A peek at the priceless

WORTH A LOOK One of Husain's paintings from the series Our Planet Called Earth.  


Guru Swaroop Shrivastava, who is buying M.F. Husain's paintings for Rs.100 crore, will soon put part of his collection on display in New Delhi.

In early June this year, there was some tremor in the calm waters of Delhi art circle in the so-called `lean period' in art activity. The reason was an exhibition of M.F. Husain's paintings to be held at Radisson MBD Hotel, Noida. The exhibition didn't take place because of the hotel's apprehension of some `untoward incident' in the light of his recent controversial works on Hindu Gods and Goddesses (Hanuman and Sita, Hanuman, Ram and Sita, besides Bharat Mata in the nude, etc).

July exhibition

But that hasn't stopped Guru Swaroop Shrivastava, a Mumbai-based industrialist who shot to instant fame as an art promoter after he signed an MoU with Husain to buy 100 of his paintings for Rs.100 crore, from planning to mount this exhibition. Hence, this July end, New Delhi will see an exhibition of 25 paintings of Husain from this series of 100 paintings titled Our Planet Called Earth, the venue for which is yet to be finalised.The exhibition will have works (sub-titled) as The Phenomenon of M.K. Gandhi, Coming Together of People and Countries, The United Nations, The 1917 Revolution in Russia, The Break Up of U.S.S.R, Transformation of the Arab World, Turkey and China, 32.12.1899 to 31.12.1999, The Environment: Pollution and Conservation, and so on. Shrivastava chose to invest in this series out of the three Husain was working on two years ago. The other two series were on Mother Teresa and the Kamasutra. This particular series, therefore, becomes a set of `commissioned works'. Says an excited Shrivastava, "I invested in the paintings two years ago knowing well that the prices would appreciate because it is yet an untapped market with great potential. My assumption was right. I know that by the time Husain completes his other paintings from this series, their prices will more than double. By the time the exhibition sees the light of the day, his one work that I bought for one crore rupees, will cost three to four crores, and hence I have put a price tag of a similar amount on the works." He has paid Husain Rs.26 crores so far, and the rest will be paid by him as the paintings arrive.By doing this, Shrivastava believes he has done a great favour to Indian art in general and living painters in particular. He explains how. "The highest sold, original work of Picasso was for Rs.405 crores. But by the time this painting was bought, Picasso was no more. He couldn't see riches coming to him. I have fixed the prices of the works in advance so that the artist is able to see himself on the rise before he even completes his work."

Sixth sense

Shrivastava chose Husain out of a great many because of the "sixth sense that his works show and the number of years he has put into the cause of art." He continues, "I have other painters in my kitty but when I compare their works with Husain, I see that others didn't have that charisma and vision. It is high time we gave due recognition to our artists. Even Nehru did it. Husain is also the first artist to make a painting on the effects of nuclear power. It was bought by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre when Homi Bhabha was its Chairman, in the early 1960s. He bought it for Rs.80000. This raised a furore, and a question on an investment of this magnitude on `merely a painting' was raised in Parliament. But Nehru supported it. He said that as poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, artists are also unacknowledged scientists of the world. It was after this statement that the Government sanctioned Rs.80000 to buy it. Husain himself told me this," says Shrivastava.

Serial on Kabir

For the sheer love of art, Shrivastava is now all set to make a serial on Kabir, portraying him first as an artist, than a poet. "I will ask Husain to make a series on Kabir as an artist," he says. All said and done, with the kind of artificial hype created by the investors, are art works really worth the price they are sold at? "Yes, the older the works, the greater will be their worth. And then, there are buyers in the international market, from the U.S. to the UAE. For how long shall we keep thinking what is our worth?" he retorts.