Winkle. Put a painting away every year for several years and forget about it. Then wake up decades later and find that you have become a multi-millionaire. Sounds crazy? Well, that’s what the Artist Pension Trust (APT) wants to do: makes artists rich people and also get rich in the bargain.
A tall, lean man, with clear eyes, David A Ross, a former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, is in town to establish the Indian branch of the APT. This is how the trust works: Over a five-year period, with the help of a selection committee (gallery owners Sharan Apparao and Shireen Gandhy, collector Czaee Shah, dealer Peter Nagy and Jai Danani, director, APT, Mumbai), 250 artistes will be selected. In the first year, however, only 50 will be selected. Every year, the artists will supply one work to the trust and this will be done over 20 years. The paintings will not be put into the market immediately. Instead, the trust will wait for the artist’s value to appreciate, which usually happens over a period of time and then the painting will be sold.
Once a sale is made, the artist gets 40 per cent and another 40 per cent is distributed pro rata among the other 249 artists. The remaining 20 per cent will be distributed as management fees to Mutual Art, the holding company. “The idea is to provide artists with a stable, long-term economic future,” says Ross, the APT president.
What usually happens is that when artists are at the beginning of their careers, in order to survive, they sell works very cheaply. However, a decade later, when the prices appreciate remarkably, they cannot partake of the windfall, because the concept of resale royalty is not practised anywhere in the world. So, the collector and the gallery owner laugh all the way to the bank while the artist gets nothing. “For example, if a Tyeb Mehta was selling for $500 in 1962, imagine the financial windfall for Mehta today if he had 20 unsold works,” says Ross.
So far, trusts have been set up in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and London; trusts are also being set up in Mumbai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Beijing, Bangkok and Istanbul. All the paintings will be housed in museum-like conditions; it will be sent to exhibitions for display and publicity will be generated online and through the print media.
It seems like an idea whose time has come. One who is enthusiastic is Sharan Apparao, the owner of Apparao Galleries. “This is a fantastic concept and a great financial product,” she says. “I liked the idea of supporting artists and that is why I have joined the trust.”
In Mumbai, there is a long list of 100 artists and the short-list will be announced in June.
Each member of the selection committee nominates an artist. “We discuss the work, and give our reasons as to why we think the artist is heading in the right direction,” says Jai Danani. “Maybe, they are ambitious or are doing interesting work, or have superior talent or technique, to not only compete here but on the international level.”
However, not everybody is excited. Painter Sameer Mondal says, “Art should be unconditional and therefore this concept is not suitable for me.” But painter Shimeen Oshidar says: “It will be nice to have a windfall in later years. Since we always try to set aside a couple of works for the future, this is something which we are doing anyway.”

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