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Art: A thriving business in fakes
Kishore Singh
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January 20, 2009 13:34 IST

How organised is the fake business in India? A lot of collectors will be asking themselves this in the wake of the Raza scandal that experts are already calling the Satyam [Get Quote] of the art world.

On Saturday evening, when 86-year-old, Paris-based artist SH Raza came to Dhoomimal Art Gallery in Delhi's Connaught Place, to inaugurate a show of his own works put together by his nephew, he was shocked to find that barring a few of his drawings, all the other works were fakes.

Last year, Gallery Espace's Renu Modi faced similar ignominy when a show of Somnath Hore's works was claimed by the artist's family as fakes.

Modi refutes the charge, says she has the legal papers et cetera, but says that in the absence of authentication committees and technology, frauds and faking will not just continue, it will become more rampant. "Artists don't have their works catalogued, we don't have artists' estates, so with increased valuations fakes will continue," she says.

Uma Jain of the 70-year-old Dhoomimal Art Gallery has absolved herself of all responsibility, saying the works were consigned to the exhibition by the artist's nephew, with the artist's permission, and since she had the artist coming for the inauguration, she had not sought further validation.

"When Raza sa'ab expressed some doubt about the works, I had the exhibition closed, says Jain, who unlike Modi, had not bought the works. "I do not buy even a single work for the gallery unless it is directly from the artist, or is authenticated by the artist."

Which is very well in case the artist is living -- though Art Alive's Sunaina Anand says some artists refuse to provide authentication despite selling works against cheque payments -- but in the case of dead artists, that due diligence becomes even more difficult.

> Cases of faking usually start when valuations of works start increasing, and have included in the past several Bengal school artists like Jamini Roy (probably the most faked artist in India), Ganesh Pyne and Bikash Bhattacharjee (one of whose works was dramatically pulled out of an auction in New Delhi four years ago), Progressives like M F Husain (whose works most recently were pulled out of a London auction), F N Souza, Anjolie Ela Menon, J Swaminathan and Manjit Bawa (whose daughter Bhavna has registered all the works in the family after the first fakes were spotted in the market).

"Most artists whose works are faked are Moderns," says Delhi Art Gallery's Ashish Anand -- among them Jamini Roy, Ramkinkar Baij and the Tagores - but rarely the Contemporaries, though a fake Subodh Gupta has at least been spotted.

The Raza scam could be a pointer to a much larger fraud that might include, some say, a school or atelier in Bhopal that specialises in copying fakes -- though similar allegations were made in the past about the Bengal School in Kolkata and the Progressives in Mumbai.

This, too, is hardly surprising given how even framers' studios  ask art students or unemployed artists to copy popular works and artists for their clients for a small retainer fee.

This also fits into Delhi Art Gallery's Ashish Anand's theory that 'there are some people out there who are intentionally buying fake works' for the social prestige rather than as art lovers or as investors.

According to Ashish Anand, on average, there could be as many as 3,000 fakes that get made every year, and even if 10 per cent of that manage to sell, there could be 300 fake works sold every year.

However, a top gallerist says this figure might be too modest - remember that a Raza sold at a London auction in June last year for Rs 10.6 crore (Rs 106 million), so the stakes are very high -- and that thousands of faked works might not just be in circulation in the market but are actually bought or sold for hundreds of crores.

At a time when buyers are seeking authentication, they are easily misled by those claiming that the first sale of the work was paid for in cash - leaving behind no paper trail -- and that till the eighties and early nineties, no artists cared for documentation, and therefore there is no paperwork assuring them of guarantee.

But the Raza fakes seem Indian Art Inc's most audacious bid yet, to seek authentication from the artist himself. The perpetrators of the fraud are not answering to the charges, and considering it's in the family, Raza might even drop any charges, but for buyers, and gallerists, it is only a pointer to the need to get an authentication machinery in place - or else, says Anand, "Buyers of early artists, the Moderns, will lose faith in their works, even if they are in their own collection."

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