In public view

CHITRA NARAYANAN | Updated on January 27, 2011

Reflections: An installation by artist Anish Kapoor at the India Art Summit inNew Delhi. - Photo: KAMAL NARANG   -  Business Line

For artist Ketna Patel, the mosaicstyle Nano was a metaphor of where the country is headed — vibrant, full of energy, rapidly changing and for themasses. Photo: Kamal Narang   -  Business Line

Besides big sales, the third edition of India Art Summit in Delhi drew record numbers of the aam admi, far removed from the champagne circuit.

Stop! India Ahead!” said the number plate of the psychedelic Nano just outside the Hall of Technology at Pragati Maidan. For artist Ketna Patel, the mosaic-style Nano (the plastic body was removed and redone in mosaic art narrating very Indian stories) was a metaphor of where the country is headed — vibrant, full of energy, rapidly changing and for the masses. In many ways, it could be a metaphor for where Indian art is going too.

For, the talking point of the just-concluded India Art Summit in New Delhi, where the Nano stood at the entry gate, was that over a lakh visitors had arrived over the four days of the event to take in the dazzling showcase of contemporary and modern art. This made it the largest-ever art fair globally. From the experimental to the kitschy to the pop to the old masters to video and auditory art, there was art to suit every palette. By end of business on Sunday, crores of rupees of art had been sold. Despite clashing with the other biggie on the cultural calendar — the Jaipur literary festival — New Delhi's Art Summit managed to hold its own, living up to its blockbuster billing.

The fact that hordes of Delhi's middle-class junta turned up at the fair, braving the Republic Day rehearsal traffic advisories, and actually bought the Rs 200 entry ticket to see the modern art on display showed that it is no longer the exclusive preserve of the champagne quaffing circuit. And, if there were any doubts that interest in art has now percolated down to the middle class, the sales trends said it all. As much as 80 per cent of the works sold by the galleries were picked up by first-time buyers of art.

With 84 galleries — 34 of them international — showcasing some of their best works at the fair, and several collateral events happening all across town — such as the Khoj Marathon at the Lodi Garden — the average Delhiite was spoilt for choice as she went art hopping.

Vivid colours and material

The crowd-pullers at the art gala were touted to be the Picassos, Dalis and Rodins among the European masters, Indian masters like Souza, controversial-as-ever Husains, Indian contemporaries like Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Shilpa Gupta, and the current favourite Anish Kapoor. But the crowds who came to see the big names lingered for hours, absorbing the experimental works of young upcoming artists from remote corners of India.

The sculpture park outside the main hall set the tone with the wood and mirror rendition of the Ferris wheel by Gigi Scaria — a comment on the chaos of the city — eliciting as many oohs and aahs as the Nano, and creative renditions like a bird's nest made with kitchen scrub material. Inside, it was an explosion of colour and new forms of expression. Not only were there paintings framed on the walls, but there was art streaming on them as well — with video and digital art coming into its own and capturing attention.

Take, for instance, the digital animation on a Rs 500 currency note by Vishal Dhar — a project supported by Gallery Espace. All kinds of stuff keeps happening to the banknote with Gandhi's head popping open, the text on the note falling off — clearly a comment on how the Father of the Nation would have disapproved of what's happening today. Gandhiji, in fact, was a common theme with many artists — one saw more than 10 works where he figured.

Nearby, another interesting digital project was Abhishek Hazra's Project Feed Station, supported by the Foundation for Contemporary Art (FICA), where one could see live blogging on art viewership and scholarship practices with some real tongue-in-cheek comments.

But, it was London-based sculptor Anish Kapoor's mirror — one of the most expensive works featured here — which evoked a feeling of childlike delight. Kids and adults alike stopped to look at their reflections, delighting in the whole new world of images the stainless steel concave mirror unfolded.

In a sense, diaspora art came into its own at this fair — a large credit for which goes to the 2009 edition of the fair when Anish Kapoor's works drew attention to the huge body of diaspora art in the world. Here, one met a large number of diaspora artists. One such was New York-based Samanta Batra Mehta, who was showing at the Shrine Empire Gallery booth. She had made sketches on old manuscript paper that had been culled from books written during the Partition. These were stuck on to typewriters, giving a rather quaint effect. The other artists showing at the booth — Fariba S. Alam and Gautam Kansara — also made an impact.

It was also a good forum for galleries and artists from remote locations to connect with global buyers. Take Wahida Ahmed of Easel Gallery, Guwahati, who brought along works of North Eastern artistes. “We are the only gallery in the North East,” she said, pointing to the works which ranged from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 15 lakh. Business in art mostly happens in Delhi and Mumbai, rued Wahida, saying she set up the gallery in Guwahati because “somebody has to make a start!”

Brushstroke with Business

During the 2009 art summit, the works on sale were valued at Rs 50 crore, of which nearly 50 per cent sold. While it was difficult to derive total sales figures this time, Neha Kirpal, director, India Art Summit, claimed that on an average each gallery sold 5-6 works. Compared to earlier years, this edition featured some fairly expensive art. There were Rodins with Rs 5.5 crore price tags, for instance. According to Neha, five artworks above Rs 4.5 crore were sold.

At least six Picassos (some in the Rs 2.24 crore range), two Anish Kapoors, and several Souzas (whose works ranged from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 90 lakh) were sold. Most were said to have been picked by Indian buyers.

Interestingly, while the Indians shopped for international artists and diaspora art, foreign museums like Tate's and Guggenheim were seen shopping for works of Indian contemporaries. According to Neha, some artists like Shilpa Gupta even got commissions from the foreign museums.

Encouragingly, new buyers accounted for over 80 per cent of sales this year, compared to only 30-40 per cent last time. It helped that several young galleries like Wonderwall and Photoink were participating with moderately priced works.

Some had deliberately lowered prices to suit Indian pockets. Singapore-based Vidhya Gouresan, co-director of The Gallery of Gnani Arts, said she sold several small sculptures of artist P. Gnana that ranged between Rs 32,000 and Rs 37,000, and two big paintings priced at Rs 2.6 lakh.

A surprising trend was that Rs 5 crore worth of new media, always a difficult-to-sell art, also found buyers, and unusually for display at homes.

Of course, some of the foreign galleries added a word of caution about the sales. Robert Bowman, Director of London-based Bowman Art Gallery, displaying the high-priced Rodins and Hanneke Beaumonts, said that theoretically he had made several sales. But he described how there was a 30 per cent import duty issue and the works would have to be shipped back to England before it could be technically sold. “So I will have to wait a month before I can tell you how much I have sold,” he said.

Published on January 27, 2011

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