Bengal has always been a state where people interested in art are plenty, and its contribution to the national art scene is no less – a whole lot of art teachers, artists, art students and art connoisseurs from the state are based all over the country. And Kolkata, being the capital of the states, is the place where most artists and sculptors congregate.
To cater to them, the city has a host of galleries, big and small. Some of the biggest art connoisseurs also hail from the city.
Academy of Fine Arts
Birla Academy of Art and Culture
The new centre of fine arts market
Of late, Kolkata is slowly becoming the toast of the fine arts market. The reasons are several.
AFFORDABILITY - Affordability is definitely a prime driving force, the reason for which is the absence of value-added tax (VAT). In places like Delhi and Mumbai, the other prominent art marts in the country, VAT adds quite a bit to the final price. For example, a painting selling elsewhere for Rs 5 lakh would sell for around Rs 4.4 lakh in Kolkata. The 12.5% VAT makes a world of difference.
Bengal has zero VAT, but like all places, there is still a 14.5%
Customs duty. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry
(FICCI) had recently submitted a request to the union ministry of
culture to roll back the customs tax. If that does happen, it would be
another reason for cheer, especially in Kolkata, where there is already
QUALITY AND QUANTITY - West Bengal is a feeder state for the world of Indian art. From prominent artists toteachers in art schools all over India to students, the state is figuring more and more prominently in the national artscene. Hence it is natural that there is a strong interest in Bengal art.
According to prominent painter Jogen Choudhury, West Bengal is home to numerous artists and many come to Kolkata to practice their art. Many also go to places like Mumbai and Delhi to showcase their work. Hence the interest of art connoisseurs in Kolkata as a happy hunting ground for good art is huge. Also, the market in Kolkata is not commerce-driven, unlike those in other prominent cities.
So quality and quantity, both are in abundance in the state.
Setting up shop
These factors – affordability, quality, quantity – are drawing the interests of several art houses to set up shop in Kolkata. According to several gallery owners and painters that Team M3.tv spoke to, art houses are increasingly eager to set up their headquarters and offices in Kolkata, in order to exploit the factors mentioned earlier.
The affordability of art sold in the city makes it a win-win situation for – the buyer as well as the seller.
Art is bought by two kinds of people – connoisseurs and investors. For the former, the availability of art at prices that are not too high help in satiating their desire. For the latter group of people, lower prices open up a lot of opportunities. Buying art is similar to buying stocks. If one can hold on to a piece for 10-15 years before re-selling, it’s profit all the way, sometimes by huge margins.
In both cases, the appreciation of good art and artists increases manifold, which further fuel demand. So in the end, everyone wins – the buyer, the artist, the art house, the gallery.
Kolkata has had a lot of art connoisseurs as well as artists, but there has always been a certain death of space to display creations. There are places like CIMA Art Gallery, Academy of Fine Arts, Birla Academy of Art of Culture and Victoria Memorial, and several smaller ones, but that’s too few for comfort for a city which takes pride in calling itself the cultural capital of India.
In recent years, some of the older art galleries have been renovated to international standards. A few big ones are also coming up. However, some gallery owners say that lack of publicity is a stumbling block to some of the newer ones being used to their full potential. Despite having well-maintained places, with proper temperature control and modern lighting systems, they do not get to host exhibitions.
Experts say that space management and publicity are the twin factors which can create a vibrant art market in the city.
Listed below are some of the newer as well as the renovated art galleries.
• Town Hall has three splendid galleries, including an open-air gallery for sculptures and a hauntingly splendid one carved out of an underground vault. The galleries were renovated and reopened in 2010. The first ever art exhibition in India was held at the Town Hall in 1828, organised by Brush Club. Rabindranath Tagore’s first painting exhibition was also held here, in 1931.
• Currency Building - Located in BBD Bag, this three-storied colonial brick building was renovated by INTACH. However, except for a few odd shows, this modern gallery space is little used for lack of publicity.
• Victoria Memorial Hall - It is not new, but is undergoing a Rs 90-crore four-year renovation, to bring its galleries up to the latest international standards.
• Old Silver Mint House - This large heritage building on Strand Road can be wonderful space for art, what with the wonderful colonial architecture. It was planned to be converted to a national arts centre, did not materialize. Hopefully, things can be turned out.
• Indian Museum - With the bi-centenary celebrations coming up in February 2014, the Indian Museum is being done up to the best standards. It has a huge art collection, but only a small part is currently displayed. When the renovation is completed, a lot more will be on display. Plus, it also organises seminars, exhibitions and educational courses to popularise art, among other things. The Ashutosh Centenary Hall, owned by Indian Museum, is also being spruced up.
• Arts Acre - Arts Acre is one of the two art grand art galleries coming up, the other being KMOMA. Set over four acres, it is a modern art museum built on the lines of the best in Europe and USA. On completion in March 2014, it will have a permanent exhibition and museum space of 35,000 sq ft, as well as five other galleries. It will also have residency facility for artists around the world, an amphitheatre, an auditorium, a bookstore, etc. The Arts Acre Foundation was founded almost three decades back by artist Shuvaprasanna.
• KMOMA - The latest museum-cum-exhibition space to be inaugurated in Kolkata is the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art (KMOMA). Till date, it is the grandest art project conceived in the city. The nine-storied architectural marvel, designed by the internationally reputed Swiss firm, Herzog & de Meuron, is envisaged to be a meeting ground of different tastes and temperaments. It would have huge spaces for galleries and museums, and host the best of India and Asian, as well as western, modern art.
A bright future
The art market in Kolkata is taking giant strides. The positives stacked up present a very bright picture of the future. With some more organised marketing, it can reach to greater heights.