Art Goes Places

Contemporary Indian artists are traversing the globe, with exhibitions and festivals being held at various destinations both outside and within the country’s boundaries. Georgina Maddox explains why this is good news for the genre

This summer as we pack our bags to set out for Europe or America for vacations, we can plan a tour or two of the several international galleries showcasing art from our country. These international exhibitions, along with the numerous domestic ones, are giving a new fillip to Indian art and its followers.

Indian art has been travelling over borders since the early 1960s, but it is only in the last five years that modern and contemporary Indian art have established a pecking order among the top ranks. This year is auspiciously marked with India’s representation at the Venice Biennale, the world’s largest and most reputed art extravaganza. There are not just eight Indian artists showcasing at the official India Pavilion at the Biennale (which is on till
November 24), but artists Gauri Gill, Shilpa Gupta and Soham Gupta are represented as part of the main exhibition of the Biennale curated by Ralph Rugoff, an American curator and the man behind the 2019 edition of the event.

The India Pavilion was made possible by the joint efforts of several parties: the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, (KNMA) acting as curator; the National Gallery of Modern Art, as commissioner and the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) as partners. The exhibition at the Pavilion, “Our Time for a Future Caring” has been curated by Roobina Karode, the chief curator at KNMA, and reflects upon Mahatma Gandhi as the underpinning force behind the selected works by artists like Nandalal Bose, MF Husain, Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat and GR Iranna among others. “India’s modern and contemporary art history is not linear, it draws from vernacular streams, symbols of heterodox faiths, a populated iconographic field and abstraction,” says Karode, explaining her selection of artists and the theme underlying the exhibits — the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi. “It is a joyous moment for Indian art that there is an India Pavilion at Venice Biennale and I only hope it continues in its subsequent editions as well,” says Dodiya.

Within the country too, artists are finding exciting platforms at several art events, both commercial and non-commercial, being held throughout the year; and not just in the metropolitans but in twotier and three-tier cities as well. On December 2018 the Serendipity Art Festival in Goa unpacked its fourth edition, featuring national and international artists like Sophie Cali and Paul McCarthy, Phyllida Barlow, Anita Dube, Mayank Austen Soofi and David Soin Tappeser, to name a few. For the 2019 edition, organisers of Serendipity Arts have announced their team and theme, with Dr Jyotindra Jain and Sudarshan Shetty heading the visual arts section.

In Kerala, the Kochi Biennale saw its fourth edition, curated by artist Anita Dube, successfully conclude in March 2019. In Chennai, the Photo Biennale kicked off its exhibition early this year, curated by Pushpamala N. The event’s approach has been to demystify the different genres of photography for the common man through large-scale exhibitions in public spaces such as fishing harbours, abandoned factories, promenades, beaches, popular cultural spots and educational institutions.

The India Art Fair in Delhi, under the able guidance of Jagdip Jagpal, successfully organised its 11th edition this year, with new national and international galleries, where noted Chinese artist Ai-Wei-Wei made a splash with his work, along with a contingent from South and Southeast Asia.

What does all this art activity mean? It means different things for the common man, the artist, the curator, the collector and the local administration. For veteran art critic and curator Uma Nair, art festivals are a meeting ground for the past and the present. “Festivals in art and culture are required to engage audiences — it isn’t about big or small it’s about giving a voice to the arts. It’s about celebrating across cultures and media and techniques and sensibilities,” she says. New Delhibased gallerist Renu Modi says, “Indian art has come of age. There are events where our artists are being noticed by the global art community and festivals, like the Kochi Biennale, have made their way into the international art calendar,” she says.

The Indian art market has been valued at USD 223 million, which is just a fraction of the USD 56-billion (approx) of the global one, according to a report by KPMG-FICCI. There is, however, a huge projection for growth. As per Anders Petterson, founder and MD of Art Tactic Report, which provides an in-depth market analysis, even festivals like Serendipity and Kochi Biennale, which are not targeted at sales, are important to generate interest in art. “We have been conducting a documentation of the art market, but over the years we found that to be dry. In that scenario, non-commercial projects are as important for the growth of the art market as is saleable art,” he avers.

While Indian art becomes a part of the global art scene, it is successfully moving out of the gallery’s white cube and is becoming a part of the vocabulary of the state, travel and tourism.

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

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