India Art Fair 2014 —country’s symbol of contemporary arts sustainability

India-Art

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Madhusree Chatterjee 
New Delhi, Jan 2014

The art market in India is consolidating at a pace that has lent the country legitimacy in claiming global status as an arts destination on par with Asian hubs like Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Beijing —  Asian power points that have become major art exhibition and transaction centres. The India Art Fair — which opened as the country’s lone official trade and exhibition platform for contemporary arts in 2008 — has been the catalyst in pushing the country’s Rs 2,000 crore ( nearly $ 250 million) art market to frontiers that could not be imagined even 10 years ago. The fair over the last five years has drawn the best of international art houses, trade stakeholders and practitioners to make contemporary arts awareness and business more relevant to the growing tribe of Indian art lovers and entrepreneurs, who are eying art as a viable soft and profitable trade option.

The fair serves as an acquisition counter for international institutions as well— which are looking increasingly at Indian collections to add teeth to their contemporary archives in terms of diversity, richness and affordability.  The sixth edition of the India Art Fair Jan 30-Feb 2, 2014 has brought 30 international galleries and 47 national galleries across 90 booths at the NSIC Ground in the national capital — to exhibit the best of the international contemporary art across multi-disciplines including conventional arts, sculptures, digital arts, projects, performances and speakers’ forum.

The  India Art Fair has acted on the lines of the market aggregator bringing artists and collectors on to a single platform, says founding director of the fair Neha Kirpal. “Through the fair, we have been able to give the contemporary art market in India significant exposure to the international community and more importantly, increase in both awareness and the number of collectors within the country. Over the last five years, the fair with 400,000 visitors attending, we have seen a tremendous amount of engagement with art — more than there has been over the last two decades. We have also been able to contribute significantly to the intellectual conversation on the art market with over 150 world class speakers,” Kirpal said.

This year’s international galleries represent a mix — from returning European galleries to a number of cutting edge new-comers who all share the common goal to “explore the Indian art market”— forge key relationships and meet new collectors from India. Galleries like the 1X1 Art Gallery (Dubai), Aicon Gallery (New York), Die Gallery (Frankfurt), Gallery Lelong (Paris), Grosvenor Gallery (UK) and Indigo Blue Art (Singapore) have returned to India on the strength of the response of buyers from India— and the rising level of interest in art. The first-timers from Spain, Germany and several emerging contemporary art houses from France will try to test the market. Unlike previous years, big names like White Cube and Hauser & Wirth, Lisson are missing from the list.

In addition to gallery collections, an extensive Arts Project across outdoor and indoor fair space is striving to open dialogue between the viewers, practitioners and artworks. One of the highlights of this section is “Listen Up! —the first public sound arts project to be launched in India. Curated by Tim Goossens and Diana Campbell Betancourt and supported by 1after320 arts project, it is a citywide installation to make sound art publicly accessible through cell phones. Artist Dayanita Singh will present excerpts from her critically acclaimed “File Room” series which was shown this year at the Venice Biennale. Two important collateral exhibitions — INSERT2014 — featuring 20 leading international and Indian artists curated by Raqs Media Collective at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts; and “Word, Sound, Power” — a collaborative exhibition by Khoj International Artists’ Association and Tate Modern at the Khoj Studio — will provide new perspectives to the fair. For the first, the fair is hosting three museum showcases — the Himalayas Art Museum, the Kiran Nader Museum of Art and the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Latvia.    

The Speakers’ forum is hosting a galaxy of scholars — which include cultural theorist Homi Bhabha from Harvard University, Chris Decon, director of Tate Modern in London, artists Bharti Kher and Jitish Kallat from Mumbai, photographer Dayanita Singh, art entrepreneur Budhi Tek and Phillip Dodd, Chairman of Made in China. The education sessions revolve around “art and public”. Curator and art writer Gayatri Sinha, who will be moderating several discussions, says the 2014 edition of the art fair will expand further on the “core constituency of art — public”. In the previous editions, the forum has drawn on Asia’s expanding role, institutions and critique of the post colonial, market dynamics and changing aesthetic values. “The umbrella subject of discussion of the speakers’ forum is the Public and its Arts. Drawing us out of the narrow reading of locations, borders and boundaries, nations and communities — the purpose is to understand how the very definitions of the public is changing before our eyes”.

The reading of the public in the last decade has been radically transformed, Sinha said.

“When there is an aggregate of people they may mark a  visible public much like the agora of ancient Greece, however, there are publics which are not visible, who defy the idea of an aggregate, who work across different latitudes and political systems. Yet through networks of mobility, they may form national or global opinion, effect policy, topple governments, guide diplomacy and signal mass taste,” Sinha said. As emphasis shifts to networks rather than communities — space becomes a curatorium, “affecting our understanding of the public and its art”. “More than ever before, through its vocal response, physical participation, monetary support and occasion, its hands of destruction, the public confers on art, archives and material history the reading of our future, but also of the past,” Sinha said. The participants at the forum “have all transformed the way in which art is received”.

The fair in 2014 is turning its spotlight to China, founder director Kirpal pointed out.  “For the first time, a major delegation of Chinese collectors is attending the fair with a view to stimulate Indo-Chinese cultural exchange between collectors and museums,” Kirpal said. In the last decade, China has expanded its footprint in Asia and across the world as one of the biggest art transaction market — with a volume that exceeds the Indian turnover. With the freeing of the Chinese contemporary art from government control, traffic to China from the western art worlds has shot up. Collaborations with China in education, exhibitions and trade will help India retain its hold over the Asian art market and project an Asian soft power bloc to the world.

“The art fair has reached out to 67 art colleges around the country for an arts management programme with a students’ internship programme and has served as a market builder and commerce generator for over 400 Indian and international art galleries from over 24 galleries from over 24 countries and enabled business of hundreds of crores,” Kirpal said.

The focus of the fair — despite its international soul and lens — remains India, Kirpal emphasized. “At least, 50 per cent of the exhibiting galleries have always been India and one of the chief purposes of the fair is to build and cultivate the Indian contemporary art market, both internally and domestic level, but also externally in terms of international cultural exchange,” Kirpal said. Since the Art Fair began, there has been a growing level of engagement and participation in the cultural scene across a broader range of sectors, including corporate, retail, design and real estate.

“The market has steadily grown – although there have been peaks and troughs. This can be seen through events such as new gallery openings and public art spaces, new auctions, the arrival of India’s first art biennale and the increasing presence of Indian contemporary artist exhibiting internationally,” Kirpal said.

The founding director of the India Art Fair said as an observer over the last five years, Kirpal has seen the country transform into a more international art scene with a “significantly higher quality of art production and presentation from the domestic market, comparable to the global mix of art works from a curiously growing base of international artists and galleries who are looking to start a dialogue with the sub-continent”.

An important shift in the developing scene is that the Indian artist today is in a position to acknowledge and embrace “key social and cultural issues quite openly in their art, without a hint of being apologetic or falling into traditional Indian cultural clichés”.

Kirpal said, this new proactive aspect of Indian art is forcing artists to “experiment with a variety of mediums such as photography, video  installations, text and sound based works and performance art”.

India’s share in the global art market is $ 250 million which is less than 1 per cent of the total global art market which is currently worth nearly $ 60.8 million, Kirpal pointed out quoting statistics. According to a recent report, the Indian art market has risen over 485 per cent in the last 10 years, making it the fourth most positive art market in the world in terms of growth projections.

“As an alternative asset class, art in increasingly becoming a sunrise investment option, especially as it is considered to be an effective hedge against inflation, with defensive characteristics during weak economic periods and the India Art Fair presents an environment by creating an open market that is fair and transparent to facilitate business of arts along with inspiring confidence in the much larger buyer base that exists out there not only for Indian but for the international community,” the founding director of the fair said. In this light, the fair presents not only platform for aesthetic exchanges, cultural understanding — but a business forum as well, the key to sustenance of arts and arts-related interventions worldwide.

Pointing out the difference in the business model of the India Art Fair with that of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Dubai — Kirpal said the “the big Asian art fairs are destination showcases while the India Art Fair has been riding on the domestic market”. “While a gallery split of 50 per cent Indian and 50 per cent international, the fair is not just a commercial venture but a market builder. So it is more local in spirit”.        

 

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