Art under arc light

Art under arc light

The art market continued to be sedate in 2011, but that didn’t get the glitter out of Indian art, observes Giridhar Khasnis

An art fair that attracted more than a hundred thousand visitors; a new, high-profile private museum adding allure to the national capital; important artists showcased at premier national and international events… Indian art apparently had its colourful moments during 2011.

It all began with the New Year kicking off the third edition of the India Art Summit in Delhi. Set on nearly one lakh square feet of Pragati Maidan, the three-day event (Jan 21-23) attracted 84 galleries, including some reputed ones from abroad. More than a lakh visitors braved the cool winter breeze and flocked the venue to enjoy the works of some of the best known names of modern and contemporary Indian art. Overseas galleries brought with them works of Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and others, but the real star was London-based Anish Kapoor whose sculptures and installations at the Summit as well as in the sprawling halls of nearby National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) kept art lovers and connoisseurs enthralled. Kapoor’s presence in Delhi and his candid interaction with artists and art lovers added its own warmth to the atmosphere.

January also witnessed the inauguration of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) at the DLF South Court Mall, Saket, Delhi. Spread over 18,000 sq ft of prime space, KNMA is the largest museum of contemporary and modern art in the country today. Open eight hours a day, six days a week, with no entry charge for visitors, KNMA has been touted to be at the vanguard of a new brand of cultural philanthropy in the country.

India pavilion

A significant development for Indian art in 2011 was the setting up of India’s first-ever National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Jun 4-Nov 27). Organised by the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), and curated by art critic Ranjit Hoskote, the Pavilion’s intriguingly titled exhibition, ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode...’ featured the works of senior artist Zarina Hashmi, Amsterdam-based conceptual artist Praneet Soi, Delhi-based installation artist Gigi Scaria and The Desire Machine Collective, a media collective based in Guwahati, Assam.

LKA Chairman Ashok Vajpeyi saw India’s participation in the Venice Biennale as a historic occasion. “It’s also getting Indian contemporary art a place on the international scene at a time when India is in focus internationally.”

Many shows

Frontline galleries continued to organise both solo and group exhibitions throughout the year, particularly in big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. Among the important solo exhibits were those of S H Raza, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Manjit Bawa, Rameshwar Broota, and Tyeb Mehta (Vadehra, Delhi); Sudhir Patwardhan, Manjunath Kamath, Navin Rawnchaikul, and The Singh Twins (Sakshi, Mumbai); Jagannath Panda, L N Tallur, Subodh Gupta, Tukral & Tagra, and Reena Saini Kallat (Nature Morte, Delhi); Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Mehlli Gobhai, and Aradhana Seth (Chemould, Mumbai); Ranjani Shettar, Allan de Souza, Sheila Makhijani (Talwar Gallery, Delhi); Gieve Patel, T V Santosh, G R Iranna, Balaji Ponna and Vidya Kamath (The Guild, Mumbai); Zarina Hashmi, Ravi Agarwal and Paula Sengupta (Espace, Delhi); Bharti Kher, Sheela Gowda, Srinivasa Prasad, Susanta Mandal, and Mariam Suhail (Galleryske, Bangalore); and Paresh Maity, Ravi Shah, Claire Arni, and Mukesh Sharma (Sumukha, Bangalore).

Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, collaborated with three leading artists — Jitish Kallat (Fieldnotes: Tomorrow was Here Yesterday /Apr 2011), Sheba Chhachhi (Evoking the Pause /Oct-Nov 2011) and L N Tallur (Quintessential /Dec 2011-Feb 2012); all the exhibits attracted critical appreciation.

Marking the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth, several exhibitions of paintings of the poet-artist were organised within the country and outside.
Among other exhibitions which attracted attention were retrospectives of Homai Vyarawalla (b.1913) and K K Hebbar (1911-96) at the NGMA.
Tasveer continued to feature important photographers from India and abroad, which included the likes of T S Satyan, Swapan Nayak, Karen Knorr, Srikanth Kolari, Ryan Lobo and Graciela Iturbide.

Making a mark

Among the notable Indian artists who made headlines and won awards was Delhi-based Gauri Gill, who was awarded the Grange Prize 2011, Canada’s richest award for photography ($50,000).

In early November, the winners of Prize 2011 were announced during the contemporary art fair in Turin. Sakshi Gupta and Veeranganakumari Solanki respectively won the Artist prize and the Curator prize of 10,000 Euro each. (Sponsored by illy, the well-known Italian coffee brand, the prize is dedicated to artists and curators who live and work in emerging and developing economies.)

Delhi-based Sheba Chhachhi (born 1958, Harar, Ethiopia) was one of the three artists who received the Jurors’ Choice Awards presented by The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation; each award was worth SGD 10,000; the other two winners were Daniel Crooks from Australia and Aida Makoto from Japan. The Grand Prize of SGD 45,000 was awarded to Rodel Tapaya from the Philippines.
On September 12, Manjunath Kamath became the first recipient of “Raza Samman”, an award sponsored by Jawaharlal Darda Foundation, New Delhi.

The Škoda Prize 2011 attracted more than 125 applications from across the country; after much deliberation, a long list of 20 artists was prepared, based on which three finalists (Jitish Kallat, L N Tallur and Navin Thomas) were announced. The winner of the prize is expected to be announced shortly.


Saffronart had auctions almost every month during the year. In the nine auctions from February to November, 704 works were put up for sale and 517 of them found buyers. Total sales is said to have exceeded Rs 60 crore. Artists whose works breached the Rs 1 crore barrier were Tyeb Mehta, S H Raza and Manjit Bawa.

In international auctions too the ‘moderns’ hogged the limelight, and paintings of Mehta (1925-2009) continued to attract high bids. His ‘Bulls’ (acrylic on canvas; diptych/ 2005-2007) set a record $2,826,500 in Christie’s South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art auction, New York, on March 23, 2011.

Three months later, his untitled work (Figure on Rickshaw /1984) set a new price record for the artist at another Christie’s auction in New York when the 59x47 inch oil on canvas sold for $3,240,077.

Among other modernist painters, Akbar Padamsee set an auction record at Sotheby’s in New York on March 25, 2011 when his 10x3 ft painting ‘Reclining Nude’ was lapped up for USD 1,426,500.

While some of these results looked promising, the overall situation of market for Indian art continued to be subdued. “It looks as if the top end of the Indian modern and contemporary art market is wobbling,” observed Delhi-based journalist and commentator, John Elliott. “Recent auctions in London and online have shown mixed results... Buyers have been nervous about India’s contemporary artists since the end of the boom and ArtTactic says that about half the works offered at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Saffronart failed to sell… Dealers talk about difficulty finding and persuading buyers to offer good works that will fetch top prices, partly because many have already been sold in recent years, and because of current economic uncertainty... This is not a market for investors looking for quick profits.”

Many art galleries across the country expressed similar sentiments. When asked about their perception of the state of current art scene, the general response was either ‘good’ or ‘sedate’. Many gallerists confirmed that the mood of collectors during 2011 was one of ‘wait and watch’. Outlook for 2012? ‘Cautious optimism’.

When asked about those few things that could change the art scene in India for the better during 2012, the response varied. “Better auction results, for one,” said gallerist Sharan Apparao, who wants more serious media coverage for art and art-related activities. She would also be happy to see more museums set up in the country to enthuse art lovers, collectors, as well as general public.

Peter Nagy of Nature Morte, Delhi, is far more forthright. “Destroy all auction houses!” he thunders. “Occupy the NGMA! And get ‘official’ culture out of the hands of politicians and into the hands of art professionals!”

Almost on cue, the State-sponsored LKA was in the news for all the wrong reasons recently, when its outgoing chairman, Vajpeyi, dismissed Akademi’s secretary, Sudhakar Sharma, for failing to organise Triennial India in Delhi. This was the first case of such a dismissal in the LKA’s 57-year history.


2011 saw the demise of two important artists who had contributed significantly to put Indian art on the world map.

On June 9, M F Husain passed away at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London following a heart attack. The ‘King of Canvas’ was on a self-imposed exile since 2006; he had accepted Qatari citizenship last year. The news of Husain’s death triggered a spontaneous response. The political class joined the art community in mourning the death of the iconic painter and paying tribute to the legacy he had left behind.

Indian art lost another veteran artist when Jehangir Sabavala, 89, passed away on September 2, 2011 at Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai, after battling lung cancer for two years. Sabavala, whose ethereal landscapes charmed many collectors and art lovers, had a colourful career spanning over six decades. Winner of the Padma Shri in 1977, Sabavala received many honours, including the Lalit Kala Ratna. A gentleman to the core, he always dressed impeccably and spoke softly and sophisticatedly.

As the year drew to a close, one of the best known cartoonists of the country, Mario Miranda, breathed his last in his ancestral home at Loutolim, Goa, on December 11. Mario will be fondly remembered for his much-loved characters like the beleaguered office clerk Godbole, the pot-bellied politician B C Bundaldass, his ‘side-kick’ M C Moonswamy, the sultry seductress Rajni Nimbupani, and the bubbly, buxom Miss Fonseca.

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