29 Jan 2009

It's fakes again

(By Nalini S Malaviya)

Last week once again fake paintings showed up at a major art exhibition in New Delhi. You must have read the news report where renowned artist Raza when inaugurating an exhibition of his own works claimed that most of them were fakes. The paintings were subsequently removed and according to the gallery these works were sourced from Raza’a nephew. The issue of fakes has plagued the art market for as long as one can remember. Just last year fake Subodh Gupta paintings were put up by a gallery in Mumbai, but were detected by the artist himself. A couple of years ago in Delhi, at a major retrospective of the late artist Somnath Hore, his family alleged that the sculptures were fakes, embarrassing the gallery no end in the process. At the Mumbai fiasco the gallery was actively involved in setting up the exhibition of fakes, even going to the extent of creating credible provenance and authenticity certificates. Whereas, at Raza’s exhibition the gallery went ahead and cancelled the show, and the matter is now apparently between Raza and his nephew.

At a time like this when the markets are reeling under financial upheavals and there are very few people who are looking at buying art, an incident such as this can damage the market further. It appears that provenance and authenticity are being managed creatively to push forward fake art. When one is spending lakhs of rupees on a single work of art one can’t be careful enough.

Another report that I came across, which incidentally is completely unsubstantiated, suggests that a few artists are doing a volte-face when confronted with art from their earlier period. A theory doing the rounds is that this could be because the quality of those works may not be as high as that usually associated with the artist. An artist embarrassed to claim them tends to disown them! One must remember that the value of signatures and authenticity certificates has come to the fore only in the recent past - during the period that the art market boomed. Before this phase buyers were not particular about whether paintings were duly signed and dated or whether the certificate of authenticity accompanied the work. One hears of instances where artists have refused to recognize their earlier works as prices had dramatically changed in the intervening decades. Having said that one must also realize that the business of fakes poses a real menace and happens to form a thriving industry. The point is wherever big money will be involved unscrupulous elements will find creative ways to get a portion of the pie, but this is unfortunate and a cause for concern.

(Published in Bangalore Mirror)

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