Vanakkam art

HEMA VIJAY | Updated on: Apr 07, 2011


Last month saw a huge, colourful wave sweep over Chennai — Art Chennai, an art extravaganza that brought to the city's gaze 27 art shows featuring paintings, sculptures, photography, mixed media, prints, caricatures, video installations and drawings put together by 22 art galleries in the city. There were special shows featuring rarely seen works sourced from collectors, and these included the ones celebrating 150 years of Rabindranath Tagore, 100 years of K.C.S. Panicker, A.P. Santanaraj and M.F. Hussein.

As many as 27 recognised artists — including S.G. Vasudev, Viswanadhan, Nandagopal, Paula Sengupta, Arpana Caur and Shuvaprasanna — gathered in the city and painted live at various venues. At five seminars addressed by art collectors, historians, curators and critics there were discussions on topics such as the art market, collector's corner, the art critic, the curatorial eye, and artists in conversation. A special video lounge with 3D projection saw the facades of Art Chennai venues (including the Taj Group of Hotels) come alive with images of the works of 30 artists. To round it all off, there was an auction of artworks created during the event, with the proceeds going to the charity projects of the Rotary Club of Madras.

Altogether, it was an event on an ambitious scale, especially for a city that has remained relatively un-swayed by the winds of contemporary art, even as it is steeped in a rich and thriving confluence of traditional art forms. In fact, it is this curious discrepancy that prompted the genesis of Art Chennai. “Chennai, as a city, is deeply into art and, yet, contemporary art has not really taken root here. I wanted somehow to bring all kinds of contemporary art to the city,” says Sanjay Tulsyan, Chennai-based industrialist, and the man behind Art Chennai.

Tulsyan, who has been collecting artworks for the past 26 years, says, “The scale of the summit was intentional. I want Art Chennai to create a buzz in the city.”

A mass movement?

And he certainly had to work hard for it. The Lalit Kala Academy, one of the participating galleries, saw nearly 8,000 schoolchildren drop by during the weeklong event. This became possible after Tulsyan campaigned extensively with schools and colleges.

Among the locals, there was an element of curiosity surrounding the event in its first year. With Art Chennai becoming an annual event, the organisers hope there will be a greater impact in the coming years. “The State Government should step in to promote the cause; that's how it happens all over the world,” says Tulsyan. This year's event had four sponsors, including Tulsyan NEC. “But now that we have created a brand name, next year we will build on it,” he says.

The event had some interesting sidelights too. Artists such as Nandagopal, M. Senathipathi, P. Gopinath, Jacob Jebaraj, B.O. Sailesh, P.S. Nandan, Rajasekharan Nair and N. Saravanan went gallery-hopping together in a van. “It was a lot of fun,” says Nandagopal, the senior sculptor and secretary of Cholamandal Artists' Village.

“The summit is a very important development. Ten of my sculptures got sold, a big thing for a Chennai event. I also noticed a number of young buyers, whom I have never seen before,” he adds. Nandagopal, who held a one-man show as part of the summit, also feels that the summit has enhanced Chennai's brand name. Shanthi Chopra, who runs leading Mumbai gallery Art Musings, now wants to expand south, and has booked space at the Cholamandal's galleries for forthcoming shows.

While individuals from Chennai have made a mark in the international art arena — Cholamandal artists lead the way here, with striking young talent from the city such as A. Balasubramaniam and Benita Perciyal among others — not much is happening in the city's contemporary art scene, at least in a collective sense. “That is primarily because there is no broad audience for contemporary art in Chennai,” says Anjali Sircar, senior art critic. For Kolkata-born Tulsyan, who has lived in Chennai for over 25 years now (ever since he set up his business here), this city is now home. And through Art Chennai, he plans to bring home a thriving contemporary art scene.

Published on April 07, 2011
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