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July 11, 2013

Living Off My Art

Text by Sitanshi Talati-Parikh. Illustration by Farzana Cooper

Can the world that we live in become more valuable simply by the company we keep? Surrounded by the Masters, Verve finds that happiness can lie in the brushstroke and in its bottomline

As the Sensex crawls indefinitely, I have decided to buy art. Gold is too over-priced, and frankly, a wee bit middle class. I’m not particularly classist; it’s just that thing – clutching onto a shiny nugget hoping that when the Income Tax guys come and raid your house, you can slip it into your pants and hide it, is not quite my scene. I’d much rather play it cool – in the Thomas Crown way…where his heart was linked to his art and his art was all linked to his masterpieces of theft. But he didn’t really steal, he just borrowed and often did this cool barter thing, where he left one of his own paintings there and took theirs. Basically Pierce Brosnan made art cool. He loved Monet, and one of those is far more beautiful than anything Hirst (Damien, for the uninitiated) could ever dream of doing. Whatever you may say, installation isn’t quite art. I know it’s a huge topic of debate, but art should be old-fashioned and romantic, the kind that you have to painstakingly hang on a nail, look at, and think – ‘How beautiful, I so can’t do that!’ as opposed to, ‘Hmmm, interesting. But really, my dog could have pooped better than that splat.’

While I’m not a big collector or anything, I just like filling up space – the walls, the corners; the void inside me. So I live in this rent-controlled apartment, (at Rs 1800 a month for a one-bedroom in SoBo, it’s a total steal), and I pour all my money from being a finance geek into the art world. Sure, I know the anomaly – someone who gets money doesn’t really get art, but I’m one of those weird breeds that actually earn to spend on a bit of culture. Not that you can buy culture, but it’s cool to pretend. Basically, every inch of my house that was previously exposed is now covered – and I mean the ceilings, too. I believe in optimum use of space, so you’ll find Paresh Maity’s Kerala and rain-washed De charcoals next to Riyas Komu’s large portraits. I’m not a big name dropper, so I won’t go into the details of who else lives in my house with me. And I’m not fussed about the positioning, except when a curator-friend sort of talked me into buying Subodh Gupta’s installation. That’s when I got a bit annoyed with art. I know he’s doing some clever stuff, but my pad doesn’t really have any space and if I need to put his works in the kitchen, may not the universe object to his objectification? The problem with art is that there are way too many problems. But I figured that I put down good money to buy the stuff, so can’t I put it where I please? And thus, in the kitchen they are lodged.

And then, a well-meaning friend – I don’t know what he was suggesting – from the UK actually organised a replica of Damien Hirst’s Unmade Bed to be sent to me. (I don’t know why he bothered, because the real one is probably worth less than the fake right now. Didn’t you hear? The art world has totally shunned Damien.) When people hear on the grapevine that you are into art, firstly they assume you are into the new-age stuff. Secondly, they assume they can impress you with some of their outlandish picks. Thirdly, they think you won’t care if the stuff is a fake. Sure, I’m no Jobs, but I’m the real deal. I treat art the way a tree-hugging environmentalist would treat, well, a tree. Or a figure-hugging fashionista would treat Beckham. OK, so I was referring to David…I’ll change that to Herve Leger instead. Basically, I want the original. Which is why I stick to what I can afford. Hirst – real or not, is a con job either way. I mean now I have to actually sleep in his Unmade Bed, because I don’t have anywhere else to dump it!

Eventually, as life would have it, my mum stopped by to meet me one day. She generally avoids my home, because she thinks it’s a bit overwhelming and no amount of protesting that the condom on the bed was Hirst’s and not mine made her change her mind. She believes I have been dating some Shantaram-type character called Hirst (she keeps asking what his last name is) and refuses to step foot in my boudoir since. Oh well. Let’s be thankful for small mercies. Anyway, so she decided to freeze some food for beta, because beta isn’t getting enough home-cooked food. (I’m a girl, but I’m still beta. She doesn’t discriminate that way.) She sort of used Subodh’s stuff…I don’t really have any use for my kitchen, when the universe has kindly invented take-out. She didn’t understand why I looked so horrified that she would use Subodh’s stuff, she thinks Subodh is an irritable cook who doesn’t like anyone touching his utensils. (There may be some Freudian thing there with the real Subodh and his utensils. To be discussed over wine with curator-friend later.) When no amount of convincing my mom that she should just express mail food to me instead worked, I just decided to let it wash away. It didn’t seem worth the effort, and who’s going to snitch on me and tell Subodh? Who knows, maybe Bharti does it too. Though she doesn’t seem the cooking kind, to be honest.

So that was two months ago, and I’m thinking of starting my own business. I like to sleep in, and reaching my job on time has become increasingly difficult. The wannabe Hirst bed came with a great spongy mattress that doesn’t make me want to leave, ever. So I figure that if I start my own venture, I can also start at my own time? The only deal is that I need to put in a sum of money, as a goodwill gesture. I haven’t been able to leverage off anything, but as I lie thoughtfully on my unmade bed, I can’t help but notice a rather over-crowded wall. I could easily pluck one of those out, hand it over as my part of the investment and not even feel the difference. It’s like having one too many bags. When you are shopping you can never have one too many bags, but when you look at them all lined up at home, you wonder if it would matter if you had the peach Prada when you already have the beige Birkin. Culture, after all, isn’t like any other material acquisition. The more you give away, the more the world recognises that you have it.

I got my curator-friend in to help me choose. While she suggested hocking the obvious, I was rather loath to part with the household items that had now found a home. So, goodbye concentric circles…. May you find another home that loves you the way this one did. And while we are on the topic of blessings, one day, when I have a child who will be born in a material world, may she learn to appreciate the legacy I leave behind for her: of painstakingly brush-stroked wealth, of seasoned culture and a diary to my life, choices and moods, all on my walls.

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