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Confessions of an Art Collector

In an exclusive meeting, Ms. G, the renowned art collector of this country, disclosed some interesting observations and shared some intimate experiences in her pursuit to possess art. One knows that her comments are personal, but several others may identify with the feelings of a young, wealthy and attractive connoisseur who travels to galleries here and abroad in order to enrich her personal collection. Surrounded by works of modern and contemporary art in her huge house, sitting with a glass in her hand, she, in a rare but fragmentary manner, recorded her thoughts:

“…I must confess that I have a rudimentary knowledge of art. Still, I try to match whatever I buy with the things we have at home. If I find one painting in an exhibition, I immediately recall the colour of our sofas, design of the curtains and the patterns on my antique Persian rug (bought a few years ago from an Afghan, living in exile). And if the painting complements the setting of our living room, only then do I inquire about its price.”

“Yet each month I buy several works, since there is so much going on in today’s art world. But needless to say a lot of these new kids have been trying to imitate Western artists, and though I adore McDonald’s, love Gucci bags and usually wear Donna Karan dresses with my Victoria’s Secret, when it comes to art, I loathe the paintings, which remind me of the works hanging in the galleries of Manhattan and Central London. Actually, I prefer our own landscapes populated by pretty demoiselles carrying water pitchers with a line of buffalos in tow. If we have such an earthy paradise over here, I don’t understand the need to employ unintelligible stuff and unrecognisable images or to indulge in video, digital or installation art, as they call it.”

“Beside this western-modern type, now I see many works apparently based on the political situation. Probably all of these are fabricated using one formula that (someone disclosed to me) is called 9/11. I don’t really see the necessity to create works of such serious nature and background, when a sensible person would love to look at a nice picture of red roses, healthy babies, and lush green fields. Why do these artists have to focus on morbid subjects, since in any case, whenever you switch on the TV channels, scenes of misery and destruction are reported round the clock?”

“I must admit, that thank God a few of our artists have realized the negative side effect of this kind of art, so they keep on making works about our illustrious cities, historic buildings, fertile lands and beautiful peasants, both men and women. They are also doing a great service to our heritage, culture and religion by painting the words and attributes of God, in every colour and scale, and giving these at throwaway prices. All of my school friends have put one of these calligraphies in their newly built red brick-cum-granite houses. How much I wish that one of these talented painters would come up with some other text, like ‘Home Sweet Home’, so we can display that along with the holy verses, which bring blessings to every house.”

“Of whatever topic, the majority of the local paintings are not very expensive, certainly not as much as the payment for full family meal in one of those trendy restaurants on M.M. Alam Road or Zamzama, but still I think many painters are ripping me off. Once I look at their painting and calculate the expenditures including the cost of the canvas, paint, brushes, as well as frames – and not forgetting the hourly charges of painter’s labour – I feel their prices are unrealistically overblown. How can you expect me to pay the huge sums, when I know I can get the similar stuff made on order by a lesser-known painter. And maybe even better than the expensive piece, because whosoever is going to copy it, certainly he will make the corrections to the first example, and the second one will not only be reasonably cheap but a better version of the original artwork. Except that it wont have the big name, but I am trying my best to hire a person, who along with copying the image, can also reproduce the name of the famous person. Then I will be saved from paying half a million for a canvas depicting the backyard of someone’s residence or the front view of a mosque.”

“But with these enormously priced works, even if I purchase some cheaper paintings, I make a point of haggling with the amount that is printed on the list or told by the gallery management. How can anyone think of me as naïve enough to accept whatever he or she demands, when in every other shopping mall and store I buy after getting a substantial discount. So much so that the fruit vendor cannot sell me his mangos, bananas or melons on his rates. And I have to tell you that several gallery owners and artists (too) are so kind and accommodating that they always reduce the actual price of their productions.”

“To be honest, not all the time I seek a cut in the prices, because in most cases, I try to get as much free artwork as I can. To do this I have become friends with the artists, I invite them over, serve them imported beverages, also put food in their mouths, when they can’t do this by themselves – and of course while my husband is away taking care of the kids – and pretend to participate in their long monologues on art. All of this activity, hassle and theory bore me to death, but for the sake of art (especially with specific paintings in mind) I have to bear this in addition to ignoring their taste in dress, mannerism, and lecherous attempts.”

“Having said this, I can’t fully comprehend that why each artist on every occasion asks me the same question: that when will I pose for him, because he is thinking to do a figure study! But I do gather that actually what they aim for is a study of my figure (which I have maintained by religiously going to the gym), and maybe without any clothes on, as a couple of them have expressed their inability to render the drapery because it keeps on changing its folds and position. In fact I don’t mind modelling for them, but the only problem is that what will I do with that painting of mine. I can’t display it on the walls of my house, because all of our servants are illiterate, they come from a rural background, and are not cultured enough to appreciate a nude painting, even if it portrays their mistress. This is the reason for not buying any nude work, as it can offend their sentiments.”

“Doesn’t it prove that I respect the feelings of these people who belong to a humble class? But at the same time I can’t ignore my creative friends’ requests. So I have arrived at a solution. I called these painters and offered to send my security guard, cook and gardener to their studios, so they can do the study of human body in nude, but strangely no one has called back yet. Even after so many years have passed since I proposed that brilliant idea to them!…”

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