New galleries, exhibitions, auctions — the art landscape in the country is growing by the day. With an increasing number of patrons and the decreasing age at which they begin collecting art, it is a great time for the industry to thrive. However, the world of art is not always an easy one to manoeuvre, especially if you’re starting out as a young art collector. Yamini Mehta, International Head of Indian and South Asian Art at Sotheby’s, gives us tips on how to start out as an art collector.

The first step
Durga Mahisasura Mardini (1993) by Tyeb Mehta. Showcased at the recent 'Boundless: India' auction
Yamini Mehta, International Head of Indian and South Asian Art

Check out the local museums. It helps to have a sense of what is valued in a particular culture and see what is often a strong example of a work of its type. If something sparks interest, then delve into the books to learn more about that particular subject. This is how best to develop an eye for quality. Get to know the people in the field such as artists, gallery curators, and auction house directors for a clearer perspective on the area of interest as well as the marketplace. Collecting is about passion, but it is also about trusting one’s instincts and learning how to curate a collection.

How to best implement it?

Once a collector is ready to start, they should look at buying from reputable sources. This comes with time when you get to know the people in the field. As with any other field, there are no shortcuts and if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Find a balance between market trends and your intuition

This is interesting. Market trends fluctuate and art is a long-term commitment. Be true to yourself and your preferences. We often say people should buy what they like but that they should buy in an informed way. I like seeing quirky collections that are not always about the biggest signatures because it shows that the collectors did not buy art with a checklist where everything looks like the ‘next’.

The importance of provenance or previous ownership when considering a piece for purchase

Historical significance and provenance are important. It always helps to know the history of a work and its ownership and to track that to the artist or patron. However, I would also caution that it is not everything but only one aspect to look at in purchasing a work. Even if it’s a great collection, do a thorough check on its merits and condition.

The emphasis on elements such as artwork fitting: installing and preserving
art collector
Taj and Train by Steve McCurry. Showcased at the recent ‘Boundless: India’ auction

Sometimes major works of art or installation are not feasible to have on display all the time. Each piece is unique and may require different needs. For example, textiles or miniatures may need to be rotated more often. Works should remain in areas where the temperature and humidity are controlled so that you do not have massive shifts that can stress the work. Preserving art by taking care of it and having a conservator examine the work from time to time.

The digitisation of the art world and what it means for collectors
art collector
Untitled (Head of a woman) by G. Ravinder Reddy. Showcased at the recent ‘Boundless: India’ auction

The internet is a transparent marketplace and that has democratised art. There are many websites that track auctions and galleries. Social media also has made the art world bigger. The reach is greater for an artist to show their work to a large audience today and build collectors in different parts of the world.

The three questions to ask before investing in a piece

Can I live with this work for 20 years? Where is the artist going in his/her career? Is the price right?

A maxim to live by for an art collector

Art gives life meaning and life gives art meaning.
All images: Courtesy Sotheby’s

Megha Uppal
Senior Associate Editor
An innate love for travel and food has translated into many a trips since childhood for Megha; it also fed her curiosity to know about local cultures. When not writing, she is on the lookout for three things: A great dark chocolate dessert, a beautiful pool where she can practice her backstroke, and art that she can save up for.