Thursday, December 24, 2015

Can Hema Upadhyay be Lost in the Absence of a Will? Galleries should Have the Answer

(Hema Upadhyay)

Hema Upadhyay did not leave a will regarding her wealth or works. At the age of forty three how many artists, I do not know, think of writing a will. They might be thinking of changing spouses or changing the past altogether. Instead of doing either of this most of them go for a complete body checkup and come out with flying colors, with tick marks in all the columns that suggest life style diseases. They may hit a gym or a yoga mat; there will be sudden changes in the diet chart and the quantity of alcohol intake. Turning spiritual and sprinkling the conversations with philosophical maxims make them officially forty-fied. Unfortunately, Hema couldn’t turn too spiritual yet she was cautious. I did not know whether she was philosophical during the last few years for none of the writers who have tried to deal with her sudden demise seem to have touched this aspect. Legal battles might have given her due wisdom. There is not a single human being in the world who has not changed his/her perspective of life when pain embraced them tightly. If Death is the leveler, pain is the machine of soul cleansing.

A report in the Economic Times daily (published online on 24th December 2015) has attempted to raise a few questions about the works that Hema has left behind without ‘willing’ them to anybody or any agency. Even the two galleries, Chemould in Mumbai and Vadehra in Delhi are not sure about the future of her works. Logically, they believe that the works should go back to her family. One of her works which is currently shown in a project called Sensorium in Goa, sourced through the Vadehra Gallery, is titled ‘Conversation’ and another work which is with the Chemould Gallery is tilted ‘Evening (Home Coming)’ and is to be presented in the India Art Fair in Delhi slated to be in the last week of January 2016. Vadehra has already withdrawn the work from the ‘market’ and it would be a signal to the Chemould gallery that it should also keep the work out of the market even if it is exhibited in the forthcoming India Art Fair.

 (an installation by Hema Upadhyay)

An artist who has lived long enough would naturally be bequeathing his works and properties to the heirs or definitely be ‘willing’ them to Estates, Trusts or Foundations. This takes place along the way as the artists as human beings feel the need to do so in order to avoid further confusions. Bitter feuds for properties have been a common feature in the history of art; modern masters like Picasso and Dali were drawn into property feuds even posthumously though most of them were contained by the negotiations within the respective estates. The latest feud that we heard was between Charles Saatchi and his estranged wife Nigella Lawson. They were not artists but the feud was on the artistic wealth. Closer to home we have the ongoing dispute between so many parties regarding the works of Manjit Bawa.

Absence of a will paves the way for forgery. The concern of the galleries that hold the works of Hema now doubles up when the concern of the collectors and dealers who have invested heavily in the works of Hema added to it. Though it is not the right occasion to say the following, as I feel that it should be said by someone at some point, I take the responsibility of saying it now: Death of an artist ensures enhanced prices of his/her works in the market. The reason is, the existing oeuvre of the artist will be pristine and there will not be any addition to it. The solid set of works currently in the market would behave like rare gems that cannot be replicated. History built around these works also becomes a supporting factor for the added value. Though I do not know how a superstitious market or rather a market with superstitious people would respond to an artist’s works whose life has been cut short by unnatural means. As of now, it looks like Hema’s death has given her a martyr’s halo and the works look very poignant with the given history of the artist. Each work of the artist would be now read back with the tool of the known history of her painful death and the very backdrop would make us believe that those works were prophetic in many ways. It becomes very evident when we understand that Hema’s last works were titled ‘Conversation’ (with a male and female profile done in rice grains but kept apart) and ‘Evening (Home Coming)’ (which sound so ominous).

(Hema installing her Triennale award winning work)

The biggest fraud that could follow is the introduction of works done by ‘Hema’ but not done by her. So many dead artists, who have not left a clear documentation and will regarding their works, have become the targets of fake makers. In the case of Hema, I do not think her works leave a possibility of being forged but my humble submission is that the people who are dealing with her works should be really cautious about the introduction of her forged works in the market.

Hema has never been a prolific sort of artist. In fact most of the artists of her generation are not prolific in nature. They work either according to the demands or as per the schedule of their exhibitions. This is a situation created by the art boom that appeared and disappeared in the last decade. Once upon a time artists worked whenever they sat in their studios without thinking much about them getting exhibited or sold (today also there are artists like that but the present generation does not seem to be like that).  Hema’s generation of artists started off like ‘artists’ who did art because they did not know anything else to do. Economic boom showed them a different scenario. They became busier than ever. The demands on their works were too huge to shoulder alone. The meaning of an artist’s studio changed considerably as it became primarily the office of an artist who ‘managed’ his/her works from there. To meet the demands they had to employ many assistants who painted or sculpted for them. Money and opportunities made them ambitious and their works too grew into ambitious scales. Outsourcing became a norm in the art scene. Strategizing became the job of the artist and most of the Indian contemporary artists in the last decade proved themselves to be the best managers, administrators and businessmen alike. In fact, I would say proudly that in this aspect, Indian artists have become really the ‘Renaissance artists of our contemporary times.’ Besides, they had to do a lot of travelling and most of the artists managed works through phone calls and their primary occupation during these travels became photographing places, people and things with a deliberate intention to use them (not only as experience but also as raw materials) in their works.

 (Hema with her installation in France)

I would say, this kind of busy schedule turned the artists less prolific than the previous generations of the artists. Sitting in the studio and working on canvas, going out for sketching, handling clay on armature, designing things for oneself etc became rare things. Spontaneity comes to have taken the back seat in the process. In my experience,  I have not seen many artists of my generation working spontaneously (a few of them do). Everything is planned and executed. Hema was not different from this. During the initial years in Mumbai she might have worked quite a lot spontaneously. However, later on she too delved herself into the making of ambitious works. Hence, my assumption is that there cannot be an enormous amount of works left in her studio. There will be some unsold works and there will some works half done. There will be some sketches and plans. If I am not wrong, rest of the works will be either with her galleries or already in the hands of the collectors. In this scenario, I want to suggest a few things in order to save the works of Hema from getting forged and also in order to give Hema a dignified place in our history of art:

1.       Both the galleries, Chemould and Vadehra should come out with the number of works that they have sold and the number of works they currently hold.

2.       In the absence of a will, this need not be done in public. Instead, these two galleries could take a few collectors and Hema’s family members into confidence and constitute a body to which the number and details of her works should be presented. If possible, they could include a cultural theorist as an observer.

3.       There should be a request given to Hema’s family to start a Trust or Estate in her name and both Chemould and Vadehra could be two of the executive members.

4.       If her works are floating in the secondary market, there should be an effort to withdraw all of them for the time being, till the Trust takes over the affairs of Hema’s works.

5.       All the major collectors of Hema’s works should come together and make a plan to become ‘Donors’ of her works to the National Gallery of Modern Art (all three establishments) so that there could be the display of her works permanently in these national establishments.

6.       All the efforts to monetize her works at least in the coming five years should be discouraged.

7.       There should be check points created by the art scene to avoid the possible forgery of her works.

8.       There should be a publication of all her works and that should be used as a manual to control her works in the market.

Though it is not time to think about the following points, I would suggest:

1.       There should be an effort to do a Hema Retrospective in one of the National Institutions.

2.       There should be a bursary in Hema’s name to help some bright female students to do a course in one of the foreign universities.

3.       There should be an online counseling platform for all the artist couples going through divorce or property feuds.

4.       There should be an annual seminar on Hema’s name.

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