The annual India Art Fair may have had its regular share of Indian masters and contemporary art, but international artists also had a major presence this year, says Poonam Goel

When Kochi-Muziris Biennale director Bose Krishnamachari came across German artist Burkhard von Harder’s work at the Mondo Gallery booth in India Art Fair this year, he was so moved by its unique composition that his next step was to introduce Harder to several museum directors. Understandably so, as creating his photographic scroll work – reproducing every single frame (2,14,000 in all) of the 138-minute Stanley Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and stretching them into a length of 120 x 254 metres – was no small feat. At Lukas Feichtner Galerie’s booth, 80-year-old Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch was absent himself, but his canvas reproduction of a dramatic blood-stained performance piece elicited a lot of admiration and collectors’ queries. A little down the aisle was Malaysian artist Anne Samat, whose mixedmedia work Abhaya – using threads, textiles, utensils, chains and found objects – at the Richard Koh Fine Art Gallery booth was yet another feast for the eyes.

These were a few among several international debuts at India Art Fair 2018, which has, indeed, lived up to the expectations raised by the fair’s new director Jagdip Jagpal, of this edition being “a high quality” affair. Though the fair did have its usual share of Indian masters and younger artists, the acceptance of the likes of Harder and Nitsch was proof that the Indian art market is not only thriving but also maturing rapidly.

Nitsch revealed that he has always been “interested in Indian culture and philosophy”, and drew a parallel between his own performative acts using blood as the “sap of all life” and Indian ritualistic traditions. “We had wanted to show his work in the last edition as well,” said gallery director Lucas Feichtner, “but were advised that people here might not be prepared to see his radical works yet. I am glad his work is getting its due recognition this time.”

Life, and its myriad stages, is what interested Harder as well. “I had come to Varanasi in 1974, having always been drawn to India since my student days,” said the 65-year-old, adding, “My experimentation with film scrolls has been influenced by repeated visits to the city since then.

A visit to Varanasi is almost like entering time itself. Every aspect of life and death happens simultaneously there. Similarly, looking at my work is like looking at the DNA of the film. It’s like taking stock of a whole life all at once.” Spanish artist Antonio Santin was also at the fair for the first time, and was not disappointed.

His 71×80-inch oil on canvas titled Moebius Ballade was where the crowds gathered, awed by the intricate detailing in the work. Painted like an embroidered carpet, with undulating waves that seemed to both reveal and hide what’s beneath, the illusion was Santin’s master stroke. “People came here thinking it’s thread work, but it’s an oil painting and the details have been made using henna cones,” revealed Santin. “People connected to it because of its Indian aesthetics.”

Samat works mainly with textiles, but for her playful and quirky Indian debut, she chose to add bling to her sculptural installations with Indian jewellery. “I often work to the music of   the Incredible India advertisement playing on television. Having visited the country now, I feel it is truly incredible,” she beamed, pleased that the audience connected with her three-piece work portraying Goddess Parvati. Gallerist Ashna Singh of Studio Art was all praise for this year’s fair.

“Less clutter, quality work and a great response to foreign artists made the fair buzz for the right reasons once again,” she said. At her booth, it was Pakistani artist Khalil Chishtee’s work that sported the red dots. At Redsea Gallery, French artist Val’s bronze sculptures depicted man in search of a balance with the living world, and Japanese artist Norio Takaoka’s delicate stone sculptures at the Art Indus booth – about harmony and the innate balance between human beings and nature – left us asking for more.

The author is an art enthusiast and the views expressed in this article are her own

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