Going downtown with art

LARGE SPACES, made larger by white-washed walls, interspersed with exuberant, even riotous works.

The most striking feature of the Vinyasa gallery located within the premises of the Music Academy on TTK Road, is its apparent spaciousness.

The gallery is offering a collection of about one hundred Indian artists - paintings, sculptures, graphics and mixed media - under the title "Affordable Art" ranging from Rs. 50 to Rs. 5000.

Why "Affordable Art"? Viji Nagaswaran, the gallery owner has an answer. "Consider the numbers. There are 90,000 invididuals who call themselves professional artists. If each of them produces just ten works a year, that is about 1,00,000 pieces of art. Multiply that by all the work made by all the artists in the rest of the world and we have, as Carl Sagan would say 'billiyuns' and 'billiyuns' of works. This is not an artistic problem - this is a disposal problem."

How can this oversaturated market be supported? The art world, like any successful community, has a complex, unspecified, but well-understood ethos that owes its nature to and arises from the marketing of a commodity the value of which is entirely determined by opinion. The underlying support of art and the firmament of the art business is money - lots of it.

Most, particularly at the high end of the market, comes art collectors. Their money drives the market and determines its style and direction. It calls the tune for every part of the art world, including artists, dealers, critics, academics, museums and government agencies.

Viji Nagaswaran feels there is an increase in buyers who are viewing art both as a sort of investment as well as something that appeals to them. It's part of a larger cycle. Economic stability is bound to lead to a better educated and more discerning individual who is aware of his or her choices. And so, we see more and more young people buying art that appeals to them. "And, believe me," she says, "it is not necessarily established art."

This is an individual opinion, which calls for corroboration. In a proper study, we find three kinds of steady buyers of art - first, the old buyers with established if uneven collections. Their buying is guided by idiosyncracy, personal loyalty and plain, if sometimes misplaced, charity.

Then there are the corporate buyers whose numbers are daily increasing - and finally the mixed genre which is hard to define - people who care for the painting, the signature, their curtains and their investment.

The question still remains open as to who is the real art buyer? Ideally, the buyer should be someone who is in constant touch with the work of the painter, who knows the painter, his preoccupations and what he is struggling to achieve. This isn't always possible in our context, largely because of the cultural gap between the buyer and the artist.

The ideal buyer is the one who can discriminate between a failure and good painting. He must want the painting but he also must understand the cultural context so as to expand his vision. He is somebody who has a long term project in mind so that he sees his collection as something that over the years will reflect a developed taste. He is the one who buys with his eyes and soul.

Meanwhile the buyers are still out there. And for a while the tulips are blooming. On till June 10.