The South Asian Times

22 January 2019 10:14 AM

Roller coaster year for Indian art (2011 in Retrospect)

New Delhi : Sluggish business, fakes, a stranglehold on auctions and price curves by the top 10 masters of modern art and a spate of deaths, including that of M.F. Hussain -- all this and more marked the Indian art scene in the year coming to an end.

It was also a year when art lost several buyers, who were not willing to wait out the period of slow growth following the global meltdown. This might have made for less crowds at exhibitions, but big retrospectives and intense academic and archival research and blogging by art lovers -- including buyers -- and India's historic participation at the Venice Biennale 2011 after years of dilly-dallying made up for the lows.

Then, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore kept the Indian art world abuzz with a grand comeback to the mainstream nearly 77 years after he began to experiment with art in 1924. The occasion was his 150th birth anniversary, during which the nation decided to cast an eye on "Tagore, the artist".

The government, which was officially celebrating the Tagore anniversary, collated nearly 4,000 of his art works into a volume titled "Chitrabali". In another first, a cultural dialogue was also opened with Bangladesh to collaborate on Tagore's art.

And, while various organisations mounted exhibitions of his art, showcases of artistic interpretations of his works in the country and abroad, Tagore made grim news in Kolkata's exhibition circuit with a mega exposition of "fakes" at the government-run Calcutta Art College.

Nearly 20 of the 23 paintings by Tagore displayed at the college in March were found to be fake, a report prepared by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said.

The ASI verdict has turned the spotlight on fake art which is in adundance across the market in the country. Sources in the art industry say as the traditional reproduction art continues to flourish, the new cause of concern this year was the hi-tech nature of copying art.

High-tech copies confuse e-buyers who fail to distinguish between original and copied art while trading on the Internet.

Explaining the modus operandi of hi-tech faking of art, leading Kolkata-based auctioneer and gallerist Vikram Bachhawat told IANS: "The fakers of art usually create a original digital print of an art work and set an artist to work on it -- to touch the image with colours manually. In the end, the prints resemble originals and when they are sent to prospective buyers, it is difficult to identify the fake. E-galleries usually transact in digital fakes on the Internet," Bachhawat said.

The numerous e-commerce portals for art that offer bargains as low as Rs.15,000 for collectibles priced Rs.100,000 and above have allowed hi-tech fake art to find more buyers, Bachhawat said.

Dinesh Vazirani, the CEO of Saffronart, India's biggest online art auction house, said: "The astute nature of transactions by art collectors, who are opting for quality and branding post-meltdown, has become more research-based. In the future private museums, owners will demand longevity, exclusivity, value for money better and provenance of the art works they acquire."

An analysis of Saffronart auctions over the year shows that quality has pre-occupied price curves. The modern masters took the lead in Saffronart's winter online auction with M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza and F.N. Souza crossing the $180,000 mark. In an earlier auction, a painting (Kali) by Tyeb Mehta set a new auction precedent by selling for $1 million.

Overall, however, "business has been bad this year and I don't see the market looking up before 2014", said Narendra Jain, the Delhi-based co-director of Art Mall.

The Indian art market is estimated at $375 million.

The roster of death in 2011 was mind-boggling with icons like M.F. Husain, Sohan Qadri, Biren De and Jahangir Sabavala bowing out of the arena.

However, the year also boasted a retrospective of Anish Kapoor, a British sculptor of Indian origin; the return of the Kolkata Painters to the capital after 47 years and a retrospective of S.H. Raza -- to name a few. It began with the India Art Summit 2011 in the capital, announced India's first biennale at Kochi in 2012 and drew the directors of London's Victoria & Albert Museum and the Paris Louvre to explore the possibilities of collaborations.

Update: 29 Dec, 2011