Tuesday, February 04, 2014

ARTICLES 1349 & 1350 - A Tale of Two Reporters


Moderate sales and lots of people at Delhi’s India Art Fair

Delhi’s annual India Art Fair, which closed tonight, is as important for the focus it brings to Indian art and for other events that happen at the same time across the city as it is for the show itself, which has settled into a predictable mould in its sixth year.
Indeed, the exhibitions away from the fair grounds that are featuring leading modern and contemporary artists are more exciting than the fair itself, which this year has lacked dramatic new contemporary displays. In a depressed market, galleries have been showing conventional works and there has been some criticism of a lack of consistent quality, especially with Indian galleries – “kitsch” was the unkind word used by one critic to describe some exhibits, responding to me saying it was all very “predictable”.
Maybe there is nothing wrong in that. Arguably, there is no reason why India should not produce its own version of art fairs in the same way that it challenges other foreign concepts of orderliness, quality and convention. That said, the fair does confound sceptics with its efficient organisation and presentation and, as I have written several times in earlier years, its importance is that it has successfully opened up interest in Indian modern and contemporary art both in India and abroad.
Thousands of visitors, including schoolchildren, who would never venture into formal art galleries, have been touring the stands, which provide them with access to culture that they would not otherwise experience. This is similar to the Jaipur Literature festival that I wrote about ten days ago, though there the audiences are building on their existing interest in books whereas the art fair is opening new vistas.
Established Indian collectors have been at the fair to see, and some to buy, instead of relying on internet images which, gallery owners tell me, astonishingly suffices for many buyers.
The fair also brings foreign visitors to Delhi – this year, for the first time, there is a group ofgallery owners and collectors and artists from China, while Christie’s, one of the fair sponsors, has brought an international group. Neha Kirpal, the founder and director of he fair, says that last year 40% of the works sold went to first time buyers, some from what are known as second tier towns that do not have art events. Several gallery owners however are sceptical about that figure, echoing doubts about some of the claims of attendances in past years which Neha has comfortably and rounded off to a cumulative unchallengeable figure of 400,000 over the past five years.
The array of art on show has ranged from Picasso and Andy Warhol to India’s reliable body of progressives such as M.F. Husain, F.N.Souza and contemporary artists such as Atul Dodya and a spinning mud installation and digital prints in plastic boxes.
There were 91 exhibitors, the biggest of which is the Delhi Art Gallery with 330 works covering 400 sq metres. Nearly a third of the total exhibitors are from abroad, though some big international names, such as the Lisson Gallery from London and Hauser & Wirth from Zurich, have not returned after appearances four or five years ago.
This indicates some disappointment with a lack of sales to big buyers, and also frustration with shipping and other problems caused by India’s customs controls that make it impractical to bring many foreign works for sale.  “There is a risk of this not going much further if the organisers don’t develop a co-ordinated programme with collectors and corporate buyers,” says Carlos Cabral Nunes of Portugal’s Perve Galeria, reflecting the views of other foreign exhibitors.
A quick survey of stands this evening produced some unhappiness, like Nunes’ frustration about a lack of big sales. Most galleries that had done well sold works ranging from under Rs100,000 (£1,000, US$1,600) to four or five times that figure, though some went far higher. London’s Grosvenor Gallery did exceedingly well selling works by Olivia Fraser., a Delhi-based British painter with limited edition prints of new works that started at Rs50,000. Archer Art Galley of Ahmedabad also did well with limited edition reproductions of well-known artists starting at Rs15,000.
At the other end of the scale, Aicon Gallery of New York and London sold four works by established Indian masters, M.F.Husain and F.N.Souza, and a younger painter G.K.Irani, for between Rs400-500,000 to Rs1.5 crore (Rs15m). Art Alive of Delhi sold a long Thota Vaikuntum that had been priced at Rs40 lakhs (Rs40m). Mark Hachim of Paris was also happy, selling lively works, all foreign,  and including digital prints of scent bottles in plastic boxes from Euros 5,000 (Rs420,000). Sakshi Gallery of Mumbai’s sales included a tiffin (meal) container carried by Mumbai’s dabbawwallas who are pictured in the small buttons.
Collectors will now be watching to see what effect these events have on the market.Christie’s had an amazingly good first auction in Mumbai in December that produced record prices but that has yet to have a visible impact.
On a broader front, experts have been saying that India should look eastwards to the buoyant Chinese and south-east Asian markets to develop links. That will now begin following the visit of collectors from China, led by Philip Dodd of Made in China. Among them was  Budi Tek, a prominent Chinese-Indonesian collector who is building a museum in Shanghai and is considering buying a contemporary work from Delhi’s Espace Gallery. Earlier in the day, he said the Indian private sector needed to build museums and public awareness.
India always looks westwards to Europe and the US for foreign accolades and praise so it will, I guess, be some time before it recognises that looking east is where the future probably lies if Indian art is to appeal internationally to a wider audience than its present relatively small group of western collectors.
John Elliott   for the Independent
A longer article that includes the other art events in Delhi mentioned above, and more illustrations including some of the works, is on John Elliott’s blog at: http://wp.me/pieST-21x 

6th India Art Fair Reports Strong Sales

NEW DELHI — On the heels of Christie’s successful auction in India, the sixth edition of the India Art Fair demonstrated that demand in the country’s art market remains strong.
Spread across three tents and 200,000 square feet, this year’s fair, which ran from Thursday to Sunday, featured 91 booths and modern and contemporary works by over 1,000 artists from India and overseas.
Participants included 12 new galleries from outside India, including those from Israel, France, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Turkey and, notably, from Karachi, Pakistan. The Himalayas Art Museum in Shanghai and the Mark Rothko Museum in Latvia both participated in the fair for the first time.
The fair’s organizers said in a statement that a number of exhibitors sold out completely and that 96 percent of exhibitors reported “good” sales, but no figures on sales or attendance were released. Most of the Indian gallery representatives who spoke to India Ink said they were satisfied with their sales.
“We didn’t go in expecting very much, but we exceeded our expectations,” said Priya Jhaveri, the director of Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai, which participated in its very first art fair. “It was a positive experience for us because we were introducing artists who aren’t known.”
Among the works she sold were those by Rana Begum, Hamra Abbas, Alexander Gorlizki, and Yamini Nayar. None of the works, with the exception of the one by Ms. Begum, exceeded $15,000.
Jhaveri Contemporary’s booth was placed near several other notable Indian galleries, and these booths had some of the strongest contemporary works on display.
Yet critics and observers rued the lack of consistency in the quality of some of the art at the fair, saying that although top tier galleries from India and some from overseas had stellar works, many middle-tier galleries had lackluster offerings.
“In terms of art works and quality, the most interesting pieces were at some of the contemporary galleries,” said Mallika Advani, a well-known independent art consultant and former India representative at Christie’s. “Although I normally deal more with the Moderns than with the younger artists, I can’t say there were too many works by the senior artists that I would recommend to collectors.”
She said most of the artwork on display had been featured on other commercial platforms, including auctions and previous gallery shows.
There were gems to be found, however. Ms. Advani singled out the Experimenter Gallery of Kolkata and Gallery SKE, based in Bangalore and New Delhi, which displayed the work of the mixed-media artist Avinash Veeraraghavan, Volte Gallery of Mumbai, which had a visually appealing bronze sculptural work by the British studio Based Upon, and Atul Dodiya’s works at Vadehra Art Gallery of New Delhi.
Despite criticism about overall quality of the art, there was universal agreement that the fair acts as a creative catalyst and draws a diverse audience that includes a global community of curators, museums and collectors as well as locals who wouldn't normally have access to such a wide range of contemporary art.
"It's an important national convening that didn't exist before," said Melissa Chiu, director of the Asia Society Museum in New York.
Ms. Jhaveri said although 90 percent of her buyers at the fair were those already known to her, she met many people who hadn’t known that her gallery was in Mumbai.
Tushar Jiwarajka, founder and director of Volte, said he sold a few major works, but beyond that, he saw the fair as a great platform to showcase his gallery. “In the four years I have participated, we have sold to new collectors,” he said.
Mr. Jiwarajika’s booth had works by the South African artist William Kentridge, the British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor, and Indian contemporaries like Sheba Chhachhi, Ranbir Kaleka and Nalini Malani.
Auxiliary events that take place outside the fair, including museum shows of modern and contemporary Indian art, are almost as important as the fair itself. The National Gallery of Modern Art is currently showing two major exhibitions, one by the contemporary artist Subodh Gupta and one on the pre-Independence works by Amrita Sher-Gil.
Other highlights included a solo show of paintings by Zarina Hashmi, “Folding House,” at Gallery Espace, Ms.Malani’s solo show, “Cassandra’s Gift,” at Vadehra Art Gallery and Sudarshan Shetty’s show, “Every Broken Moment, Piece by Piece,” at Gallery SKE.
“The curated exhibitions like those by senior artists like Nalini Malani and Zarina Hashmi, that didn’t happen before, that is in large measure due to the fair as a convenor,” said Ms. Chiu. As a curator, it’s a very good way of getting a sense of what’s happening with Indian artists today, both emerging and established.”
Neha Kirpal, founder of the India Art Fair, wasn’t fazed by the criticism about the quality of art this year. An art world novice when she founded the fair six years ago, Ms. Kirpal said that her goal was to make the market more democratic.
“This is a domestic fair for a domestic audience,” she said. “The art scene here is small and the preference is not to exclude galleries right away.
“We could have made it very exclusive and have only the absolute best, in which case from India there would be 20 galleries that made that cut. But that’s precisely the problem — the art world is inaccessible. I am that public that was too intimidated to walk into a gallery as a young person growing up in India.”
Among the fair’s 400,000 visitors over the past five years, she said, thousands of them had never before seen art in their lives.For such folks, works like the oil on canvas by Henry Singleton (1766-1839) titled “The Last Effort and Fall of Tipu Sultan,” which was featured at the Delhi Art Gallery booth, would have been an eye opener.
“I am passionate about building something in this country for art and culture that did not exist before,” she said. “We are at a different stage in its development cycle. We are where London was maybe 50 years ago — we are just about starting off.”

 GAYATRI RANGACHARI SHAH  for the New York Times

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