The avalanche began last evening in New Delhi — more art shows and curated events than had possibly opened in as many weeks, all clustered together, making it impossible, given the city’s spread and traffic, to attend a launch or talk or two. But what was driving this action? It wasn’t as though the new year had opened with a lot of promise, so it had to be the imminent closeness of the India Art Fair that was the catalyst. With all the action at the NSIC grounds during those four days, galleries and museums appeared keen to take the lead on the offsite action, and if this weekend was busy, you can expect the coming one to go into overload mode.
Here, an observation: What is with the prices gallerists are attaching to works by contemporary artists? Is it mere vanity on the part of artists? While negotiating the final value of an artwork resembles something from a fishmarket, the laughable price tags can only serve to put off new buyers who haven’t learnt the ways of the market yet. Surely, it falls to the art fraternity to abide by some ethics. Discounts of over 50 per cent in so many cases hardly help in shoring up the confidence index that is already severely under strain from market economics.
And yet, artists are putting out big ticket works that are finding buyers away from the glare of publicity and the spotlight of auctions without those discounts and at prices that truly take your breath away and make you wonder at the relevance of the recession to those commissioning works for their homes. These artists are also working in newer mediums, adding an exciting dimension to their repertoire. More artists than at any other time are experimenting with sculpture (which is heartening given India’s poor contemporary tradition in this medium) and with installations (which is less good given that most don’t know what to make of it). The art fair will likely provide some glimpses into this potpourri of the good, the mediocre and the indifferent.
This brings most of the action to Delhi, though galleries in Mumbai have put out a directory of mostly ongoing shows that coincide with the art fair, and of course, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale will get some of the spillover, chiefly of overseas visitors, whether professional curators or art junkies. The art fair this time round seems to have a fair number of these art aficionados queuing up for passes, courtesy of travel agencies who have been able to promote the event to an international audience.
Meanwhile, this evening, Sanjay and Shalini Passi are hosting a fundraiser dinner at their home at an affordable Rs 25,000 per plate, the spoils to go to fund the ongoing biennale at Kochi, which continues to grapple with an acute shortage of funds. The fundraiser is a first for an event of this nature, and will put to the test the philanthropic streak among art collectors and the professional fraternity — reportedly, only 35 had signed up for the event at the time of going to press. The biennale organisation, meanwhile, is putting in place a programme that will allow people to support its efforts through “crowd funding” with donations as low as Rs 100, and it is asking corporate houses to sponsor just one day each of the biennale for Rs 1.5 lakh in exchange for the usual branding. Bad times do bring out the best across the board — especially when it comes to ideas.
Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic. These views are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation with which he is associated