Locally Global in New Delhi

Looking Back on the Second Edition of the India Art Summit

Precariously poised at the tail end of a global economic meltdown and the beginning of renewed economic momentum, the second edition of the India Art Summit convened in Delhi from the 20th to the 22nd of August 2009. Following a tumultuous year that had seen flagging sales, a recalibration in prices and the shutting down of a number of art spaces, the Indian art fraternity waited with bated breath to see if the Summit would turn the tide, pull back collectors and reaffirm the potential of the Indian modern and contemporary art market. Not only did this first-of-its-kind platform do just that, but, only in its second year, managed to secure the position of annual health and trend indicator of the Indian modern and contemporary art market.

The unprecedented success of this event could very well be attributed to the fact that its Mumbai-based organisers, Hanmer MS&L, are outsiders, not a part of the close-knit Indian art community. Being neutral players, the organisers were in the unique position of being able to provide an unbiased platform for an international event and draw in 55 galleries from India and overseas. It was the presence of 17 international galleries from countries such as the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Latvia, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, some showing key Indian Contemporary artists, which stood testimony to the confirmed global interest in the Indian contemporary art market. Some galleries even introduced Indian collectors to works of important western artists including Picasso and Dali.

Confirming the confidence in the Indian market was Lisson Gallery from London that exhibited and sold two works by Indian born British sculptor Anish Kapoor; and most other galleries reported close to 50% sales, and, in some, cases complete sell–outs.

Amongst the artists grabbing attention at the fair were Sonia Mehra Chawla, whose work was displayed at the booths of Latitude 28 from New Delhi and Beck & Eggeling from Düsseldorf; Parul Thacker at Gallerie Christian Hosp, Berlin; Remen Chopra at The Guild, Mumbai, and Gallerie Christian Hosp, Berlin; and Prajjwal Choudhary at Project 88, Mumbai, and Latitude 28, New Delhi.

A surprising footfall of 40,000 visitors (quadrupling last year’s 10,000) included first time visitors, serious collectors, gallerists from across the world, critics, curators, art publishers, and representatives from major museums amongst others. A press release from the fair’s organisers indicated that 30-40% of the buyers at the event were first time collectors, suggesting that the Summit in its current avatar offered new buyers a less intimidating ground than galleries. For the uninitiated, curated walks by students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University offered an opportunity to get a better understanding of the artworks on display, widening the scope of the Summit to include educational activities.

A number of special initiatives such as the International Speaker’s Forum, a Sculpture Park, a Video Lounge, lecture performances by various art collectives, and a curated display titled the Purple Wall Project also boosted the profile of the fair. The Sculpture Park, strategically positioned at the entrance of the exhibition halls, ensured that visitors had a chance to immediately engage with works by well known artists. Works such as Still Saddled by G.R. Iranna, Head by Ravinder Reddy and Dog Democracy (infidelity in democracy) by Ved Gupta captured the attention of visitors as soon as they entered. As many as 99 video works were screened in the Video Lounge, ensuring that visitors had sufficient access and exposure to satiate their appetite for this internationally burgeoning genre. In addition, The Purple Wall Project curated by Gayatri Sinha added to the substance and flow of the event.

Reading as a Who’s Who of Indian and international players in the Indian modern and contemporary art world was the list of panellists invited to participate in the International Speaker’s Forum at the Summit. The list included art collector and consultant Amrita Jhaveri; Anders Petterson of ArtTactic, a London based art consultancy firm; Renu Modi of Gallery Espace; Shireen Gandhy of Chemould Prescott Road; and artists Bharti Kher, Jitish Kallat and Amar Kanwar amongst others. With topics ranging from the effects of globalisation on art, art in emerging markets and gallery practices to valuation and new media, the seminars raged, on all three days, to a packed hall. These discussions, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian art market, also served as a platform for some collectors such as Rajshree Pathy of Coimbatore to announce plans for the launch of a private arts initiative Contemplate, which would include a private museum to house her collection as well as an art school.

Several issues that have long plagued the Indian modern and contemporary art world came to the fore during these exchanges. The one topic that seemed to draw a united chorus from the audience, panellists and organisers was the exclusion of the eminent modernist M.F. Husain’s works from the show, due to security concerns. A large number of hands went up to lobby for a united appeal to the government to step in and take adequate measures to stand up to this kind of forced censorship, to which Neha Kirpal, Associate Director of the Summit, assured the audience that the organisers had made every effort to move in that direction.

Last but not the least, a number of ancillary events hosted by galleries, museums and collectors in New Delhi during the Summit turned the city into a vibrant arts hub, offering visitors an opportunity to delve into the local art scene and sample works at various art spaces throughout the city. Amongst them the Devi Art Foundation, India’s first private museum of contemporary art, drew in crowds for a group exhibition of artists from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh offering visitors to the city more than just an Indian palate.

In planning the Summit, the organisers ensured that any visitor with enough energy to brave the heat, distances, occasional flood and maze of traffic in Delhi would be left with not a moment to spare and every opportunity to engage with the city’s art circuit. With the next edition of the Summit in 2010 promising to be bigger and bolder with the galleries and works being evaluated before being assigned space, this fair has definitely created a niche for itself in the Indian art calendar.

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