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Buying art - help for the uninitiated!

— January 2015

Associated media

Wahab Jaffer, Three Faces © the artist

Clare Finn reports on the launch of Art Select UK, which aims to provide a new way of investing in art. But why should you buy?

With returns on one’s bank deposit continuing so low the art market’s lauding of its buoyancy seems to make investing in art an enticing prospect. But for the budding collector the fabled prices, reported in the press, that some art reaches and the up-market galleries in which it is sold can seem intimidating for the uninitiated.  

Kaneka Subberwal, the irrepressibly effervescent CEO of the Bahraini based company Art Select, wants to change this. Speaking at the launch of Art Select UK, she said she intends to take art out of its box and make collecting Middle Eastern art more accessible.   The launch, held away from Mayfair in the St James Court Hotel in Buckingham Gate, one of the Taj Hotels, mixed the Middle Eastern equivalent of Mayfair art with that from the East End.

We saw a combination of modern masters, pieces by the Indian artists M. F. Husain and F. N. Souza and a stunning piece by Pakistan’s Ismail Gulgee, together with the work of young contemporary artists from Bahrain, India, Oman, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. Prices for works by established artists do reach five figures, but those for the younger artists were much more attainable, ranging from hundreds to the lower thousands.   

The subjects of the art on display included works deriving from calligraphy and some more abstract such as the work of Jamal Abdul Rahim, that of Mattar bin Lahej, Uzma Dadabai or Nasr Warour. We were also shown Aadil Abedi’s more figurative Sufi, created in a swirl of calligraphic strokes and swarovski crystals. Nonetheless, the majority of pieces were pictorial: Bhattacharya’s nudes seen through a gauze of past childhood memory, Tauseef Khan’s hyper-realist images of traditional architecture viewed through decanters for spirits or champagne glasses, or Suchi Chidambaram’s blue – a city on a peninsula teaming with life that overflows into the tiny boats off shore.

Senor Picasso also makes an appearance in  Picasso Head by Mahendra Bhagat.  If it is a surprise to find the Picasso being referenced in this art one should remember the first ever exhibition of Picasso's paintings in India was in January 2001 to February 2002. 

Techniques are varied; lithography rubs shoulders with acrylic, oil, resin, ink and semi-precious stones. There are sculptural pieces, including a work  in stainless steel entitled Speed 6 by Mattar bin Lahej that recalls some of the futurist Boccioni’s work while Bhagat’s Picasso Head is acrylic covered fibreglass.   

Subberwal went on to talk of perhaps finding a more permanent space for Art Select UK aside from its administrative headquarters based in Summertown, Oxford, where it is run by three members of the Ghatora family, Davinder, Pupinder Singh and Sandy Kaur. She envisions holding courses and workshops as well as selling art all to break down art’s barriers and make it more collectable.

Art Select’s strategy is to emphasise investment opportunities bolstered by stories of Picasso and Matisse’s early collectors, such as Sergi Shchukin and Gertrude Stein, when pieces could be bought for very little. But this is only half of those collectors’ stories; Shchukin lost his collection, confiscated in the Russian Revolution of 1917, it can now be seen in Russia’s Hermitage and Tretchikoff Galleries.  Stein reaped no financial rewards from her collection either, and failed to retain an ‘eye’ for a good investment, not collecting the Surrealists when she had the chance. Nonetheless, what both Stein and Shchukin did have was the pleasures of living with that art. That surely is the best aim.   

Buy it, if you like it, or better still if you love it, hang it where you can see it, live with it many long years. If it rises in value – jolly good! If it doesn’t you have still all that enjoyment. Art appreciates in ways other than financially and if it is art with any substance its meaning will deepen and develop. It will enrich your life as you live and grow with it


Clare Finn
Art historian and conservator

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