Red faces at Jehangir over show with stolen paintings

Published on Aug 27, 2022 11:02 PM IST

These paintings, Shelke said, were originally created by students and budding artists for a competition organised by Nashik Kala Niketan Trust in March 2018

These paintings, Shelke said, were originally created by students and budding artists for a competition organised by Nashik Kala Niketan Trust in March 2018 (HT Photo)
These paintings, Shelke said, were originally created by students and budding artists for a competition organised by Nashik Kala Niketan Trust in March 2018 (HT Photo)
ByShreya Jachak

Mumbai This Thursday, the storied Jehangir Art Gallery withdrew an exhibition of paintings by Yogesh Gokul Walde after a bunch of students, including a few from Sir JJ School of Art, complained that the artist had stolen their artworks and appended his name to their paintings.

Walde, an upcoming artist based in Nashik, was showing for a week at Jehangir, from August 23-29 as part of a group show. “A few students from Mumbai visited the Jehangir Art Gallery on the opening day of the exhibition when they noticed that their own paintings were on show but all signed by Walde,” said Gajanan Shelke, an alum of JJ School of Arts and one of the other artists showing at the exhibition.

These paintings, Shelke said, were originally created by students and budding artists for a competition organised by Nashik Kala Niketan Trust in March 2018. Art students from all over the state participated in the competition. Ten of these paintings were passed off by Walde as his own works. Walde’s Jehangir show had 35 artworks in all. When contacted, he told HT that only 3 of the paintings on display at Jehangir were his creations. “I displayed three of my own paintings, the rest were paintings I bought from the Nashik Kala Nikentan Trust and from other artists for my gallery.” He said he owns a small art gallery in Nashik.

During the 2020 lockdown, an official of the Nashik Art College under whose aegis the annual art competition is held, decided to renovate the college building, for which the contract was given to Walde, who is also an ex-student.

“During the renovation, Walde was responsible for shifting about 400 paintings for safe-keeping,” said Raghunath Kulkarni, chairman of Nashik Kala Niketan Trust. “That those 400 paintings were no longer with us came to our notice only when we were told that some of them were on display at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai and were being passed off as Walde’s work.” Kulkarni added that it was easy to miss those artworks as they were kept in a storage room which was rarely visited and with the long lockdown, no one kept an inventory of the stored artworks.

Walde, on his part, said that he had not stolen the paintings, rather he had bought them from the Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya’s principal, Anil Abhange. “He asked me to take away the paintings but since that did not seem fair, I decided to pay 1.50 lakh for all 400 paintings. I have already paid the principal 90,000, and was to pay the remaining amount in the next few days.” Abhange did not respond to HT’s calls and text message. Nashik Kala Niketan Trust chairman Raghunath Kulkarni, however, maintains that Walde stole all the paintings. “We have taken the statements of both the persons involved in this case and have set up committees to decide upon the action that needs to be taken.”

When asked why he passed off the paintings as his own, Walde, who has since apologised in writing to Jehangir Art Gallery, said he had applied for a show there in 2015 but he finally got a slot only two months ago. He said he did not have enough paintings for a show but neither did he want to miss a chance of exhibiting at one of the country’s most well-known galleries, so he put up works that he claims he had purchased.

“I am in shock. This is the first time such a thing has happened at the Gallery,” said KG Menon, the Jehangir Art Gallery’s secretary. “As soon as we got the email from the students and ascertained the facts, we took down the exhibition.” In September, the booking committee will take a call on whether Walde will be blackballed for life. Jehangir holds up to 300 exhibitions annually and is one of the most famous galleries in the country. To get an exhibition slot here can take anything between 2-4 years. A selection committee decides whether an artist is good enough to show there or not on the strength of the artworks submitted. It is not clear whether this committee too will be questioned for not doing sufficient due diligence in this case.

“Both, established and aspiring artists, aim to show at Jehangir. Because of the large footfall, it’s much easier to sell works there as compared to other galleries,” said Swapnil Pate, one of the JJ students whose artworks were exhibited by Walde. “We now want our paintings returned to us. We worked hard on them and never wanted them to be kept in some storeroom,” he added.

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