Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 50, Tuesday, May 25, 2004




living with art

What is the value of an art?
IF you are an art lover, you may want to pay 100 million dollars to buy 1905 masterpiece by Pablo Picasso, "Garcon a la Pipe" (Boy with a Pipe). That's the price some art lover paid to buy this painting at an auction earlier this month.

If you can't appreciate art, however, it's a different ball game. The Talibans simply destroyed the ancient statue of the Buddha in Afghanistan. Encroachers in Bangladesh's Mahastangarh collect and sell 2000 year-old bricks and artefacts for two bucks. In addition, Finance Minister Saifur Rahman wants to impose tax on art works, perhaps considering them as industrial productions. If you are not an art lover of any sort, don't bother to read beyond this part of this feature.

Like most people I have never been an art critic and probably will not be able to afford a good painting for myself. I don't really understand cubism or Dadaism, but I like to look at paintings, the colour textures and structures that automatically stir my visual sensors and leave me with a pleasant feeling. I know many people who share this same simplistic feeling about art and painting.

You like it? It's art for you
"There is no need to understand the hidden meaning," veteran journalist and art critic Wahidul Haque once told me explaining how to recognise good art, "You don't judge art by its technicalities. You judge art by how you feel about it when you see it."

Renowned artists believe that we now have a society with growing number of people who appreciate the aesthetic value of art side by side with the rising number of art collectors. Nowadays we get to see paintings in more public and private places than ever before.

"A growing number of people are now buying art," says artist Quaiyum Chowdhury.

"Even the middle class people tend to buy small paintings. A larger number of businessmen, corporate clients, foreigners, embassies and similar kind of people have emerged as art buyers. In the last ten years many art galleries have come up although a few of them have also closed down," he adds.

Explaining this market growth, he says, "Peoples' cultural exposure has increased because of the role of mass media like the television. Art exhibitions, including international art exhibitions also increased and contributed to this cultural orientation."

Chowdhury points out that art has also become a status symbol in our society. "A painting of Jainul or Qamrul is a priceless possession, one could imagine. Besides when a person hangs a painting in his room, it symbolises his taste," he notes.

"The growth of apartments also contributed to art sales. Amid (the claustrophobic) walls of the apartments, an art piece can simulate the feeling of a window and give you a feeling of openness. That is why many housing companies buy art," Chowdhury says.

Side by side with wider art market, increasing job prospects in government and non-government organisation, advertising firms, etc have also helped increase the number of artists. Living on art no longer means living in poverty and struggle.

"Our artists are of international standard. Many of our artists are internationally recognised and many have bagged international awards," Chowdhury points out.

What medium of art can you get?
Artist Shishir Bhattacharya says the art market is dominated by paintings. "From the Pakistan regime when the first gallery came up, paintings had been the major medium that people bought," he notes.

Some watercolour works, boutique and graphic works are also sought after. Of these three, graphic arts are cheap because these are not unique. Graphic arts are copied and made available at all galleries and their sales do not generate much profit for the gallery owners or the artists.

Sculptures made of wood, clay, terracotta or casting iron can be costly. "More importantly sculptures are not preferred for room decoration in our society," he says.

Who buys what
"Foreigners in the past preferred paintings that have reflection of Bangladesh's reflection. A landscape. A rural setting. This trend is still there but the number of art works in this line has decreased because of overall development in the field," says Shishir.

Abstract works are now most popular. "These have visual appeal because they serve the purpose of room decoration. Many buyers come with the mind-set that they want a painting in a certain shade for their drawing room," Shishir notes, "They prefer 'smart' works. If the artist is somewhat renowned, even better. People who have become wealthy in recent times are this kind of buyer."
Educated elite buyers have their eyes for works of Jainul or Qamrul and their likes.

People above the age of 40 like to buy art for office and home decoration. Sometimes they assign architects or interior decorators to go get paintings which should best match the settings of their office, seminar rooms or homes.

Some buyers will look for paintings of females only.
Some will buy art that will represent their sense of nationalismwhether they really believe in it or not. "They would want a picture of a typical village as if to say this is what they believe in," quips Shishir.

There are some wealthy art critics who go beyond the visual appeal and understand the intrinsic value of an artwork, and they would pick up only the best works. Some of these critics are well known in the society. They later sell these best works back to galleries in appropriate times.

Where to get them?
It may sound unbelievable now, but even a couple of decades back renowned artists used to persuade friends and wealthy people to buy their works. There were a very few commercial sales outlets. The life of artists was synonymous to struggle. The only occasion where unknown people would buy a painting or a sculpture was through an exhibition.

The first commercial art gallery came up in the fifties. However, it was inadequate to serve the artists as a sale point.

Over the years, though, many galleries came uptremendously helping the artists to make a living by selling their commercial and serious works. They pay the gallery owners a certain percent of commission and thus they also have people who promote art works in their personal interest.

Presently there are some galleries in the Gulshan-Banani areas which sell both serious and commercial works. They even sell the works of Jainul and Qamrul.

Most galleries, however, focus on selling commercial works.

Well-known galleries include Chitrak, Shilpangan, Shilporag, Bengal, Saju Art Gallery (one of the oldest), Tivoli etc.

The latest one that is coming up in Uttara is Gallarikaya.

Most sought-after works of Bangladeshi artists

Rare and most expensive works of late and pioneering artists
Jainul Abedin
Qamrul Islam
SM Sultan
Contemporary senior artists
Shafiuddin Ahmed (sells rarely)
Monirul Islam
Other sought after artists
Shafiuddin Ahmed
Mohammad Kibria

By Sharier Khan


A few artists in the past have set up art galleries. Some have succeeded in running them but most have closed down their ventures for one reason or another. Artist Goutam Chakrabarti has taken the latest venture to set up an art gallery in Uttara and he believes that his one will operate in the long run.

"I intend to put up works of around 50 living artists in the gallery in the beginning," says Goutam, "The gallery opens on May 28 with a three-week art exhibition that I titled as Udbhodon (inauguration)."

The inauguration will have 50 artworks or one piece per artist. Later on, Goutam plans to keep 60 to 70 paintings and art works at the 1700 square feet gallery.

Terming it as his dream project, Goutam plans to keep his gallery open for year-round sale and display of works by major artists. "If people want to buy the works of a specific artist, they may contact us and we can arrange an appointment," he notes.

What made him decide on opening a gallery at the ground floor of his two storey residence?

"I grew up in an artist family," Goutam points out referring to his artist father Devdas Chakrabarti, "I am an artist and a designer myself and this is my trade. So why not make a gallery when I have the space for a gallery and when I know all the artists?"

Gallery management can be a pain in the neck for an artist in the long run, however. Goutam admits this part. "Normally an artist undergoes a lot of hassle organising a gallery and ensuring its sales. To manage Gallerikaya, I will use the management of Karukrit (Goutam's design and advertising firm)."

"There are more than a thousand active artists across Bangladesh," says Shishir Bhattacharya. "We get to see a good level of participation of these artists during exhibitions."

He notes, "Most galleries tend to pay more focus on putting up commercial arts. There are a few, though, which put up both commercial and critical works. I believe Goutam's gallery will be a serious one."

By Sharier Khan

buying a good piece of art

IN Dhaka, the best place where you can get hold of an artwork by established artists would be Bengal Shilpaloy situated at 275, Road no 27, Dhanmondi. Gallery Chitrok is another established art gallery. Their address is house no 21, road no 4, Dhanmondi. Then there is Shilpangon, situated at 25/5, Dhanmondi. Shilporag is situated at house no 15, road no 16, Dhanmondi. The oldest of all the painting sellers is Shaju art gallery. Their address is 40/42, North DCC Supermarket, Gulshan no 2. The newly opened Gallery Kaya in Uttara is also a good place to buy paintings.

There are other places you can also check out. Current and ex students of Fine Arts have a wonderful arrangement for the art lovers of Dhaka. Every Friday, at Mollar Stall opposite the institute they arrange a Chabir Haat. It starts at around 11 in the morning and goes on till 5 in the afternoon. This place is an open platform of artist where literally everyone can display his or her work of art. You will get paintings and sculptures at a very reasonable price at the Chabir Haat. With these artworks comes a free chat with the artist in person.

In all these places, artists themselves fix the prices. They give their work for display. In the galleries price depends on how established the artist is in the arena. Senior and established artists get a special value in the art galleries. Chabir Haat is a bit different in appraising artists. As it is an open ground for artists and art lovers, everyone, even the youngest of artists can present their work.

Regular visits to art exhibitions arranged by Zainul Gallery of the Fine Arts Institute, Shilpokala Academy, and Alliance Francaise de Dhaka can also be a good way of checking out art pieces in focus.

By Shahnaz Parveen



home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

2003 The Daily Star