Pursuit of Happiness

Benevolent Collector

Asset Reconstruction Company's Vinayak Bahuguna is an art connoisseur on a mission to make the pursuit accessible for all 

Soumik Kar

Distressed investing is hardly a space that sparks inspiration, especially the artistic kind. But Vinayak Bahuguna, MD at Asset Reconstruction Company (India), knows a thing or two about valuing art as well. The 56-year-old candidly admits that two decades ago, art was an abstract subject to him. “I had no inclination towards art for a good part of my career,” he says. The turning point was when during the course of an official visit to Dhaka in 2000, Bahuguna visited a local art gallery to “kill time”. He ended up buying a 3x3 painting by a local artist for around Rs.10,000. “It was a painting that depicted a silhouette of a boat and a man. It gave me a sense of peace, which I had never experienced before,” recalls the father of two, who has since made it a point to visit local galleries whenever he's travelling.

In early 2000, a  visit to the Lalit Kala Akademi in Lucknow resulted in a friendship of a lifetime between Bahuguna and Victor Selveraj, a little known but accomplished artist. As they got talking, Bahuguna was impressed by the depth of his artwork. Such was his influence that between then and now, Bahuguna ended up buying more than 30 of Selveraj’s paintings.

In the ensuing two decades, Bahuguna meticulously kept adding to his collection, participating in auctions organised by his previous employer Stanchart and over the years his understanding of art got better. “I can understand abstract paintings much better, they have a distinct symmetry, the depth and colour play are all what make it unique,” he explains. He's built a collection of close to 60 art pieces, comprising even sculptures, but a large part of his collection is done by “living artists”.

Even though he has more than a couple of years to go before he hangs up his boots, Bahuguna has already laid the groundwork for what he is going to do after calling it quits. Artspread.com, an online art gallery, is a venture that Bahuguna kicked off four years back to bring together artists from across the country on a single platform. “When I retire, I want to work with living artists who have the talent but need support and wider exposure,” he says. In addition, he believes the Indian art scene has to some extent been manipulated to bring across the notion that it’s a pursuit that only the rich can follow. “While there are a handful of art lovers of the likes of Harsh Goenka and the late Parmeshwar Godrej, a majority of the art lovers see art as an investment avenue that they can brag about and an alternate asset class to park their wealth." As a result, the Indian art market has been restricted to 10-15 names who are seen as “the” artists. “I want more and more Indians to embrace art and not worry about the quality. But more importantly at prices that everyone can afford,” adds Bahuguna.

Currently, the portal has tied up with 15 artists across the country, from places such as Bhopal and Manipur. Bahuguna has travelled far and wide to get them on board. “Even if 10-15 of these artists make it to the centerstage, it would give me an immense sense of happiness,” he says. Ranging from Rs.10,000 to Rs.500,000, the portal has close to 1,000 art pieces. Depending on the value, Bahuguna charges anywhere between 20% and 30%. "What we are still trying to do is to get more and more people warmed up to art and then the second stage is to get them buy. We are working towards getting the product and the pricing right,” adds Bahuguna.

While Bahuguna has found his calling in art, he believes the artistic pursuit has also helped him become a better and patient person. “Art develops your sense of judgement. It allows you to value people for their unique strengths, that’s the crux of people management.” As things stand today, Bahuguna has no space left in his home to buy anymore art work. “My last purchase was six months ago, but I am happy with what I have,” he smiles.