Collectors as patrons


I learned quickly in my fieldwork in the Indian artworld that art collectors were highly valued creatures. In one of my first interviews with an art dealer in a South Mumbai gallery nearly a decade ago, I naively asked the dealer what kinds of people bought contemporary art from India, which provoked the dealers ire. She accused me of trying to access the gallerys client list, of having false academic credentials, and said that I and other researchers were surely trying to figure what we were doing in India to try and make the same [art market] boom happen in Europe.

Despite my best efforts, I failed to revive the connection in that interaction, but absorbed my first lesson. The lesson in that interchange was not in the content of the dealers accusations but in their very preposterousness, which suggested that sources of capital are a touchy issue in the artworld, and those who buy art are carefully guarded by dealers. I soon learned that questions about capital in art were best asked indirectly, either in terms of other peoples (purported) behaviour, or couched in a language of an economically disinterested passion, or intellectual interest.

More recently, following a long interview, I requested another Mumbai dealer to introduce me to collectors of a particular artist. He kindly obliged, quickly introducing me to a collector who happened to be sitting in the gallery. The dealer then stood next to the collector the whole time I spoke with him, a soft-spoken man in late middle age. This made it impossible for me to ask questions freely, and I felt pressured to restrict my queries to the collectors opinions about the artists work, rather than his buying and collecting practices or more sensitive issues. The dealer then shuffled the collector away, before I could ask for his number. This time there was no open conflict, but an ever-so-slightly tense situation, in which I chose to preserve my connection with the dealer rather than pushing for unrestricted access to a collector.

In both of these instances, I followed conventional anthropological fieldwork practice, which is to push as far as you can, until someone says ouch, at which point the researcher backs off. Dealers ouch point was sources of capital, namely their collectors. Across my fieldwork, I found collectors are a valuable, relatively rare asset, and access to them is protected. This caginess makes sense, since as brokers of a kind art dealers operate by controlling access and the flow of information such as about artworks and their availability or rarity, prices, and about other competing art buyers between different actors. Thus, they benefit from keeping collectors separate from artists and nosy researchers.

What then is a collector in the Indian artworld, and what makes a collector valuable in this system? In this article I look at how the collector category has transformed and been deployed in varying ways over time, in relation to the art market and shifts in the artworld in India pertaining to how art is made, its commodification, and changes in artworld composition. As the term collector slips and moves, it seems that collecting is more about a modality of art engagement rather than a type of individual. I conclude with an argument about what the place of the collector-as-patron is in the current Indian artworld, and his/her role in building the sustainability of the art ecosystem.

What qualifies as an art collector, and what does this mean in the Indian art context? First, a caveat. Whereas many types of art collector exist, in this article, I centre my discussion on collectors of modern and contemporary art from India, drawing from ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2011-2020 in Mumbai, as well as some Indian art publications. My broader field of research is the Mumbai artworld, with a focus on the relationships and dynamics between arts production and circulation, on the one hand, and how these articulate with art market processes, on the other. In this context, art collectors play an important symbolic and practical role.

Second, in connection with the theme of this issue, I treat collectors as art patrons. By definition, patrons are those who support art, in this case, in particular, financially. Patrons also support regularly, and over time, rather than on a one-off basis, and their support may go beyond buying work and extend to philanthropy, founding museums, foundations, or residencies, institutional donations, and lending works from their collections to shows. A patron may also do this more modestly, by following the career of a particular artist(s), and supporting these by purchasing their work, meeting the artist, and so on. There are also good collectors and others who are less so, something I return to below, in which good collectors are kinds of patrons. I will thus unpack the art collector and collecting as patronage.

The notion of an art collector, and who and what that entails, has significantly evolved in India over the last three decades. Before the 1990s, collectors of modern artworks were few in number, and those who did, did so primarily outside of a market based system: art was acquired by collectors as gifts from artists, or for very low prices. I heard many stories from insiders in Mumbai, for instance, of works by one of the Progressive Artists Group being bought for a couple of hundred rupees in the 1980s and early 1990s. There were also very few commercial art galleries in India. This pre-market art scene was often described in rosy terms by older collectors, artists, and dealers in India, as a time of mutual love of art in the absence of financial motives. Others describe it as feudal, seen from the perspective of artists who were not fully recompensed for their labour, and with few opportunities.

Mortimer Chatterjee writes, It was a [artworld] landscape pretty much unchanged since Independence and dotted with only a couple of patrons over whom artists and galleries were required to fawn.1In Mumbai, major collectors of art from a range of historical periods included industrialists such as the Tata family,2as well as individuals like scientist Homi Bhabha who collected on behalf of the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research.

From the mid-1990s, and especially from the millennium, the artworld grew and was increasingly marketized, and artworks by Indian artists became a commodity whose price went up and up. An Indian modern artwork first broke the million-dollar mark in 2005, when Tyeb Mehtas painting Mahishasura sold at an auction. As galleries mushroomed in Mumbai and Delhi and other cities, auction houses and the India Art Fair set up shop, and various art-related services emerged. Fine art from India became a valuable commodity, tradeable for large sums and on the global market.

This period of intense market and artworld growth in India, which culminated in the early to mid-2000s, until the crisis of 2008, came to be known in the artworld as the boom. The term would seem to index a climax within a broader cyclical pattern, and there have been other art market booms in other parts of the world (such as in New York and Western Europe in the 1990s), but in India the boom was a first. It was the initial explosion of the art market as fine art was commoditized to an unprecedented degree, and a market-centred art infrastructure developed in major cities. Even though art prices dramatically contracted with the crisis, and for many years afterwards up to the present and galleries lament difficulties sustaining sales, the changes in the artworld propelled a qualitative, enduring shift in how fine art is done in India.

Depending on who one spoke to, art was now a business, among other things, and perhaps above all things. Being an artist could be lucrative, and some young people began to entertain this as a viable career, as stories trickled in via the national press of Indian artists like Subodh Gupta or Jitish Kallat selling at record prices in international auctions.

The discourse around collectors in the artworld changed alongside these historical shifts. In the early to mid-2010s, many in the art profession looked back on the recent period of excess and blamed it on the shadowy figure of the speculator or investor, or simply, new buyers. Usually described by dealers, artists, and curators as newly wealthy in contrast to longstanding collectors often dubbed old money, the new buyers were said to have made their money in finance and banking and related to art as on the one hand an investment tool and on the other hand as a marker of social status that was easy to buy. These individuals, some of whom worked in the artworld, were blamed for driving prices of artists dramatically and unsustainably high during the boom and their subsequent fall, when the speculators withdrew from the artworld.

This period alienated many collectors, insiders said, who retreated or bought fewer works during this time. One collector, Mina,3described how during the period of accelerated market growth she found herself frequently priced out, and at best only able in her budget to purchase tiny works. Size matters, as artworks such as paintings are commonly priced based on the artist as well as the physical size of the work.4The boom was horrible. My engagement with art started before [that]. So, I knew what the real prices were supposed to be The artworld was only for art lovers, but then it became a commodity. It was so sad. Before it was very pure. Today its split between those who trade and those who love art.

Others attested that investors no longer existed in the art market, post-boom. Another collector, from an industrialist family, said that she was alienated by attitudes during the boom. After, When the market went down, business was bad, I didnt buy for five years. Echoing the words of Mina, above, Maithili Parekh, an art advisor, wrote in ARTIndia in 2009: the outcome of investors having pulled out is the return of older collectors to the marketplace There were many collectors who felt outpriced during the boom or just plain uncomfortable at the galloping prices and who chose to sit on the sidelines instead.

Along with the apparent return of old collectors, dealers spoke of the arrival of new collectors in the 2010s, who were neither like the old established collectors, nor necessarily very wealthy like the new buyers. The new collectors, which dealers talked about as both an emerging demographic and an aspiration, were young, and bought artworks slowly, sometimes paying in installments, and within their means. Although I heard about new collectors in 2012-20, also in the press,5and the return of old collectors, patronage of art in India changed, as art became a high-priced commodity, and the presence of an art market-place, in galleries, auctions, and art fairs, made art more accessible to a larger group of people. One collector, businessman Harsh Goenka, describes the past collecting community as bound together by a shared passion for art, whereas these days, I find a tendency to show off among many collectors.6After the development of an art market, more people could become collectors as art became a commodity that was accessible to those with means, with intermediaries to help guide buyers, select artists, and institutionalize and promote art. At the same time, these narratives intimate that the motivations of and actors collecting art became more complex, and collectors became not only patrons but influential actors in an art market.

Whenever I ask collectors why they collect art, they frequently answer citing love and passion for art, supported by economic means and sometimes reinforced by a family background of collecting or engagement with the arts. I found such responses unrevealing, as if the collector were merely regurgitating a socially desirable answer. Unlike artists and some dealers, it was also difficult to access collectors, as I describe in the opening of this article. Those I met were very wealthy and powerful individuals, in the public eye to varying degrees, whose time for me was often limited, which prevented deeper interactions. Published interviews with art collectors in India are similarly opaque and written by interviewers in a hagiographic tone that celebrates collectors largesse and collecting as an honorable, passion-led, non-instrumental practice, revealing little about the complexities of motivations or empirical details about how people collect. In effect, such accounts reinforce the collector as a certain kind of special persona, who, much like the dealer guarding his/her clients, must be appeased, and propped up, so that they continue to patronize art.

Some of the competing motivations and ambiguities surrounding collecting art are revealed in the words of Rakesh, a Mumbai-based collector who buys artworks from galleries in Mumbai and Delhi. Rakesh generally collects Indian contemporary art, but also favours older works of the Bengal School as well as work of young artists from Pakistan and Iran. While we spoke about art patronage in India, we started talking about video works, and how these were relatively affordable and below fair market price compared to other types of more object-based works. He said, The thing is, if I buy a video work, how am I supposed to show it? Should I have it playing on repeat, projected on my wall? Do I put it in storage? I dont like to put artworks in storage. I dont think the market [collectors] are mature enough to buy video art.

Yet later Rakesh admitted he put some of his collection in storage and rotated his display of works, since all of them would not fit into his apartment at once. And while he said that Indian collectors lacked the maturity to buy video as well as installation-based works, he himself did not buy them. He was quick to acknowledge the artistic value of different media: People respond to video but they dont buy it. And you cant tell an artist dont make installations, dont do videos, just paint. Thats not what they are, they are not a painterIts one thing to appreciate something on Youtube and another to buy it. We are culturally conditioned to buy something.

Rakesh felt that galleries heavily relied on collectors to sustain such work by buying it, but that they should not, since collectors were not well suited to own and care for such works and because these are not what collectors are looking in art to purchase.

Indians are ownership-driven. Its always about my car, my house, all the way to my family, my wife, and so onIndians want to buy something

Thats the problem, with art that can be duplicated, reproduced. When artists produce something in editions, and so you have a series of five, or a series of seven, or whatever, people dont want to pay as much! Because its like youre getting something that can be reproduced, that is a reproduction. You dont feel as much like its mine.

It was the thingness of the artwork, its material qualities which impart a sense of weight, permanence, and graspability, which made it seem ownable, one reason it was desirable to a collector. Dealers echoed this, noting the enduring popularity of paintings in the Indian art market. Paintings are both a classic and more conventionally recognized form of art, as well as eminently material, solid objects in frames, and unique.

Although he found video works to be much less desirable purchases, Rakesh understood and valued the importance of fostering a range of artistic practices and media: Such work should continue to be produced. But this kind of work should go to museums, and Rakesh felt that galleries in India relied too much and inappropriately on art collectors to patronize video and other multimedia-based art practices by buying such works. The latter, while being a mainstay of contemporary art practices, do not appeal as much to many collectors because their lack of physical substance and form, their unfamiliarity, and their potential reproducibility all diminish the artworks quality as unique and priceless, as well as the uniqueness of their ownership.

Collecting is thus driven in part by a basic desire to possess, which is part taking pleasure in the thing-ness of the art object, and part ego. A dealer explained, Collecting involves ego. Some collectors are discreet, others are not. Its a matter of temperament. One thing is for sure with everyone it involves ego. Because what is the desire to possess something, if not ego?

As Rakesh suggests, the objects cant be just anything, they have to be special, and convey a sense of unique ownership of something no one else has. Amrita, another collector, said that when it came to buying art, I have a lot of compulsions, about what I like to look at. Amrita described her compulsions in art as at odds with her obligation to collect with others in mind. For instance, her favourite were nudes, yet she never bought them because I cant use those nudes in my home; she felt they might offend servants. She described once buying a beautiful painting she fell in love with. Afterwards, she discovered that the title had to do with death, and reluctant to offend the sentiments of others, I took that painting and put it in some other place.

Just as Amrita spoke of her inner compulsions that drew her to certain artworks that she felt a need to resist, collectors frequently use a language of irrationality, desire, falling in love, wanting of organic, spontaneous attraction and wanting to describe how they end up acquiring certain artworks. Collector Abhishek Poddar related: I feel that all of this is by accident evolve[s] spontaneously and not by design I cant explain why a work of art appeals to me. I know when it clicks; it is a complex reaction with an indefinable aspect of the object. It is aesthetics and some gut feeling that attract me to collect a certain artist of an object. It is something beyond my comprehension...7

Deepak, a businessman and media figure who collects, described how he came to choose one work because of the motif of a crow in it, which he felt drawn to, because of the significance of crows in Bengali culture, despite the fact that he found the artist inarticulate when explaining the work in English it played on his memory and nostalgia. It appealed to me, so I bought it. Some things you just want to possess. You just want to have it. You cant buy it in the hope that it will become the next Warhol. If it emotionally appeals to you buy it! Collector Roohi Savara describes this wanting as her romance with a work of art, and that to keep the romance pure and unmediated by another, she and her husband deliberately do not meet the artists.8

What these collectors variously describe sounds like what anthropologist Alfred Gell called enchantment, that is, the inexplicable allure or attraction of an artwork for a viewer. For Gell, what happens in this process is that the viewer, picking up on, yet unable to fully fathom and grasp the technical and aesthetic virtuosity of the artists work in the object, experiences the artists agency and intentionality instead as the agency of the artwork itself.

Walter Benjamin similarly deploys the notion of aura to denote first, the allure of the artwork and second, its singularity and authenticity, the here and now of the work of art, its unique existence.9Artworks thus have power over us because of their singularity and their unresolvable allure, which has much to do with what meaning the viewer ascribes to an artwork. When collectors describe falling in love, and pursuit of an object, or having to have some artwork, it could be about wanting to possess this aura, and having the means to do that.

At the same time, its important to politicize the practice of art collecting, which is elided in collectors passion-based rhetoric. This means both recognizing the other actors and contexts involved in producing the specific encounters between artworks and their potential buyers (its not just a magical process of falling in love), as well as disentangling discourses about art collectors and practices, that is, distinguishing between what people say, and what people do. In relation to the first point, art dealers play an important role in selecting works and artists to introduce to collectors, and show at their galleries, which influence the latters choices. Although dealers described some of their clientele as friends, collectors I spoke with used a more distanced language: The galleristscan stoke your love. They tell you about a good artist in a context. Because most buyers would like the gallerists or curators input. Their role is vital. But some galleries are sharks.

Another stated that while he was close to some galleries, he took everything they say with a grain of salt, because of vested interests. Four different collectors mentioned that they liked to meet artists in person, to hear them talk about their own practice, as a way balancing gallery power and making more independent assessments of works before they bought them. Nevertheless, dealers (galleries) play a major role in India in gatekeeping in art, especially so in modern and contemporary art because there are so few art institutions such as museums. By virtue of their networks, galleries have access to artists, artworks, and other collectors that an individual collector would rely upon.

Furthermore, although beyond the scope of this article, it bears noting that other social and political influences may impact collecting and what gets seen as artworks desirable to own. One notable instance is the case of artist M.F. Husain (1913-2011), who was pressured into exile from 2005 until the time of his death, due to persecution, legal charges of obscenity and offending religious sentiment, and related controversies surrounding his work.10Although Husain is one of Indias foremost modernist artists, a favourite among collectors, and the legal charges against him were ultimately dismissed, dealers related that political circumstances did negatively affect his market. These effects were due, they said, both to some collectors agreeing with the charges brought against Husain, and others merely wishing to distance themselves from controversy. Whereas talking about the allure of artworks and collectors falling for them pictures a singular, pure relationship between artwork and collector, these dynamics unfold among crafted contexts and include the influences of dealers and curators.

There are right and wrong ways to collect, said both dealers and collectors I met during my research, and there is an ethics to collecting. Bad collectors, or buyers who were not really collectors were frequently referenced in relation to period of the boom. These individuals bought art for the wrong reasons and treated art like a commodity and flipped artworks, selling them quickly in order to turn a profit. They were blamed for fueling the production of a glut of mediocre artwork in the market. Berlin-based dealer and art historian Marta Gnyp argues that two truisms about collectors are myths first, that only bad collectors sell works, and second, that good collectors only buy with their eyes, without listening to rumours or trends, and that the reverse is true.11

In my research in India, I also found these myths to play out a little differently, and with more nuance. First, whereas dealers insisted that collectors should not sell works they buy from a gallery, and there are mechanisms in place to discourage bad behaviour like flipping, collectors all said they did sell rarely or on occasion, justifying it in terms of refining and improving their collections. One collector with several hundred works, Rajeev, said that when he started collecting: I didnt know anything about how to buy art. My friends father advised me, Start with Husain. So, I bought one. It was not a very good one. I ended up selling it. It took him many years to develop a practice of collecting well. In other words, selling is okay if its for a good reason, such as correcting a past mistake, to build a worthy collection, not for personal profit, and done infrequently.

Rakesh said, I dont buy and sell. I have bought say 100 artworks in my life and sold two of them because I thought they were maybe weak points in the collection. Weak points were to be eliminated and collections carefully curated, because, as Shalini, a collector in her late 30s, explained, a real collector is one who buys significant works over a period of time to make a significant collection. Similarly, in contrast to dealers who were cagey about money and tended to frame collecting as divorced from prices, collectors were frank about how budgeting, fair prices, and having a sense that one was making a financially wise purchase were important to them.

Second, among the few collectors I spoke with, and dealers as well, no one claimed to only buy with their eyes. Although collectors insist on their autonomy in decision-making about which artists they choose to support, and warn against blindly following the advice of dealers,
those I met all formulated collecting well as a process of deliberate self-development and education, which involved studying art, reading extensively, keeping up with art trends, going to shows and art fairs, meeting and talking with artists, and learning to collect in an increasingly focused and disciplined manner.

One described: When I talk to new buyers at a show, they will always say one of two things. They will either say something vague, or they will say, Its very Rothko, or something like that, and make an association with a famous [foreign] artist. But they cant give a one-line cogent answer on what they like! So, its about developing your own gut-level understanding of what interesting art is, what is cutting edge, and travelling all over. Its not overnight. My tastes may have evolved over 10 years but its the same as literature. If you dont continuously read, you wont develop a taste for literature. This is fantastic, versus, this is rubbish But you have to start somewhere.

Collector Rajeev explained how his collecting was transformed by finding a thematic anchor years in: I didnt realize the importance of an anchor before this I enjoy it more than buying randomly. In relation to this thematic anchor, he said, Now Im trying to attach myself to this. Looking back to things I bought in the past. From the perspective of collectors, a good collector had clear tastes that were cultivated through learning and exposure and purchased art purposefully to create a good collection.

This notion of collecting highlights it as a creative activity12that requires original input from the collector as co-creator and more than a mere patron as beneficent lover of art. As her collecting fed into a project of building an artists residency, Shalini said that her aim would be to spot first talent, the freshness, among those under ten years in practice, to cultivate young artists who could get picked up by galleries from her residency. She positions herself as a risk-taker, investing in young artists with unproven value.

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu notes that in cultural economies like art, it is hard to know the value or importance of a particular artist or work over the long-term, because it can take a very long time for a cultural work to prove it can stand the test of time, through validation and consecration. I suspect now that the notion of bad collectors as those who sell works, trade art, and are financially motivated is one that is self-serving to dealers, because it benefits the latter if buyers keep artworks out of circulation after buying them, and turn to the dealer, rather than an auction house or other vehicle, should they ever need to sell them again.13

The difference between good and bad collectors thus seems to be more about the ends of collecting as a practice, rather than the degree to which a collector of art has financial motives, and to be closely related to the difference between a good and bad art collection. A good collection is one that is well rounded, artistically informed, has works of some significance, and is guided by a clear vision of the collector, whereas a bad one is random, uneven in quality, and without a core to define it. In defining what a good collection is, collectors suggest that good collecting is a form of patronage activity not geared towards oneself, such as only to bolster ones social status or for private pleasure, but towards sharing it with others. The good collection is one that can educate and be enjoyed by many and is not solely guided by the whims of the individual collector.

To return to my opening anecdote: what makes collectors valuable in the artworld? For dealers and those in the art business, collectors are valuable as clients. One dealer said clients want to buy respectability: Here it is, put it on the wall Its like going hunting in the 19th century and putting a tiger head on the wall so everyone can see it. Its a trophy And we dealers thrive on those clients who are more flamboyant and aggressive because they want the acknowledgment. They will go that extra step to get that.

Thus, access to collectors and relationships with them are carefully managed. For the artworld, however, collectors may play a role as important agents in building an art infrastructure in India, at different levels, to make art from the region more institutionalized and accessible to wider publics beyond small art circles. This possibility expresses itself in some collectors stated aspirations or practices, either to build a private art museum to fill the gaps in art infrastructure; or, at more modest scales, loaning artworks to shows, donating collections posthumously to institutions, sharing ones expertise, or funding artists. The lack of public art museums is strongly and endlessly lamented by art insiders in India; a few private ones exist: the Kiran Nadar Museum in Delhi (est. 2010), Devi Art Foundation (est. 2005) also in Delhi; Piramal Art Foundation in Mumbai, among them, all founded by collectors.

I met two collectors in Mumbai who stated founding a museum was a personal goal, and others refer to it in interviews (cf, interview with Harsh Goenka, ARTIndia, 2021). Others, state similar ambitions to contribute to the public by creating a collection of significant works, or to leave a collection behind that everyone can enjoy; or as in Rakeshs case, to support young artists who are talented but unable to make a livelihood from art alone. In a dialogue with other collectors, Pheroza Godrej asserted that, considering all of the private collections of significant artworks in India that most people never see, it is our responsibility as collectors to make sure that these are shared, that by collectors not stepping up to the plate, thats how the best works are lost to the public domain.14These assertions image the collector as one who gives, taking the step from collecting for personal pleasure to collecting for a (imagined) public, a kind of super-citizen.

These goals of collecting in service of the nation and society resonate especially in India in regard to modern and contemporary art: precisely because there is a lack of fine art-related infrastructure, a gulf separates many people from even understanding art because it is inaccessible. Nearly everyone I spoke to in my research, from artists to curators to dealers, advisors, and collectors referred to this, that there is not enough art education in schools; a dearth of art museums; that galleries are too exclusive and intimidating
for many people to easily enter, yet they are the place to see Indian contemporary art; that there are insufficient archives related to art; and that there
s not enough art writing, with what exists being written for auction catalogs; and a need for art expertise.

These are interrelated and interacting weak points, as, for example, when art critic Nancy Adajania writes that the Indian artworld suffers from an affliction amnesia about itself caused also by the lack of archival facilities that could embody the collective memory of a domain of activity; the absence of a rigorous discourse, both critical and pedagogic and the paucity of institutional infrastructure that could provide such vital processes of self-critical reflection with museums and similar platforms. These must be urgently addressed, Adajania argues, to forestall a dangerous cultural self-forgetting.15

Sameera, a collector, saw a need to build arts connections not only with its own pasts, but also with the world: Iwanted to give Indian art a way out as well. If I have this interest in it, surely others are out there. Why is it so difficult to learn about a nations contemporary art? You have historical context, but there was nothing to supplement it with.

I would categorize all of these as kinds of ecological concerns because they have to do with arts relationships with, and place in, its environments, namely arts place in society, or relationship with the cities it unfolds within. Sustainability and ecological thinking often got glossed by those I spoke with, especially artists, as less market involvement, less commercialization. But its actually more about how to harness capital to art in such a way that the art ecosystem can grow, a wider range of practices can be fostered and supported, and those with means choose to invest their capital in it. Collectors, understood as those who collect and patronize art in order to create significant collections, and who want their patronage activities to contribute to building art in India, can help address these ecological concerns.

Indeed, one collector I spoke with said that they felt it was important for art prices to start lower in galleries, so that more, younger people could become collectors in a sustainable fashion: You get people into it by selling a work for 40,000 [rupees], but if you start at three lakhs, students will say, you are crazy. [Dealer name] sold works for 50,000 and allowed for five installments. And youve got that guy hooked now. Now the threshold is so high, you are automatically alienating people.

By lowering the bar of entry for art lovers to purchase artworks, the collector base could grow, and thus the paying audience for artworks and artists, that can continue its patronage over time. In this way, art collectors may be powerful agents to grow the art ecosystem, addressing some of these ecological concerns, if conceived less exclusively as neither a luxury, social status-building hobby of the super-rich, nor an antiquated practice of the old monied elite, and more as patronage sustained financial support of arts motivated by love and appreciation of art across a wider range of means.

Since the post-crisis years, in Mumbai, concerns around arts long-term sustainability are more prominent, as the boom and crisis showed how market-led growth was rapid but unsustainable. More widely, it is well noted that the rise of neoliberal processes and economistic thinking, with their focus on profit maximization, have been accompanied by a parallel intensification in social criticism of unchecked financial gain and concerns about sustainability.

In the Indian artworld, or ecosystem, if you will, these dynamics express as the kinds of ecological concerns having to do with what it means to build the artworld in a long-term way. Whereas market reports tend to conceive of sustainability
in art as the need to have more
non-commercial institutions, like independent art spaces, discourses about collecting and collectors suggest that the latter play a significant role
and could potentially play an even bigger one in bolstering the scaffolding of the art ecosystem by creating institutions, sharing artworks and knowledge, and through their support, making it possible for a range of art practices to thrive.


1. Mortimer Chatterjee, Games People Play, ARTIndia XIV(2), Quarter 2, 2009, p. 49.

2. For more on older generations of collectors of old art in India, see Pratapaditya Pals Collecting Old Art in Modern India, circa 1875-1950. Marg Publications, Mumbai, 2015.

3. All individual names are pseudonyms unless they are present in a publication already in the public domain.

4. For more on how artworks are priced, see Olav Velthuiss Talking Prices (2005). Paintings remain a favourite choice in the Indian art market; by comparison, other types of artistic mediums cost less, such as video, installation, etc.

5. For example, The New Collector, 21 October 2018, (last accessed 23 September 2021)

6. Interview in ARTIndia, Collectors as Creatures of Passion, p 34, March 2021.

7. Suresh Jayaram, Collecting Practices of Abhishek Poddar, TAKE on ART 3(9), 2012, p. 33.

8. Meera Menezes, A Private Passion, ARTIndia XIV(2), Quarter 2, 2009, p. 45.

9. Walter Benjamin and Michael W. Jennings, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (First Version), Grey Room 39, Spring 2010, pp. 11-38.

10. See for a summary, J. Venkatesan, Husain Fought Legal Battle Against Vandals, Puritans, The Hindu, 9 June 2011. (Last accessed 29 September 2021).

11. Marta Gnyp, The Shift: Art and the Rise to Power of Contemporary Collectors. Art and Theory Publishing, 2015.

12. For example, see interview with collector Ashiesh Shah, who says, Collecting is a creative process I think that behind every collection is a creative mind, Larrys List, (Last accessed 23 September 2021).

13. To explain: collectors are discouraged in Mumbai from reselling works after purchase; galleries commonly make buyers sign an agreement that they will not sell the work for x number of years, and if they break the agreement, a collector can be blacklisted. Furthermore, dealers want collectors to return to them should they wish to sell. If instead an artwork ends up in an auction, this can wreak havoc on an artists prices, because it may sell for very high or low, and the role of a gallery is to grow an artists market and prices gradually over time. Generally speaking, auctions are seen as very volatile. One dealer related how difficult it was to sell an artists work via the gallery during the two weeks before and after an auction where that artists work came up for sale.

14. The Art of Collecting Art, ARTIndia XIV(2), Quarter II, 2009, p. 55.

15. Nancy Adajania, Globalism Before Globalization: The Ambivalent Fate of the Triennale India, in Shanay Jhaveri (ed.), Western Artists and India. The Shoestring Publisher, Mumbai, 2013, p. 168 (168-185).