6 Sep 2008

Fakes and Authenticity certificates

(Nalini S Malaviya)

Reports of 82 fake paintings being seized at a Mumbai art gallery are making the news. The issue of ‘fakes’ has come back to haunt the Indian art mart. Remember, a few years ago copies of MF Husain and Anjolie Ela Menon were doing the rounds.
While this time the seized paintings were claimed to be the works of ‘12 renowned artists’ by the Sahil art gallery and their sales would have fetched lakhs of Rupees. What is interesting is that these came with authenticity certificates and the gallery had apparently gone to great lengths to establish the legitimacy of these works. In fact, one read how artist Subodh Gupta’s face had been superimposed to show him viewing the artworks, and this was e-mailed to prospective clients. In this hi-tech age, it is no surprise that criminal minds are utilising advanced tools to establish the genuineness of an art piece.

However, it is strange that now people are trying to copy contemporary artists who are very much alive and kicking, because that I feel is a much bigger risk. And, in this case too it was the artist (Subodh Gupta) who first raised doubts about his painting which eventually led to the police raid. Well, where big money is involved, people will find devious ways to get a share of it. Whether the rest of the paintings are fakes or not remains to be seen.

One must remember that an authenticity certificate is but a piece of paper to legitimise the genuineness of a work of art. Signatures can always be forged and provenance can be ‘re-created’ as it was in this case. All of which makes the buyer wonder, is it worth investing in art and how to be sure whether an art work is genuine or not? Well, the first thing to do is to buy only from reputed galleries. When someone offers you a work below the market price, it is a good reason to check out the credibility of the seller and the artwork. If in doubt always consult an expert or the artist - if possible, to find out more. In fact, if you are unsure whether the work is a fake or an original, it is better to not buy it. Usually, the provenance (history of ownership) which indicates how and where that particular piece of work has exchanged hands and has arrived to its present location is a good pointer towards the genuineness of the work.
One hopes that the present episode will create greater awareness about this issue and buyers will now be more alert to the problem of fakes.

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