Research and Passion for Collecting are the two driving forces that summarize the motive behind Prinseps.
My family hails from a town neighbouring to Santiniketan. I have grown up surrounded by arts and crafts from that region and essentially eat, sleep, and breathe art. I well understand the importance and sentiments behind "curios", however small they may be, many of which come from the breakup of old estates. This is partly the reason why I have been entrusted with art works from the Rathindranath Tagore estate in the inaugural auction. Here I must point out the rarity of these works in the public domain.
As a student in Berkeley, I remember being totally enamoured with a presentation by the video artist Bill Viola. My college library card in Chicago probably showed more books related to art rather than mathematics or finance.
I have spent most of my career in finance, and in dealing with investment management and hedge funds. A part of the training that comes with working with funds involves rigorous due diligence, to an extent not understood by many. In hedge funds, for example, it is common for brokers to suggest trades or trade ideas. Possibly one in twenty or even less gets implemented. This is a due diligence process that includes in-depth research, and a complete immersion into the subject, helping to find the best trade ideas. The responsibility is immense.
A similar due diligence (what my friends in the art world refer to as excessive) is needed in the Art market. I have actually been called a detective agency by a reputed restorer! However, for me, this is just the usual process and carried out with a rigor that most people are not familiar with, and that certainly takes them by surprise.
A transparent art market has essentially existed in India since the early 2000s. Thinking about this,one realizes that the organized market for art and collectibles in India is still very nascent and has a long way to go. The limited number of collectors and an even further the limited number of private museums have kept valuations quite low in comparison to the size of the country's growing economy.
Furthermore, most major sales are restricted to a handful of artists. This is a very peculiar problem in India, created by lack of research , an inclination to follow trends, and only a handful of passionate collectors who are part of the trade. The western world has a top 100 index whereas in India, we remain fixated on two or three artists. The point here is simply this – the market's focus is limited and there is ample scope for research, curation, and further discovery.
Why another auction house? Every auction house has their niche – artists they are familiar with or collectors of a particular artist from whom they can source quality art works. By definition a niche is always limited and this brings forth opportunities for those with a different niche. A country like China has over a thousand auction houses, among which probably twenty, at least, are of international repute. But in India that number can be easily counted on one finger alone.
In this scenario, I do believe Prinseps is well positioned.