India has the most speculative art market in the world says Philip Hoffman, The Fine Art Fund – Business Standard

INDIAN ART FOR FUND

“Hoffman is something of a poster boy for art funds, and for the entire “art as an alternative asset class” discourse, doing annual trade of $120-130 million every year through the five funds he manages” says Business Standard. Fine Art Fund I – the first of these that he announced in 2003 to invest in museum quality art – is the longest-running and most successful art fund globally, having announced last year an average annualised returns on assets sold of 44 per cent.

Philip Hoffman

Philip Hoffman

Indian Fine Art Fund established 2008

Earlier this year he established a $25 million Indian Fine Art Fund which explains Hoffman’s presence at the India’s first art fair, The Indian Art Summit held August 2008 and “the buzz of excitement that follows his tall, brown-suited figure as he goes around the stalls, jotting down notes in his little notepad”. He made some investments, not very huge, but which artists and how much he does not reveal. “I was reviewing some of the works we bought six months ago,” he says, sipping his coffee in a very businesslike fashion. “They’re up 50 per cent and these are only mid-auction estimates. But then it is not unusual in these markets to make 100 per cent, 200 per cent, or even 300 per cent returns. But we are not buying emerging artists at $2,000 or $1,000. It’s a very risky game at that stage.”

The India fund has managed to attract around a hundred investors, mostly “cash-rich European individuals and a few London hedge funders managers”, Hoffman reveals, even though SEBI’s regulatory guidelines on investment in art funds did discourage some Indian banks from investing in the fund. “I think some of the Indian art is great. But you know my reputation is that quite often I’ll spend less than 30 seconds looking at a work of art on which we will spend $ 3 million.” The decision to buy or not to buy, Hoffman says, is made by 30 professionals – “who between them have 400 years of expertise”.

Indian market speculative

Hoffman marvels at the what he calls the “entrepreneurial” spirit of Indian consumers of art. “Of all the art markets in the world, this one is the most speculative. India has the most art funds in the world. If there is a market and money to be made, you guys are very fast at it, faster than the rest of the world.”  It might be wonderful but it also leads to instability, Hoffman seems to imply, because there are few serious collectors and more of those who “buy now only to sell on the way home”.

Lack of institutions a problem

The problem is also one of the lack of institutions to widen interest and cultivate tastes in art. “Unlike in New York, where curators have decided that Picasso is important or London where taste-makers have decided Rembrandt and Titian are going to be there until posterity, in India the names are constantly changing. Yes, five to seven names are constantly mentioned but there’s no unanimity,” he says draining the last of the coffee. “Look at the Middle East,” Hoffman says, “where Abu Dhabi is coming up with a cultural centre that’ll cost $30 billion. Imagine how much their curatorial direction will influence the market when that centre is up?” Indeed, more than China or India, Hoffman seems upbeat about the prospects of Middle East art, not the least because unlike the other art markets, “it is still mostly people from the Middle East who are investing in Middle Eastern art”.

But don’t lose heart says the Business Standard- “In the long term, India is a one-way horse,” Hoffman predicts. “It has a long way to go.”

See the Business Standard for the full story.

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