Mumbai-based auction house Prinseps will host two NFT auctions: artwork by 1950s artist Gobardhan Ash and fashion sketches by Oscar-winning costume designer Bhanu Athaiya.
(L) Gypsy Mother (R) Devi Bahan by Gobardhan Ash. Photographs courtesy of Prinseps.
July promises to be a busy – and interesting – time for Prinseps, a Mumbai-based research-driven auction house. Not only will this month witness the Modern Art Auction, featuring works by MF Husain, Bhuppen Khakhar and Manjit Bawa, but also two Non-Fungible Token (NFT) auctions: works artwork by 1950s artist Gobardhan Ash and Oscar-winning costume designer Bhanu Athaiya’s Fashion Sketches.
Accompanied respectively by a sale of Ash’s estate and rare saris from Athaiya’s collection, these items make Prinseps the first auction house in India to adopt NFTs. Although NFT markets for art (even the physical type) have emerged and shows have taken place on blockchain platforms, auction houses across the country known for selling traditional art have yet to come together. significantly engaged in the art of cryptography. âWe don’t see any other auction house doing anything in this direction – the technology can be a bit heavy and not everyone’s cup of tea,â said Prinseps founder Indrajit Chatterjee.
I ask Chatterjee what prompted the auction house to explore NFTs – whether it was a sense of curiosity, a need to innovate, or following trends. He says he would hardly describe it as a fad in the art world. âI think it’s safe to say that digital art, that is, art on digital screens, is legitimate. Video art, for example, has been an established medium since the 90s (it was art sold using VHS tapes)â¦ The problem is with the ownership and control of digital art. Unlike a canvas where the owner of the artwork has physical custody of the artwork, a digital artwork can be shared as is in the form of a jpeg or tiff file. Blockchains and tokens essentially identify ownership and facilitate the digital art trade. Most people confuse the two. Digital art existed long before NFTs and any crypto infrastructure, âhe adds.
Countless commentators, especially those in the West, have called the frenzy of NFT art sales and the sky-high prices that certain pieces have commissioned as a “bubble.” Chatterjee’s response to such assumptions takes a broader view. âThe bubbles come and go. Even in the traditional art space, by that I mean the Indian contemporary art market. I believe that as long as we behave as collectors – buying good “art” with the advice of curators and independent researchers and not just as speculators or pinball machines – everything is fine. Art has clearly established itself as a long-term alternative asset and there is little doubt, âhe says.
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The works of Athaiya and Ash will be presented as is on a digital medium; the rich colors and avant-garde nature of the works meant that a transformation or re-imagining was not necessary. âBhanu Athaiya’s sketches have never been exhibited before. In contrast, Gobardhan Ash’s works were last exhibited in the 1950s. Needless to say, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding these two. We visualize a preview with a multitude of large TV panels each showing an NFT, âsays Chatterjee.
Are there overlaps between the profiles of the traditional art buyer and the potential DTV buyer of a work of art? Or are these profiles significantly different? Chatterjee says the answer is both yes and no. âPrinseps prides itself on being the flagship of the history of art and research, more than any other auction houseâ¦. However, we realize the need to build on art history and the essential role of digital art in the future. This has led us to focus particularly on auctioning these pieces to the same audience that buys the older traditional works of art. On the flip side – millennials are much more comfortable with technology and perhaps the concept of digital art (as opposed to an oil on canvas) – so we would expect NFTs to attract a blend slightly more tech savvy and younger without eliminating the traditional art collector, âhe says.
Thirty-five works that showcase Ash’s experiences with primitivism and 35 tokens are on display in the upcoming sale. The curation of the Athaiya Sale includes century-old saris, which she inherited from her mother and grandmother. These auctions represent a meeting between the past and the present: the idea of ââcrypto punks – pixel art characters – which have attracted attention recently, juxtaposed with portrait studies or avatars created by Ash; saris from the Athaiya Estate are featured alongside NFT’s fashion sketches, made in a modern and contemporary era.
Some in the art world have raised questions about the legitimacy of art held in the form of a DTV, especially since the same work can be sold multiple times, or even published online and distributed for free. The value, then, is derived from having a legitimate NFT and assigned to the artist. Chatterjee believes that NFTs actually make ownership easy and accurate, while also facilitating portability. âAny art can be photographed and published as prints or other media multiple times – it’s not unique to NFTs,â he notes.
Chatterjee is optimistic not only about the NFT market in India, but also how they could potentially democratize art, to some extent. âYoung people are much more comfortable with digital art than traditional oil on canvas. Easy transferability will further contribute to its growth, âhe says.
Responding to whether selling their art as NFT will allow artists, especially those who operate primarily digitally, to be paid fairly for their work, Chatterjee says he predicts that the trajectory of success of digital artists will be similar to that of traditional artists. âCurators and art critics will be able to see new exhibits (called NFT Drops) and see the growth of an artist’s work during an appraisal. This process has taken decades for traditional art. I have a feeling that the timelines for digital art will be much shorter, as artists are able to make cuts faster (have more exhibitions in a shorter time frame). This will potentially lead to faster talent recognition and faster business success, âhe says.