Mumbai This Thursday, the famous Jehangir Art Gallery pulled an exhibition of paintings by Yogesh Gokul Walde after a group of students, including some from the Sir JJ School of Art, complained that the artist stole their artworks and paintings had his name appended.
Walde, an up-and-coming artist from Nashik, exhibited in Jehangir for a week from August 23-29 as part of a group show. “Some students from Mumbai were visiting Jehangir Art Gallery on the opening day of the exhibition when they noticed that their own paintings were on display but all were signed by Walde,” said Gajanan Shelke, a JJ School of Arts graduate and one of the other artists, that are represented in the exhibition.
These paintings, Shelke said, were originally created by students and aspiring artists for a competition organized by the Nashik Kala Niketan Trust in March 2018. Art students from across the state entered the competition. Walde gave ten of these pictures as his own works. Walde’s Jehangir show had a total of 35 artworks. When contacted, he told HT that only 3 of the paintings exhibited in Jehangir were his creations. “I exhibited three of my own paintings, the rest were paintings I bought from the Nashik Kala Nikentan Trust and other artists for my gallery.” He said he owns a small art gallery in Nashik.
During the 2020 lockdown, an official at Nashik Art College, which runs the annual art competition, decided to refurbish the college building, with the job being awarded to Walde, who is also a former student.
“During the renovation, Walde was responsible for transporting about 400 paintings for safekeeping,” said Raghunath Kulkarni, chairman of the Nashik Kala Niketan Trust. “We only realized that these 400 paintings were no longer with us when we were informed that some of them were on display at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai and were being passed off as Walde’s works.” Kulkarni added that it was easy was to overlook these artworks as they were kept in a storage room that was rarely visited and due to the long lockdown no one had kept an inventory of the artworks stored.
For his part, Walde said he did not steal the paintings but bought them from the director of the Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya, Anil Abhange. “He asked me to take the paintings away, but since that didn’t seem fair, I decided to pay €1.50 lakh for every 400 paintings. I have already paid the main amount €90,000 and should pay the balance in the next few days.” Abhange did not respond to HT’s calls and texts. However, Nashik Kala Niketan Trust chairman Raghunath Kulkarni claims that Walde stole all the paintings. “We have taken the testimonies of the two people involved in this case and have established committees to decide on the necessary actions.”
When asked why he claimed the paintings as his own, Walde, who has since written an apology to Jehangir Art Gallery, said he applied for an exhibition there in 2015 but only got a spot two months ago. He said he didn’t have enough paintings for an exhibition, but he also didn’t want to miss an opportunity to exhibit in one of the country’s best-known galleries, so he exhibited works he said he’d bought.
“I am shocked. This is the first time something like this has happened in the gallery,” said KG Menon, Secretary of Jehangir Art Gallery. “Once we got the email from the students and established the facts, we dismantled the exhibit.” In September, the bookings committee will discuss whether Walde will be banned for life. Jehangir hosts up to 300 exhibitions a year and is one of the most famous galleries in the country. It can take between 2 and 4 years to get an exhibition place here. A selection committee uses the submitted artworks to decide whether an artist is good enough to exhibit there or not. It is not clear whether this committee is also being questioned for not having exercised sufficient due diligence in this case.
“Both established and emerging artists want to exhibit in Jehangir. It’s much easier to sell work there compared to other galleries due to the high footfall,” said Swapnil Pate, one of the JJ students whose artwork was exhibited by Walde. “We now want to return our paintings to ourselves. We worked hard on them and never wanted them to be kept in a storage room,” he added.