Bengal art gets its hype, but not the price

March 30th, 2008 - 12:32 pm ICT by admin  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Art from West Bengal is back in focus after a lull. Over the past fortnight, Delhi and Mumbai have played host to more than a dozen shows by artists from Bengal, and an equal number of coffee table volumes on masters from Kolkata and Santiniketan have hit the stands. Potential buyers and investors across the country have finally woken up to the market value and aesthetics of art from Bengal, though in terms of prices, artists from the state still lag behind their counterparts in Delhi, Mumbai and Vadodara, despite all the hype.

Delhi, which has replaced Mumbai as the art investment capital by commanding 60 percent of the current market share, has been the first metro to tap the wildcat boom in Bengal art.

“Statistics show that 30 percent of the market is controlled by Mumbai, 60 percent by Delhi, a meagre five percent by Kolkata and the remaining five percent is spread out across the country,” top line art curator and promoter Kamal Rustomjee told IANS.

But works of Bengal artists are priced much less than those of the masters and contemporary artists from northern and western India, rued Rustomjee, an authority on Bengal art.

The capital has been witnessing a slew of quality art of different genres from Bengal.

Friday saw an upend gallery in the capital unveil an exclusive collection of works by the Bengal masters, a medley of classical, modern and contemporary art, for the first time in six years. The collection will travel to Mumbai in a fortnight before returning home to Kolkata.

The day before, another gallery in the capital threw open a cache of works by master print maker from Kolkata, Haren Das, who rarely travelled outside the city during his lifetime. The response to the woodcuts and engravings of slices from rural Bengal, according to the owner of the gallery, was overwhelming and pan-Indian.

Early this week, watercolour maestro Paresh Maity from Kolkata displayed his Kerala works. Around the same time, Kolkata-based classicist Laloo Prasad Shaw visited the capital with a large body of his works. Several more shows by artists from Bengal are ready to enter the exhibition circuit in the next two months.

“It all started in Bengal with Rabindranath Tagore and Abanindranath Tagore. Art became a movement, a kind of philosophy - a way of life. The only problem is that Bengal art has received scant exposure outside Kolkata for a long time. It is only recently that the spotlight is turning on Bengal,” impresario-cum-art historian Ina Puri told IANS.

“But even now, there are no galleries representing Bengal at international fairs. I visited the Shanghai and the Dubai art fairs this year, but there was no gallery from Kolkata promoting artists from Bengal. There were just four galleries, two from Delhi and two from Mumbai with essentially north Indian collections.”

Puri attributes the poor exposure to inadequate enterprise.

Only a handful of names like Jogen Choudhury, Bikash Bhattacharya, Suhas Roy, Ganesh Pyne, Paresh Maity, Suvaprasanna, Nandalal Bose, Chittoprasad, Jamini Roy and a few other masters dominate the market.

Bengal art needs more aggressive marketing outside the state, Rustomjee said.

“Delhi and Mumbai are on firm ground economically. There is no financial boost for artists to sell their works in Kolkata. As a result there has been a shift in genre. Several younger artists are now moving away from figurative works, which has been Bengal’s forte, to abstractions which command a slightly better market outside,” Rustomjee said.

A number of modern and contemporary masters from Bengal have also moved out of the state and are doing well outside. “For instance, Vadodara-based Anandapramit Roy is one of my favourite artists. He is doing excellently,” Puri said.

According to Puri, in this day and age of the internet, geographical boundaries are no barrier. Artists can always get in touch with “sale spaces”, promoters and investors personally. But the will to reach out is amiss among the Bengali artists.

Rim Jhim Ghose of Gallery Katayun in Kolkata lists modern and contemporary artists in the state into two categories in terms of prices - the very new ones are priced at Rs.100,000-500,000 while the older lot sells for Rs.1-2 million.

“They are grossly under-priced. A Lalu Prasad Shaw frame is priced at a meagre Rs.120,000 whereas it should be priced at around Rs.1.5 million,” said Ambika Beri of Kolkata-based Gallery Sanskriti.

Shaw’s contemporaries in Delhi and Mumbai, who include S.H. Raza, Amabadas and M.F. Husain, sell for at least four times the price commanded by Shaw.

One rarely finds mainstream artists from Bengal working with videographics or installations - they are stuck on the grammar and painting styles. “This creates a confusion in the minds of buyers.”

Another bottleneck, as print maker-cum-installation artist Paula Sengupta puts it, perhaps is that “the cult of Bikash Bhattacharya, Jogen Choudhury and Ganesh Pyne influenced a generation of artists, churning out a school of copycats. This arrested the creative growth of art in Bengal during the 1980s”.

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