SRI LANKAN MODERN ART & RESPONSIBLE COLLECTING
Collector's Desk l Edition Five
Collector’s Desk is a series of curated art events by ARTRA Magazine & Saskia Fernando Gallery in collaboration with The Residences at One Galle Face, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts together with fine jewellery partner Khiards. Collector’s Desk aims at educating the audience through a series of moderated conversations on art appreciation, investment and exhibitions of art and design. Whilst the growth of any art scene takes place alongside economic development, it is essential that collectors and the corporate sector sustain the local art scene’s growth of which each edition of Collector’s Desk is curated to address professionals from all industries.
The presentation at Collector’s Desk edition five by Saskia Fernando & Azara Jaleel on the 11th of August aimed at shedding light upon the esoteric, recent developments and critical acknowledgement of the ‘43 Group. Long considered to be the pioneers and forefathers of modern art, the ‘43 Group have stamped their signature both locally and internationally with their iconic work, celebrating a Sri Lankan way of life. Their love for the arts, not only of the visual but also of the performative, lyrical and written nature further enhances the pedigree of their work, culminating a poetic vision uninterrupted by political and social chaos. The presentation delved into rare examples and biographical summaries of the exemplary attitudes of the artists of the group comprising of Lionel Wendt, Geoffrey Beling, Justin Deraniyagala, Aubrey Colette, George Claessen, George Keyt, Harry Pieris, Ivan Pieris, Richard Gabriel and L.T.P. Manjusri. The ’43 Group were responsible for the formation of an alternative space of expression, in deliverance of the overbearing and dictatorial attitude of the academic style found in the Victorian naturalism propagated in the Ceylon Society of the Arts at the time. Their efforts forged a path of their own in leading themselves to establish the foundation of an internationally acclaimed movement of cultural modernism.
International Recognition & The Necessity of Provenance
The work of Lionel Wendt was recently exhibited at the highly revered Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany; in addition the group’s collections were presented by Mumbai-based Jhaveri Contemporary, at the Frieze Masters art fair, a most prominent commercial exposition held in London, October 2014. In addition to this, their works were also a part of an auctioned collection of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art at the auction house Christie’s, New York, in September 2013. As a result of such exposure, the imperative was recently felt to make note of the necessity of developing a further sense of focus on the nature of investment with such particular endeavours. Whilst modernist artists of Sri Lanka are collected today internationally at amounts exceeding auctioneer’s expectations, it is widely acknowledged that on a local level the market for the ‘43 Group exists predominantly amongst a privately known body of collectors who have received them from familial connections or dealers operating unofficially, with many transactions taking place by word-of-mouth. However, with a casual nature that deals with works of such particular value and place of heritage to the country’s history and cultural economy, the result is a dearth of adequate and official documentation of such transactions. Ultimately, this transformative gestures and opportunities result towards stagnant market values.
It is in this regard that it is of importance to follow through with the correct managerial processes to obtain provenance, the documented history of an artwork that provides the righteousness of genuine authenticity. The tracing of such details include biographical information of the artist, the location and time in which the artwork in question was made, the manner in which it was produced, the places in which it may have been exhibited, and the precarious history of ownership and cost. It was stressed that these fundamentals will ultimately lead to the validation of the artwork’s current status.
The Significance of Responsible Collecting
One of the fascinations of being a collector is to be able to enjoy, reflect, converse and learn about the diversities of artistic expression in one’s own country, as well as potentially obscure places that have been reached and experienced. Works of art can take on a multitude of subjects in different contexts and yet, visibly, they often share the fundamentally underlying currents of aesthetic distinction in the midst of situations ranging from social upheaval to inherited academic discourse fostered and disputed over multiple generations. The ‘43 Group in this regard are an avant-garde collective of artists who vehemently steered the way for the poetry inherent in visual literature to proudly thrive. Art can be described as being a mirror of the manner in which society functions and presents itself. This particular collective spoke of a way of life that was once quite celebrated; therefore the prestige of such a legacy can often be taken up as a matter of opportunism and exploitation.