Social Scientist. v 15, no. 164 (Jan 1987) p. 3.


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RATNABA LI CHATTERJEE^

'The Original Jamini Roy9 A Study in the Consumerism of Art

IN JULY 1985 the West Bengal Government proudly announced the completion of formalities leading to the opening of a permanent gallery of Jamini Roy's paintings in Calcutta. The dead artist's studio along with all available paintings were bought by the Government in 1980. The studio, a part of his house, was being looked after by the artist's son. A committee was formed, consisting of a number of distinguished artists from Calcutta, to formulate a plan of viewing for the new gallery. The paintings were insured, and a law passed that Jamini Roy be included in the list of those artists (like Abanindranath) whose works were not to be taken out of the country without the state's permission. The artist's creations were granted the status of national treasures.

This assessment, on a formal level, is a political act. It judges, by its peculiar process of eval'ation, which works of art can be equated with archaeological finds and with scientific discoveries, i.e., all that a nation expresses as its achievements. The sanction of 'great art' necessarily involves, the transfer of the art object from the home to the museum. It is not for private consumption, unless the owner proves his immense buying power by his ability to reach higher social rank, that of the collector.

This whole criterion of a 'great art work' depends upon its "unique' quality. It hinges upon the fact that a particular work of art cannot be reproduced. Both in traditional and contemporary art, the most important phenomenon in the assessment of a work lies in its originality. An original work has an aura of religiosity round it, transforming the museum or art gallery where it is housed into a sacred temple or church. The mystique that is generally formed round a masterpiece necessarily includes the artist-creator who has the epithet 'genius' thrust on him, whether dead or alive.

Takes' develop only in contrast to "Originals'. What were regarded as good copies and perfectly valid pieces of art in an earlier period acquire the stigma of bad merchandise in a capitalist society. The whole process of identification in a museum continues mainly to retain the value

*Jadavpur University, Calcutta-



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