A(f)Fair of Art: Hope and Despair
International Participation at India Art Fair 2012
by Sabrina Osborne
The rock band on the stage, the athlete on the soccer field, the politician at the podium and Art on the wall - all command the attention of huge crowds. The India Art fair 2012 turned the lens back on the audience, exposing the dramatic and narrative potential of the spectator alias the collector in waiting!
Previously known as the India Art Summit, the fair's new name confirms its growing commercial importance. Ninety-one exhibitors from 20 countries showed work by more than 1,000 artists. This year, a British production company (20-20 events), German tents and an Indian set designer have all come together to stage the Fair, which charges galleries a fixed rate for exhibition space. Global heavyweights such as Hauser & Wirth, White Cube, Gallery Continua and Lisson Gallery were at the Fair due to the large numbers of people who attend, relative to other Asian art fairs such as those in Singapore and Dubai. The India Art Fair attracted some 128,000 visitors last year. The hope is that a significant percentage of these visitors will convert into buyers.
With the growth of the Indian economy, the Indian art market has also seen tremendous growth. The sales from £2.5 million in year 2000 grew to £25 million in year 2007. London had three auctions in 2006. This resulted in an increased number of international taste makers along with NRIs exploring different categories of Indian art other than modernists. Giants like Charles Saatchi lead the way to other European collectors. Sotheby's 2007 auction included names of contemporary Indian artists such as Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Ravinder Reddy and Raqib Shaw. The secondary market had opened for Indian art. Bharti Kher sold for £850,000 in 2010 at Sotheby's auction. Growth in the value of Indian art has facilitated in more international touring exhibitions of contemporary Indian art such as Indian Highway. A recent Indian art exhibition at the Pompidou centre, Paris received over 300,000 visitors. Interestingly these now internationally established Indian artists rarely showed their works in India itself. Soon Europe started selling Indian art to Indian collectors along with Western names. "We've brought Damien [Hirst], Tracey [Emin], Gary [Hume], Mark [Quinn] and Antony [Gormley]," said Graham Steele, Director of the London-based White Cube gallery. Charlotte Nunn, Manager of Other Criteria, said India was "relatively unexplored". Experts say even after a decline in art prices in India, as in China, after surging through the last decade, the demand still remains strong. "The big museums are all sending teams. They are actively thinking that they need some Indian element in their collections and that is very new."
As the Indian art bazaar has became hot and happening, many the international galleries participated to sell art works from the West and other parts of the globe. On the last day of the fair, I interviewed 9 of the international art galleries. Most of the galleries took this fair as a long term investment and introduction for future, an opportunity to open a possible dialogue between the Indian audience and their artists. Most of them found it difficult to identify the Indian collectors, as most were unfamiliar with who is who in the Indian art scene. The lack of an outreach programme, advertising campaign and networking was very evident. Clara Ha, Director of Paul Kasim Gallery in New York City, felt that in the main the audience were primarily artists themselves. Fabian J Walter of Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie in Zurich has been working with many Indian artists and primarily wanted to show only their works at the Fair, but the Fair's organizers interests were more towards the international participants showing more of their non Indian artists. Fabian said, “I realized that many of the visitors do not know what is happening in contemporary art, so they do not know how to deal with it”. He said that this Fair is more or less similar to any other art fair in Europe, it is only that people come and ask questions, it used to be like this 20 years ago in New York. He thought that Indian society has gone through a very rapid change in recent years.
Though the big giants like Hauser and Wirth tried to play safe and showed more Indian artists like Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher, the relatively small Tasneem Gallery from Barcelona showed the Cuban artist Ernesto Leal, unfamiliar to Indian audiences in his use of aesthetics.
Third time participant Lisson gallery from London had a curated stand and the only one with bi-lingual titles with exhibits. Ellie Hanson Read, the Sales Associate for the gallery also observed the developing community of Indian collectors and stressed the importance of participation in the Fair. The gallery showed works of New York based Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic's works for the first time in India, hoping for more challenging aesthetical investment from spectators. They had good sales. Ellie said, “the key thing is to keep coming back and to make real relationships and investment”. Lisson works with Indian galleries Chemould and Chaterjee & Lal representing artists such as Anish Kapoor and Rashid Rana.
When asked about collaborations with Indian artists and galleries, all galleries politely said that they are open to it within in their gallery programme and have already been making investigations with artist studio visits etc. Some younger galleries like Ignacio Liprandi Art Contemporned from Buenos Aires, Argentina were very clear about defining their profile and only showcasing Latin American artists.
On the critical side, Jasdeep Sandhu of Gajah Gallery, Singapore, said, “Galleries are bringing surplus works, not many collectors are seen coming to fair. It should be a venue for great Indian art not unsold surplus works. All this does not help make it an event to celebrate. It is still in transitory stage and need to develop a lot”.
Tomoko Tajima of the Japanese Tokyo Gallery came in search of more mature flourishing markets with great potential like India and Turkey, where she participated in Istanbul Fair in November 2011. She strongly expressed that a country like India with such great art history does not need such a big Western stage. She questioned the reason for lack of Asian galleries at the Fair while the Western galleries dominated the scene. Tomoko said , “Why to go to Singapore to see Basel, when one can see Basel in Basel?! As an event it is good to have prestigious galleries but one should not forget about uniqueness and purity. Mix locality not just majority.” Gallery showed Formula One inspired work by Showichi Kaneda.
All had astounding nightmares dealing with the logistics and Indian customs department. Many galleries brought works for exhibition only. Everyone found it hard to absorb what was going on when it came to collector's taxation. Even the Fair's organizing staff were not much help with this. There was a total lack of specialized internationally trained staff to help with such matters or FAQ's. Basic orientation, explanation and information have to be in place for next year's event. The introduction and identification of collectors seemed another huge obstacle for international galleries, who found themselves at total loss. Some galleries felt overwhelmed with number of visitors along with school children and art students and their hundreds of curious questions.
Chris Dercon, Director Tate Modern who happened to visit the Fair briefly, remarked, “I wish that Indian collectors would look more actively in to acquiring international modern and contemporary art. Indian collectors do talk enthusiastically and knowledgeable about modern international modern artists such as Henry Moore or Howard and their liaisons with Indian modern artists, but these artistic exchanges of the past and present are barely noticeable in their collections... Nationalism and nationalist pride are one thing, the development and understanding of art in a world gone global is another thing. For the sake of Indian modern and contemporary art, do collect international art as well!”
This Fair made one think about the modernist notion of the audience that has been discussed in terms of spectatorship, whether Guy Debord's notion of the spectator and the mediated spectacle or Jacques Ranciere's more recent writings on the spectator, which poses doubt around the relationship between looking and knowing. There have always been examples of performing audiences that are not ones that only see, an obsession of modernism and a supposed marker for the civilized way to participate in the social life of watching live events or behaving in the museum. The silent and seeing person with a focus on the retinal reception of visual cues, mindfully contemplative and searching for meaning represents one set of values. Audiences at rock concerts, for example, produce another one. Nevertheless, I still hope to find my lost twin at next 'Mahakumbh' of Indian Art with the red dot on the cheek.