A decade on, India Art Fair has had a bit of course correction as it looks to get a more rooted approach, with a year-round programme
The 10th edition of a fair is good place to take a pause, reflect and perhaps recalibrate the steps ahead. India Art Fair, about a decade since its rather humble beginnings in Delhi, has arguably grown to be India’s most significant art fair, a must-be-there for galleries, collectors and art lovers. The journey however has not been smooth, and the multiple changes in ownership and stake sales have only reflected just how challenging it is to have a profitable art property in an emerging economy.
New majority stake owners Switzerland’s MCH Swiss Exhibitions (Basel) Ltd are now firmly in place. A number of changes have been visible. For starters, there’s a new director—Jagdip Jagpal takes over from Neha Kirpal. A veteran of the arts scene in the UK, she has been responsible for the strategic enhancement of the fair and its activities in India and beyond since August 2017.
Jagpal says the highlights of the 2018 programme were about inspiring visitors to discover the best of the local and regional art scene. “Packed with exciting initiatives, it complements the incredibly strong programming that we are seeing in our galleries,” she says. She stresses the need to highlight local art, pointing out also that this should not be seen as a dumping ground for international galleries.
There were changes in several sections of the fair. The Art Projects were consolidated into a single hall, which made for a better focus on them. Platform, which acts as a springboard for emerging art practices and art collectives from South Asia, added Tribal Art Forms and Delhi Crafts Council, lending a deeper touch to distinct art from India’s scattered tribes. More than one gallery had Pichvai traditions, and found several takers.
And indeed, dominating socio-political trends saw a big representation at the fair. Several artists focused on human displacement, especially those of refugees. As part of the Art Project section, Sudipta Das’s Soaring to Nowhere struck a particular chord with viewers as they paused in front of about 200 figures of migrants suspended in the air. Subba Ghosh’s The Flow had painted panels with portraits of suffering refugees.
Perhaps in keeping with international trends, issues of women’s empowerment, or lack thereof, were amply on display. Works by Tayeba Begum Lipi were particularly hard hitting—metallic masks, an iron, handcuffs, a clutch—all rendered in blades.
This year saw a particularly strong representation of contemporary art as well. Jamini Roy and Jogen Chowdhury seemed to be especially well represented and galleries such as Chatterjee & Lal, Jhaveri Contemporary, The Guild Threshold Art Gallery, Latitude 28, Kalakriti Art Gallery, Chemould Prescott Road, Experimenter and many others focused on this category.
Highlights included a moving image work by Hetain Patel, alongside a new strand of talks titled ‘I know what you did last summer’, had South Asia’s most established artists to present on recent international exhibitions and projects. A lot of South Asian art is being highlighted globally, but not in the region, points out Jagpal, citing more examples such as Nikhil Chopra and Lubna Chowdhary. “We want to make sure that urban audiences in India are able to get the opportunity to see their works.”
Another innovation was the Collection Bureau by Pollinator, a collective formed by Thukral and Tagra have writer-artist Prayas Abhinav. The aim—for artists to look beyond the monetary value and critique the process through which value is formulated and established in the context of art. So creative folks from across the spectrum were invited to submit art works, with the selected ones invited for a pitching-cum-interview session during the fair. Yes, it was fascinating to see an alternate process of democratising the arts.
IAF wasn’t restricted to its NSIC Grounds this year. A number of collaborations and collateral events programme took place across the city, including exhibitions and events at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Bikaner House, KHOJ as well as Lado Sarai Gallery Night. KNMA opened the first retrospective of eminent artist Vivan Sundaram, nephew of one of India’s best-known modern artists, Amrita Sher-Gil. According to Sundaram, “This exhibition presents the themes I have engaged with, but it also proposes structures that hold things together in retrospect: via the work, the exhibition layout, and spectator itineraries. ‘Step inside and you are no longer a stranger’: the exhibition’s title reflects the conflicting dimensions of my practice”.
Incidentally, Sundaram wasn’t the only Sher-Gil relative whose works featured at the fair. Her father Umrao Sher-Gil’s photographs transferred the viewer to another era as previously publicly unseen photos taken by him showcased intimate moments of the family, including one of Sundaram as a kid on his grandfather’s lap. For the Indian art aficionado, it is moments like these of Indian art’s history that can make a fair come alive.
For 2018, IAF tried a professional learning programme, offering an in-depth view of topics related to the arts industry such as the accessibility of art in India, authentication, intellectual property and the import and export of artworks, featuring international speakers and consultants for some of the world’s leading museums and foundations.
The overall feedback at the end of three-and-a-half-days of hectic art-ing? The fair seemed to be more organised, sales were better, chorused several gallerists. Bhavna Kakar, Gallerist, Latitude 28 and publisher of TAKE on art magazine, was pleased with the sales, as well as the curation of the art works for the edition. Ashish Anand of DAG was measured in his praise. “Since MCH has taken over, I see the quality of the fair getting better. I notice that a lot of the galleries are saying they have done good business and a lot of new collectors have come in.”
Sunaina Anand of Art Alive gallery, however, said she wished “there was more international participation”.
2018 is just the beginning, asserted Jagpal, as she juggled gallerists, interviews and VIPs. “Working with the community, we are taking this opportunity to explore and test ideas to shape the long-term future of India Art Fair, to ensure that it reflects the cultural diversity and distinct identity of the region. Moving forward, we are also committed to supporting the region’s artists, galleries and institutions not only at the fair but year-round.”
Lead image: Madhvi Parekh, The Magician, 2006, serigraph on paper, 40 x 40 in (Archer Art)
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