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  Life   Art  10 May 2018  What constitutes fake art?

What constitutes fake art?

THE ASIAN AGE. | ALKA RAGHUVANSHI
Published : May 10, 2018, 1:51 am IST
Updated : May 10, 2018, 1:51 am IST

Senior artists are known to disown many of their earlier works after having become associated with a particular style in later years.

Aparna Caur
 Aparna Caur

The most commonly understood description of a fake is an artist’s signed work copied by another be it his student, understudy, intern or another artist. The work could be an exact copy or similar one with a few changes this way or that way.

Like most people from the art world, I too have been reading about how Trump got trumped by an artist when he called his own art work fake! Like many mysteries that get curiouser and curiouser, this one is absolutely unravel-able: Of what constitutes fake art. The most commonly understood description of a fake is an artist’s signed work copied by another be it his student, understudy, intern or another artist. The work could be an exact copy or similar one with a few changes this way or that way. What about an art work “directed” by an artist to his assistant/intern and signed by himself?

I have nothing but disdain and huge aversion for fakes of any kind whatsoever but simply on the basis of assuming that an artist doesn’t usually replicate himself, can a painting be dubbed as fake? There have been so many occasions when artists have worked on a series that look very similar that it is difficult to tell one from the other. Many artists, including yours truly, have done a work that has found favour with a buyer who wanted a bigger or smaller size and artists almost always oblige by creating a similar one because an exact replica is impossible to do specially in abstract art.

Satish GujralSatish Gujral

Senior artists are known to disown many of their earlier works after having become associated with a particular style in later years. The mysterious case of S.H. Raza’s nephew’s exhibition of his earlier works at a not-for-sale show in Delhi, and the artist and the managers of his foundation claiming that all the works in the show were fakes is a case in point. Who in their right mind will put up a show of 100 per cent fakes and why will he call the very same artist to inaugurate whose work was purported to be on show? Curious, right?

European maestros from the Renaissance period had multiple interns who would regularly assist them as they learnt with the masters and so steeped were they in their style that it would be impossible to differentiate the work. In the mid 90s when Manjit Bawa’s assistant blew the lid about having done a large number of Manjit’s canvas’ there was a hushed silence in the art world, for this was one of its murky secrets that few were willing to talk about. The hapless assistants would be doomed for life – for the powerful artists wouldn’t allow them to survive.

Contemporary painting is one discipline where there are no gharanas unlike Hindustani music and Kathak or bannis of dance a la Bharatanatyam, or followers of a style like in folk or traditional painting, so there are no disciples. In fact imitation and influences are frowned upon in modern art practices. In such a scenario, where every artist strives to be an original, interns too are a total no, no for evident reasons. While a large number of senior and middle level artists have juniors filling in to do the more labour exhaustive work for them, seniors like M.F. Husain who drew each and every line themselves, are laudable.

Then how about works “inspired” by an artist in the same style? I recall how an art dealer once took me to show a few works of a junior and unknown artist. I had one look at the works and immediately asked him if the artist worked with a particular very senior artist?  He looked at me in amazement. How do you know? He asked. I said: Just look at the heavy textures created on canvas. That senior artist’s last show featured works on the same style of textures. Even though the subjects were completely different, there was hardly any difference in style. Does it tantamount to fake art?

While younger artists are very conscious of copyrights and authenticating their works, in the absence of any single body that can authenticate art works of older and departed artists, it is a situation fraught with pitfalls for there are commercial interests involved in the transactions. Obviously it cannot be given to a private party to hold the art world to ransom. Government panels are a bad idea for reasons of expertise. Families of dead artists are known to demand their pound of flesh when authenticating works. Not only unscrupulous art dealers and galleries families of dead artists are also known to help sell good quality fakes being passed off as the real thing. Who does one believe? To my mind, committees comprising of artists and art historians and curators constituted by apex bodies like Lalit Kala Akademi, National Gallery of Modern Art, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts etc are the answer.

Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on alkaraghuvanshi@yahoo.com

Tags: kathak, bharatanatyam, gharanas