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Refreshing strokes

As art gets bigger in the Indian market, people have started valuing art restoration, writes Rewati Rau.

india Updated: May 22, 2006 15:29 IST
Rewati Rau

Indian art has crossed the borders of desi galleries and is now reaping it rich in the West. Tyeb Mehta’s Mahishasura fetched $1.584 million last year at a Christie’s auction in New York and another of his painting sold for $1.24 million in March this year at Sotheby’s in NY. And it’s not just Mehta, an SH Raza painting sold for $1.47 million this year at Sotheby’s too.

Recently a Saffronart online auction featuring 150 works of 41 Indian artists collectively fetched $12.9 million.

As Indian art gets bigger, people have increasingly started taking a relook at old masters and valuing art restoration. Little wonder that art restoration is a thriving business today all over the country. It’s no longer limited to the small restoration laboratories in the National Museum or the National Gallery of Modern Art.

With the springing up of a host of private galleries, private restorers are opening studios all over the country to get into the business of art conservation.

Restoration is a specialised field that involves a laborious work spanning months, depending on the condition of the painting.

“There are different requirements for every painting. While some might involve just a surface cleaning, there are paintings that need termite and fungus treatment, repairing holes and weak edges, and even an overall work,” says Delhi-based Priya Khanna who runs her own studio called Art Life.

Not just paintings “Our entire country is a museum. Things like manuscripts, textiles, wall paintings and oil paintings are all organic in nature and decay very fast. Therefore, there is an urgent need to conserve all these things,” says SP Singh, conservation director of National Museum.

Over the years, the conservation department has been undertaking restoration projects for various items of artistic importance all over the country.

Currently, they are involved in a Rs 25 lakh project of restoring 30 Raja Ravi Verma paintings at the Chitra Kala Parishad at Thiruvananthapuram. Apart from this, restoration work is go ing on all over the coun try to preserve monu ments, textiles and man uscripts of national im portance.

It has taken a lot of development in the art world for people to re alise the importance of conservation. “The demand for restoration has increased in the past six to seven years because people have started valuing art now,” says Priyanka Vaid, senior conservator at Indian National Trust for Art and Heritage (INTACH). Adds Priya Khanna, “People have only recently started realising that they can conserve their valuable works of art this way.” Who’s involved With their own laboratories, the National Museum, NGMA and INTACH (with 12 centres all over the country) have been involved in the art conservation process for many years now. About two years back, the Lalit Kala Akademi began the restoration work of its collection of about 5,000 paintings.

Also, a lot of trained restorers who undertake private work have opened their own studios throughout India.

Depending on the changes required, the cost incurred to restore a painting is highly relative and can be anything between Rs 3,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh.

After all a painting is not like old wine and does not get better with time!