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Art as an industry in Husain deal

Sept. 10: When art went to bed with commerce it's hard to tell. But September 9 will be remembered as the day its mating with industry was made public.

M.F. Husain divulged yesterday that he had been commissioned by industrialist Guru Swarup Srivastava to churn out 100 paintings for a price of Rs 100 crore in a year.

If the association symbolises the union of the artist and the businessman, the assignment Husain has taken on will involve producing art on the scale of industry.

Srivastava said in a year from the date of the agreement, the painting would be required to be completed. The chairman of the Mumbai-based Swarup Group of Industries is, however, generous enough to allow some delay beyond September 7, 2005.

'It may take a little more time,' he conceded.

Should Husain meet the deadline he would have completed a painting in roughly 3.6 days on an average. No artist of repute has been known to be so prolific with their work. But then no one has been known to have undertaken a project on an industrial scale.

Husain, though, is famous for his speed ' a quality that has been on public display on several occasions.

It was a bank's evaluation of Husain's paintings that led to the biggest art deal in Indian history. Srivastava said the idea came to him when Husain was about to exhibit his paintings in Dubai and Paris.

'Citibank in Dubai valued 25 of his paintings at Rs 25 crore. So I requested the painter to take a U-turn and not to sell them in Dubai or Paris or anywhere. Instead, I offered him Rs 100 crore for 100 paintings, including the 25 that were to be exhibited,' said Swarup.

He is touchy about the word 'deal', though. 'That is a misnomer,' says Swarup, an MSc in Chemistry from IIT Delhi, whose firm is into heavy engineering and infrastructure and has a stake in the Calcutta-based Paharpur Cooling Towers.

'It is not commercialisation, but corporatisation of art. It is the conversion of the arts of pen and brush into industry,' he said.

'Art can be converted into a tangible asset.'

There's little to question that. Corporate houses like Reliance, Videocon and the RP Goenka group have shown a growing interest in art.

No art dealer will go on record but there are doubts if the works commissioned by Srivastava will be treated by connoisseurs as serious art and therefore deserving of the value a 'tangible asset' is expected to command.

Arun Vadhera of Delhi's Vadhera Gallery, where Husain spoke about the deal, said the 'quantity' and not the price in this case is 'overwhelming,' for the master has already sold for Rs 2 crore in New York.

Although the price of Indian art may not hit the roof as a consequence, 'it will give greater confidence to collectors and people who want to enter the art market,' Vadhera added.

Arani Bose, who runs BosePacia Modern, the foremost international gallery dealing in Indian contemporary art in New York, is far from excited, though.

'I hope it will have little impact for I think these types of events or activities can be very detrimental to a market that is doing very well for itself' and is building up 'real value', said Bose over the phone.

Bose contends that it is an 'emerging market' and hence 'fragile', and that it 'depends on sustainability, growth and reality'. And it can be dangerous when 'speculation takes over real growth and value, and I am afraid that is happening'.

But there is no denying that the art mart is ready to hit the stratosphere.

'Buy, buy, buy,' says art dealer Ashish Balram Nagpal in Mumbai with characteristic over-enthusiasm. 'It's a boom time. Art prices are going up by at least 50 per cent every year.'

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