Fake Art – The Bane of the Art Industry

Posted in Art in the world by Adele Todd on April 23, 2009

They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, while this may hold true in some situations, this adage is blasphemous in the art circles. Throughout history, whenever an artist through his perseverance and talent has made a name for himself, there have been others lurking in the shadows waiting to piggy-back on his success and make a quick buck through rip-offs.

The monster of fake art has constantly raised its ugly head to plague contemporary Indian art. It does not even spare the new kids on the block ! One prominent ‘victim’ was none other than Subodh Gupta who has made a name for himself both in India and internationally, he who some regard as “Damien Hirst of the East!”

The perpetrator of the crime was a hole-in-the-wall operation – Sahil Art Gallery, which is owned by Shyamsunder Desai. This gallery not only sourced the fake artwork but also doctored evidence to show that it was a genuine painting, they had a certificate of authenticity, and even had a photograph that showed Subodh looking at the painting in the gallery, which had obviously been tampered with.

The matter was brought to the attention of the authorities by Anubha Jayant Dey, director, Bodhi Art Gallery, New Delhi. They had been alerted to the issue when Sahil Art Gallery announced an exhibition of 82 artworks by “12 renowned artists”, Subodh Gupta is represented by Bodhi and so they investigated the matter. In a covert operation with the help of the police they recorded the transaction of the sale of the fake work for Rs. 80 lakh on hidden camera. The price range for an original work runs into crores. The police have arrested the owned of Sahil Art Gallery and have confiscated all the 82 artworks pending further investigation. However, scandalous this heinous crime may seem, it is not the first time that Indian contemporary art has had to grapple with the problem of fakes.

In 2007, Mukul Dey Archives “Chitralekha” who are regarded as authorities on important documents, printed information and images of early 20th century Indian art, declared two works by Jamini Roy which were to be auctioned by Bonham’s auction at San Francisco on 18th June, 2007, as fakes. These works were then withdrawn from the auction.

In 2006, another auction house – Christie’s, had to withdraw six works of Indian contemporary artists due to doubts regarding their authenticity. Sotheby’s too had in earlier auction in the same year chosen not to auction some works displaying “a better to be safe that sorry” attitude.
In 2004, Anjolie Ela Menon had her assistant, who had been with her for 20 years, Hamid Safi, arrested for producing fakes of her paintings and selling them off. Safi claimed that he had a recording showing that he completed most of the artist’s works anyway, a claim that was denied by the artist.

These are just some of the scams that have grabbed media attention; there have been many others where unscrupulous art dealers have tried to pass on fake art to unsuspecting buyers. Sharan Apparao, owner of the Chennai-based Apparao Gallery, estimates that “every year, about 20-30 fakes of important paintings and 50-100 fakes of (less) important paintings get released for the markets globally.”

There are essentially four ways in which these forgeries are created:
* Copy the work exactly without the signature.
* Change the medium, for instance, if the original work is in oil, the fake would be executed in watercolours or acrylic.
* Change the direction of key elements in the composition – for instance place the tree on the left rather than the right as in the original.
* Carry different elements from different works of a single artist and incorporate them in one artwork

There have been rare instances where the family of an artist who has passed away has authenticated fake works for pecuniary reasons.

It is reported that Kolkatta is fast emerging as the main centre for producing fakes where out of work art graduates make a living by working for these ‘fake factories.’ They are proving to be so successful because more people these days are into the purchase of ‘names’ without having much knowledge of the artist’s style and preferred medium, for them purchasing an artwork at less than market rate appeals as a ‘good deal’. It’s after all a matter of pure demand and supply.
India lacks an institutional mechanism for certifying artworks. While the Indian art market is becoming more transparent it still has miles to go before the first time art buyer can be assured that he is buying an original.

For most buyers and collectors, it is advisable not to purchase from shady art dealers. If the work is being priced much lower than the artist’s current market rate, that alone should set the alarm bells ringing, as was the case of the Subodh Gupta work being scalped by Sahil Art Gallery. It still remains to be seen if any of the works being sold by Sahil Art Gallery are originals.

Besides, it is also advisable to purchase the works of young, talented artists whose works are assuredly original and who have an immense potential for appreciation. Also, galleries like bCA Galleries, who follow the international norm of having artists being officially associated with them, can guarantee that you are purchasing an original work.

Till such time that India has some regulatory authority and benchmarking in place for art, all art buyers – Beware! and as seen on the site

reprinted by permission

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