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Lokvani Talks To Prajit Dutta

Ranjani Saigal
02/21/2007

Prajit K. Dutta is the Managing Partner in the Arts India group of companies that includes Gallery Arts India in New York, Arts India West in Palo Alto, AI Con Gallery, London as well as Arts India Funds One and Two.  The three galleries represent all the major Indian artists.  Arts India Funds One and Two are private equity funds that invest in South Asian art.  

Prajit K. Dutta is also a Professor of Economics at Columbia University where he has taught since 1987.  He is the author of Strategies and Games: Theory and Practice (MIT Press, 1999) and numerous research articles.  His research interests are in Game Theory and its Applications.  He is currently doing research in the Economics of Global Warming.  He holds a P.hD from Cornell University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Delhi.

He spoke to Lokvani about his gallery and the booming contemporary Indian art market.

 
What motivated you, a Professor of Economics at Columbia University with no formal training in the arts to start an art gallery?

My father, Ajit K Dutta, had served as the chief executive of the National Academy of Fine Arts (the Lalit Kala Akademi) in India. During our childhood and teenage years in India, art was a big part of life for my brother and me. 

As a child, while I was an excellent student in other subjects, I never considered myself very good at painting. In retrospect I think this was because I had a really good eye to identify excellence in art. My knowledge of my lack of excellence kept me from pursuing a career in the arts.

As my wife and I were setting up our house in New York with the help of my brother who is an architect, we went to India to purchase art and transported it to the US. At that time we realized that Indian art is grossly undervalued. While relatively unknown artists showing in an New York gallery or even in a graduation show of an art school often got mid-to-upper four figure for their work, Indian artists with critical and commercial acclaim, people who routinely sold out their shows in India fetched considerably less abroad

My brother and I felt there was a need to show Indian in Art in a quality way. We believed that this would bring the well deserved attention to the work of the work on Indian contemporary artists. Thus ArtsIndia was born.

Arts India seems to have grown leaps and bounds from the original online gallery.  Could you describe the growth of ArtsIndia?

The organization began as the first online gallery of contemporary Indian art based in the US. (www.artsindia.com) in the year 2000. We received a lot of interest in our concept. This interest helped us expand beyond the online world we opened the New York gallery space in January 2002 on Fifth Avenue in New York's vibrant Flatiron district. Later we opened our California gallery space in November of 2004 in Palo Alto  and we are on our way to opening the largest Indian art gallery in London this March.

How would you define contemporary Indian Art?

I consider contemporary Indian Art to be that which is influenced by the Western art techniques. In the early 1900, the British established the Government Colleges of Art in Calcutta and Jamini Roy was one of the early graduates who had a tremendous influence on contemporary Indian Art.  Many others trained at different art schools like the JJ School of Arts and others. The Progressive Artists' Group made a vital contribution to the contemporary art movement in India by consciously seeking a new form which could describe the Indian reality immediately after the country's independence. Founded in 1947, the six founder members were K. H. Ara, S. K. Bakre, H. A. Gade, M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza and F. N. Souza. Souza is credited with the idea of forming this Group. It held many exhibitions together and was dissolved in 1956. The list of artists associated with the PAG includes almost all the important artists working in Bombay in the 50's. Apart from the six founder members, one can also count among the associated artists V. S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar and Bal Chabda.

Could you provide some guidelines for buyers thinking of purchasing a piece of art?

The most important reason to buy a piece of art is that you fall in love with the piece. Only the buyer knows the language of their heart and they should be guided by that.   Sentiments often play a large role in such a purchase where people pick a painting that reminds them of their childhood days or a place from their past. Paintings also have an opposite effect where people avoid buying a painting that reminds them of something they wish to forget. Some buy paintings to suit a certain d├ęcor in which case the colors and the image become very important.  At ArtsIndia, we have very knowledgeable sales people who can help guide a buyer.

What guidance does ArtsIndia provide for customers who wish to purchase an art piece as an investment?

The value of a piece of art depends on the fame of the artist and the rarity of the piece. At Arts India we have an extensive database that we use to guide our customer to asses the investment potential of a piece of art.

What is the price range for contemporary Indian art?

The most famous artists command a price in the million dollar range. For pieces of moderately well known upcoming artists the price could be a few thousand.

 What does the client profile for ArtsIndia look like? 

A bulk of our customers is of Indian origin. They are either Indians from India or NRIs. We are seeing an increased interest from other communities as well. The new found interest in India seems to have created an increased interest in Indian Art as well. We have seen a sharp increase in interest from institutional clients like museums and other art galleries.


How critical is training for the making of a good painter? Are the Indian Art colleges at par with their western counterparts in providing the training?

Just as a good pianist cannot play without excellent training, a good painter needs training to hone his skills.  Indian Art colleges do provide good training. Unfortunately the recent boom in the art market has made the best Indian artist to focus on painting rather than teaching, which does take a toll on the training.

Do you have any advice for Indian American students wanting to take up art as a career?

I think people should be guided by their passion in picking a career choice. Having said that I am not sure I know the opportunities for Indian American artists since at ArtsIndia our focus is on artists from India.  But if people have the talent they most certainly must try and hopefully they will succeed.

Thank you for your time

Thank you.



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1.Art and Rabindranath Tagore February 10, 2009Thurpu 

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