Sometime back at a book release in Delhi, a guy named Sha introduced himself to me. A fair chap with gold-rimmed specs, clad in matching silk shirt that nicely covered a potbelly and added to the shine of his bald head.
“How would you like having lunch with me tomorrow?’’ He asked me with a broad grin typical of certain specimens in business that I am familiar with. Since I don’t like free lunches I told him I will be back in Bangalore by lunch time.
“I have a great idea for you, which I would like to discuss if you have few minutes,” he said. Since I had a little more than a few minutes I asked him to go ahead.
“I did a bit of a market research on your work. You are not selling for the kind of price you should,” he said. Since he seemed to be more worried about my prices than me I asked what he had in mind.
“Give me your exclusive rights. I shall take your price sky high,” he flashed that grin again. Since I do not like to give my exclusive rights to anybody, I told him I wasn’t interested in taking my price sky high.
But he like most businessmen who work on their prey insisted I find few minutes to talk to him. He made great theatrical efforts to convince me. Finally, we ended up in a restaurant where he ordered my favourite wine and even narrated its history and location in Italy. Unfortunately, he did not know that I have lived and painted in Chianti region in the Medici country. He ordered smoked salmon and told the waiter not to roll when served and have just vegetables and French mustard with it. I was impressed he had taken so much trouble to know my preferences. I began to sip my wine while he gulped down scotch. He began talking about my royal ancestry and tried equating me with Raja Ravi Varma. When I was about to finish my second glass of wine and told him I must leave he revealed his proposed project. “I just received the catalogue of the next big auction by that London-based auction house. One of your painting is coming for sale.”
“Well, it is news to me as I have not received the catalogue yet,” I said. “Someone has put it for sale,” he replied. Then he explained the plan. He will have people to bid for it and take the price very high—several count higher than my selling price now. I will have to compensate him with a few paintings that he will put in the next auction and take the price up.
In short, his plan was to escalate my price artificially. I am a polite person, but there are times I lose my temper. I called the bearer, paid the bill and walked out turning a deaf ear to his pleas.
Indian art till the late nineties was doing well and slowly being accepted by international galleries and art markets. The first auction at Christie’s London in 1995 comprising 35 Indian contemporary artists was a big success. Then many auctions took place where works were sold at steadily rising prices. It is at this juncture, a few greedy art dealers and those who see the colours of currency in art began to infiltrate the scene. With their business tactics sans ethics they cleverly manipulated the market by artificially hiking the prices of some artists. They promised the buyers that these artists were going to be Picassos of future and hence a great investment. After a few years some of those who bought these works tried to sell them, but couldn’t find buyers as many of these artists did not have any real investment value.
The market crashed and many genuine artists ended up in dire states as buyers became suspicious. But the middle men had made their fortune.
Arakkal is a renowned artist