by Parul Vadehra | Source: ArtInfo
Riding a wave of recent successes, the Indian art market is poised for a breakout year. There have already been clear signs of a re-emergence in the market for modern and contemporary Indian art: the US$3.5 million record sale of a work by S.H. Raza at Christie’s in June of last year and the US$2.2 million realised for Arpita Singh’s Wish Dream mural at SaffronArt just last month. It would be hard not to take these as confirmation of heightened activity in the art scene in general.
The importance of India Art Summit must be stressed. With Delhi firmly established as the new centre for Indian art in terms of a market, and the number of galleries, collectors, and art-related events in the city multiplying, it is only natural that we should have a good art fair modeled on the likes of Art Basel in Basel and Miami, the Frieze Art Fair in London, and so on. In a short time this event has become a destination of sorts for anyone interested in art.
The role of this art fair is especially important in a country like India where general awareness about art is severely lacking due to the dearth of a vibrant museum culture. The prevailing norm for museums in the West is one museum for every 150,000 people. New York has one museum for every 10,000 people. In Delhi we have but a handful for an exponentially greater population. This is one area where private initiatives combined with favourable policy decisions can make a profound impact. In the United States, the bulk of the initiative has come from private players though with considerable support from the state, of course. In addition to the obvious elements of business generation, art fairs such as this provide many more opportunities for people to participate. Fairs also help generate awareness about art. Many visitors, who in the past may have hesitated to go into a formal gallery space, are much more comfortable viewing art in the more informal ambiance of an art fair. This will increase the overall exposure and introduce new audiences to Indian contemporary art.
In India, private forays into the museum space have already begun with such institutions as the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), Devi Art Foundation, and so on, coming into the picture. The KNMA recently relocated to a larger, more central space in South Delhi, an important addition to Delhi’s contemporary art scene and attracting a few hundred visitors a day. Also special is the museum’s location: surrounded by shopping, cinemas, restaurants and hotels, it engages with a wide-ranging audience beyond the art community.
The Indian government is realising the importance of committing to cultivating the infrastructure for arts in the country, and is actively fostering collaborations with private institutions. The recent landmark Anish Kapoor exhibition, the contemporary art exhibition held during the Commonwealth Games at the Lalit Kala Akademi (India’s National Academy of Arts in New Delhi), and various other initiatives are all confirmation of this. Last June, for the first time in the 115-year history of the Venice Biennale, there was a pavilion dedicated to Indian art, curated by art critic and curator Ranjit Hoskote.
What was very interesting about the Summit 2011 is that in addition to the gallery displays, there were some unique art projects taking place, showing the seriousness and ambition of the local scene, as well as the international interest in India. The “FICA FeedStation” project for one, a collaboration between Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) and artist Abhishek Hazra, brought together a team of bloggers and guest writers to engage in a live online dialogue on the activities at the fair, as well as issues related to the larger sphere of contemporary art practice.
This is an exciting time for Indian art. With its market valued at US$400 million — as compared to a market for Western art, which is around US$40 billion — there is tremendous room to expand. It is thrilling to be at the centre of this period of change and growth. This is just the beginning.