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Suruchi Chand revisited

Bid & Hammer 

Bid & Hammer comments on Kishore Singh’s article ‘The curious case of Suruchi Chand’

This is in response to the calculatedly defamatory article “The curious case of Suruchi Chand” (December 1) by Kishore Singh. Notwithstanding the amateurish contents, which were best ignored, as the writer desired a clarification, it is only befitting to expose the truth.

There are many self-styled experts on art and auctions in India and Singh is one of the more infamous ones, writing under the guise of a bipartisan art journalist while actually working as the mouthpiece of a Delhi art gallery. There is no denying these facts, which are increasingly perturbing the wider “collectorati” who have grown tired of this unholy syndicate of some select galleries, curators and critics, who wrongfully consider knowledge of art to be their private doyen and the business of art as their sole proprietorship. Needless to say, the emergence of open auctions of significant works, at reasonable estimates, unnerves these coteries.

Before calling Singh’s bluff and to re-iterate a known fact, the promoters of Bid & Hammer have an impeccable record and are able to confidently put up works in a publicised live auction only because of our in-depth expertise, clear provenance, and, above all, a clear conscience. Hence, to date, we have not had to withdraw any works from any of our auctions or previews conducted in Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore. Thus, it is dubious for Singh to question the credibility of the works that were meant to have gone up for sale at our November 30 auction (incidentally it is being re-scheduled for mid-February 2011).

In this context, to address his make-believe concerns on the authenticity of the works, it would be best if he first checks that the 1984 work by Souza, put up by Saffronart, is indeed a genuine work and why and how it resembles a three-decade-old work by the same artist. How does Suruchi Chand come into the picture here? Does the 1984 work even remotely resemble Suruchi Chand? Coming to the crux of the matter, we assert that the 1956 work is an original work and any later painting resembling this work in part or full can logically have two conclusions: one, that the artist could have done a variation of the theme and two, that it is an absolute fake. Strangely, on the basis of Singh’s observations, another 1956 work by the same artist in watercolour, depicting the Crucifixion of Christ and estimated at Rs 45-60 lakh, should cast doubts on the authenticity of a similar 1961 work done in oil and claimed to have been sold by Saffronart for Rs 2.75 crore in 2005.

Continuing his impertinence, Singh found Roerich’s “particular style” in the “Monk in the Himalaya” painting “unfamiliar”. To view Nicholas Roerich’s paintings in the same style, one has just to click on www.roerich.org. Incidentally, the preview was held at the Russian Embassy and was inaugurated by H E Alexander Kadakin who is also Director of the Roerich Museum in Moscow.

Rabindranath Tagore never painted from models. His paintings were expressions of his own deep inner states. Therefore, the faces are stylised with elongated nose and His intent was not to paint different faces but to convey a state of inner being. That explains why many of the faces have a stylistic resemblance. We challenge Singh to specifically name the painting, supposedly in the NGMA collection, with which he compares the “Face of a lady” and finds an “uncanny” resemblance. The History of Art is a serious study and auction houses like ours invest a large chunk of our resources in it. Hence, such loose comments are deplorable and shameful.

The Ravi Varma paintings came with a detailed and unimpeachable provenance running into several lines and covering decades of ownership, including the Archaeological Survey of India’s registration details. Does Singh find more “due diligence by way of provenance” in single-line references like “thought to have been acquired by”, which his favourite auctioneers use?

Singh conjectured these issues without so much as inspecting the paintings. Bid & Hammer is aware of its responsibility to the art fraternity and its own reputation. We have our own group of reliable experts and we prefer to work directly with individual consignors, reputable institutes and buyers in a transparent manner without getting absorbed in this conundrum of artificially jacking up prices. The already troubled Indian art market definitely does not need peddlers of fabricated and misleading news.

Public Relations Team, Bid & Hammer

Kishore Singh replies:

The Bid & Hammer team has made several personal allegations against this columnist that are not worthy of response. However, an important observation is its more specific charge that some Souza works auctioned earlier by Saffronart (see images alongside) are suspected to be fakes. This is one among the several rumours around counterfeits that find wide currency in the market but are rarely reported by the media because neither art scholars nor experts are willing to hedge their bets and actually label works as forgeries since the burden of providing evidence, whether to prove the authenticity of a work, or its rip-off, will fall on them.

This columnist is, therefore, delighted that Bid & Hammer has raised this issue because it is precisely this sort of debate that needs to be taken up by the art fraternity, and which has been a cause of grave concern among both collectors and investors. I thank Bid & Hammer for opening a pandora’s box on this debate and hope the resulting discussions in the industry will result in either some regulatory framework, or bring it together on a common platform to legislate issues by way of an ombudsman.

This columnist holds no candle for any particular form of art, or artists, auction houses or galleries, and just as it has been critical of their pricing (both too low and too high), the selection of art, auctioning procedures and provenance, so it has been supportive of and devoted column space to Bid & Hammer’s previous auctions, including a recent one on antiquarian books, maps, prints and photographs, which can be reviewed at www.business-standard.com, and which anyone would find impossible to term in any manner partisan or biased. Therefore, in sharing the concern of senior scholars, restorers and experts regarding the similarity or provenance of some works to be auctioned at its re-scheduled sale (in itself, an unusual aberration) , but in no way validating their claim, this column does not attempt to undermine Bid & Hammer’s efforts to create a more rigorous art market or environment. If, however, the result of these letters helps in clearing the murky universe of dealings in spurious art, then this columnist will acknowledge Bid & Hammer’s efforts, and support, in this direction.

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First Published: Wed, January 05 2011. 00:21 IST
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