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'Movement, storage of art should be made hassle-free' 

Business Line , Mar 25, 2009

The economic slowdown, coupled with the present tax structure levied on art pieces, have pushed down art gallery sales resulting in the shutdown of many of them, according to Mr Ashok Vajpeyi, Chairman, Lalit Kala Academy.

“Art galleries have not been selling for months now and many galleries are also shutting down,” he said on the sidelines of a symposium on ‘Museums of the Future’, jointly organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and KMOMA (Kolkata Museum of Modern Art) here on Monday. The Bodhi Art Gallery, for instance, had shut down its galleries in Delhi, Berlin, London and New York and was only functional in Mumbai, Mr Vajpeyi pointed out.

‘Bring down taxes’

The movement and storage of art should be made hassle-free and taxes should be brought down to a minimum if it could not be completely done away with, he said. The tax structure on art was not rationalised, said Ms Rakhi Sarkar, Chairperson, FICCI Committee on Art and Business of Art and Managing Trustee, KMOMA. A VAT of 12.5 per cent is levied on a piece of art generated in India, whereas it is even higher when it is generated by Indian artists abroad as they have to pay the entry tax, she pointed out.

Framing a policy

“A number of NRIs collect art works abroad and they are keen to bring it back home but they cannot do so because of the tax structure. Art is considered a luxury commodity in India and therefore the tax levied on it is as high as that on a Rolls Royce, which is simply not justified. This happens because there is no clear art and culture policy in the country,” Ms Sarkar said.

FICCI was working with the government in order to frame a comprehensive policy for art and culture, she said.

Paucity of funds, outdated equipments and lack of skilled expertise were acting as hindrance to the development of museums in the country, Mr Vajpeyi said. “We at Lalit Kala Academy are approaching all State Governments to undertake a renewal package of museums and we are ready to lend our support on the technical front. The Government can also take support from corporates,” he said.

Curatorial needs

There was also a need for curatorial management or curating as professional management practice in order to have better manned museums in India, according to Mr Jawhar Sirkar, Secretary (Culture), Government of India. Mr Sarkar was unable to attend the symposium but articulated his views through a letter.

India, so far, had only sectoral curators (museum personnel become curators by virtue of their working in museums over a certain period of time). There was a dire need to create a cadre of professional curators, who come through professional training and practical experience, Mr Sarkar felt.