The barefoot “Picasso” of Indian art, Maqbool Fida Husain, apart from being a versatile artist, was also an astute marketing guru, reveals a biography by Ila Pal, who shared an enduring five-decade-long friendship with the late artist.
According to Pal’s book “Husain: Portrait of an Artist” (HarperCollins/Rs 699/306 Pages), in the 1990s, when the much-acclaimed artist was facing the ire of radical Hindu nationalist groups and had as many as eight criminal complaints filed against him, he became “audacious enough to raise the prices” of his paintings to international levels.
“Not that he could do this overnight, nor was it easy to get internationally well-known auctioneers excited about Indian contemporary art. For the first time, Indian artists started fetching phenomenal prices in Sotheby’s and Christie’s as these international auctioneers saw their chance to reap a harvest,” Pal notes in the biography.
She further points out that the marketing strategy that Husain evolved was a coup of sorts.
“Brand M.F. Husain was a very deliberate creation on my part,” Pal quotes the late artist as saying.
She also points out that he arbitrarily raised the price from Rs 40,000 to Rs 1 lakh a canvas at a Christie’s sale in the early 1990s.
“Suicide, everyone muttered, but Husain won. The canvas went for Rs 5 lakh. Next he priced the canvas at Rs 6 lakh and it went for ten and then soon after at one crore,” Pal writes in the book.
And that is not all, Husain plotted hard to pull it off.
“I got Citibank to sponsor my show and invite a super-select audience. I then went about creating a spectacle; I mounted my canvases at the ceiling height, and had them rolled down to live music, supported by dance troupes. I similarly orchestrated a show with Madhuri Dixit, choosing the Living Media group as partner for maximum splash,” the late artist is quoted as saying in the book, from an interview in 2008.