The morning mist and a spell of biting chill could not deter the crowd from flocking to the India Art Fair 2014 from Jan 30-Feb 2 at the NSIC Ground in Okhla- an industrial neighbourhood in the capital.
The dominant themes under focus were the art market - and aesthetic movements.
The discourse was powered by the vigorous and procative art market in India which 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 nation's nearly $ 250 million art market to frontiers that could not be imagined even 10 years ago despite the fact that it makes barely 1 per cent of the global colopur pie.
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 eyeing art as a viable soft power and profitable trade option. Not to mention the formidable footfall that the organisers put at 400,000.
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 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 and (co-owner) 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 represented 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 tested the market to a positive and enlightened response. Unlike previous years, big names like White Cube and Hauser & Wirth, Lisson were missing from the roster.
The Speakers’ forum was a scholarly exposition with 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 the cultural liaison company Made in China. The education sessions revolved around “art and public”. Curator and art writer Gayatri Sinha, who moderated and conceived several discussions, said the 2014 edition of the art fair expanded further on the “core constituency of art — public”. In the previous editions, the forum had 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 was the Public and its Arts. Drawing us out of the narrow reading of locations, borders and boundaries, nations and communities — the purpose was to understand how the very definitions of the public was 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”, she said.