Creative streaks

The Indian art scene continued to witness diverse activities despite low-key performance in the art market, writes Giridhar Khasnis

Saravanan Parasuraman’s sculpture made of iron ballsThe fourth edition of the India Art Fair (IAF) in New Delhi in January 2012 set in motion the year-long art activities in the country which included exhibitions, auctions, awards, camps and residencies.

IAF once again proved its importance by attracting nearly 100 exhibitors from 20 countries and putting on display an estimated 1,000-plus works of art, each priced between a measly Rs 20,000 to a substantial Rs 2 crore. Half of the participating galleries came from India in the five-day event which was set up in custom built space at NSIC exhibition grounds. The response to the fair from both the exhibiting galleries and the visitors was positive. Coinciding with IAF, a number of collateral events added lustre to the national capital’s creative landscape.

Another major art event took place at the fag end of the year. Kochi Muziris Biennale 2012 (KMB), which was inaugurated on 12/12/12 and set in spaces across Kochi, Muziris and surrounding islands will go on for three long months; during the period a plethora of art shows in existing galleries and halls have been scheduled, besides site-specific installations in public spaces, heritage buildings and disused structures. Touted as the largest international contemporary art event ever to take place in India, KMB is expected to bring on board over 80 artists from 23 countries, creating and exhibiting artworks across a variety of mediums. The full impact of the event would be felt both during and after the conclusion of KMB in March 2013.

In between, three art fairs were organised in Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai. The highlight of the second edition of Art Chennai (March 11 -18) was the exhibition, ‘To Let the World In’, curated by Chaitanya Sambrani, on the narrative movement in India. With nearly 500 artists displaying their works in the free space allotted to them at the United Art Fair (September 27-30 /Pragati Maidan, Delhi), the event was unique in several ways, but faced criticism for the clutter it created and the debatable artistic outcome. The India Art Festival (28 November - 2 December/ MMRDA Grounds, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai) was a relatively low-key affair with about 40 galleries participating in it.

Gallery shows

Throughout the year, many galleries in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and other cities were active hosting solo and group exhibits of well-known and upcoming artists.

Shows organised by Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai included N Pushpamala’s ‘Avega - The Passion’; Anju Dodiya’s ‘Room for Erasures’; Rashid Rana’s ‘Apposite|Opposite’; Vivan Sundaram’s ‘Gagawaka: Making Strange’; and Shilpa Gupta’s ‘Someone Else’. 

In Delhi, Nature Morte had, among others, Jitish Kallat’s ‘Chlorophyll Park’; L N Tallur’s ‘Password’; and Bharti Kher’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’. In Bangalore, Galleryske put up shows by Sudarshan Shetty (‘Listen Outside this House’); Anup Mathew Thomas (‘Hereinafter’); and Pors & Rao (‘Applied Fiction : Reworked)’.

Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai (BDL) conducted several exhibits, talks and art events, and closed the year with Ranjini Shettar’s ‘High tide for a blue moon’ in December.
Among other important solo shows were Sudhir Patwardhan’s ‘Route Maps’ (The Guild, Mumbai); A Ramachandran’s ‘Dhyanachitra’ (Vadhehra, Delhi); Akbar Padamsee’s ‘Prints and Watercolours’ (Time and Space, Bangalore) and Sakti Burman’s ‘The Wonder of It All’ (Pundole, Mumbai).

The National Gallery of Modern Art too had some significant exhibits in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Among them was the much awaited retrospective of Bengali master Ramkinkar Baij, curated by K S Radhakrishnan; and ‘Project Cinema City: Research Art & Documentary Practices’, curated by Madhushree Dutta.

Tasveer continued its focused involvement in the art of photography and exhibited, among others, Norman Parkinson’s fashion photography (‘Pink is the Navy Blue of India’); Swapan Nayak’s haunting connections (‘Being and Nothingness’); Derry Moore’s Indian images (‘Evening Raaga’); and Raghu Rai’s ‘Divine Moments’.

Important foreign artists who exhibited their work in India included Japanese artist and peace activist Yoko Ono (Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi); German conceptual artist Wolfgang Laib (Vadehra); Berlin-based painter Eberhard Havekost (BDL); Madrid-born, Paris-based Natasha de Betak (Experimenter, Kolkata); Austrian artist Eva Schlegel (Galleryske); Pakistani photographer and video artist Bani Abidi (Experimenter); and French sculptor and photographer Philippe Ramette (Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore).

At the same time, well-known Indian artists exhibited their works in foreign galleries and museums: Sudarshan Shetty (Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna); Bharti Kher (The Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London); Atul Dodiya (Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris); and Raqs Media Collective (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston). 

Indian art and artists were also showcased by important museums including Arken Museum of Modern Art, Denmark (‘India: Art Now’); The Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (‘The Needle of the Gauge’); Das Kunstmuseum, Austria (‘WAR Zone – Indian Contemporary Art’), and Tel Aviv Museum of Art (‘Critical Mass: Contemporary Art from India’).

Prizes for art

The Škoda Prize 2011 was announced in January in Delhi; and the winner was Bangalore-based artist Navin Thomas for his solo exhibition ‘From The Town’s End’ at Galleryske. The short list for Škoda Prize 2012 was recently announced, and in contention for the Prize are L N Tallur, Srinivasa Prasad, Shilpa Gupta and CAMP. The winner receives the title plus prize money of Rs 10 lakh, while the runners-up would be invited to participate in international residencies.

The prestigious Artes Mundi 5 prize — the largest cash prize awarded in the UK — was also announced in November.  Bangalore-based Sheela Gowda was one of the “seven groundbreaking contemporary artists of growing international importance” shortlisted for the prize. Eventually, the £40,000 Prize was won by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, for her work examining the economy of death through sculptural interventions and performances.

Auctions & art market

Slow growth and cautious optimism — these terms continued to be used to describe the present state of art market in India.  Observers felt that it would be unrealistic to see the prices soaring in the immediate future.

Seasoned collectors still considered moderns like M F Husain, S H Raza, Tyeb Mehta, and F N Souza to be relatively safe bets, while newer entrants showed interest and inclination for relatively young and upcoming contemporary artists.

Trade experts generally saw auction results for the Indian art to be encouraging during 2012. Tyeb Mehta (1925 – 2009) continued to hold sway in the auction sales. One of his untitled works (1998/ oil on canvas) sold at Christies auction for a whopping Rs 11.85 crore, while his ‘Figures with Bull Head’ (1984) got Rs 9.16 crore. In a Saffronart auction, Mehta’s ‘Falling Figure with Bird’ (1988) was bought for Rs.9.63 crore.

“Indian art market is now stable, and somewhat rational, and even competes with other forms of financial investment options for investors,” wrote art collector and Chairman of RPG Enterprises, Harsh Goenka. “There is good quality and there are discerning buyers.  Indian market will keep growing as more and more people turn to art either to collect or to invest. It is a promising place to be in.” Not all art collectors and observers, however, seemed to be as optimistic.

Bidding farewell

The year saw the passing away of Rajendra Dhawan in Paris on October 31. Born in Delhi in 1936, Dhawan moved to the French Capital in 1970 to become a leading abstractionist of his time. 

Earlier, in May, another abstractionist and spiritual painter Ambadas Khobragade, and a contemporary of M F Husain, S H Raza and F N Souza, had passed away in Oslo, Norway.
One of best known fashion and fine art photographers of the country, Prabuddha Dasgupta, suffered a heart attack and died on August 12; he was 55.

The world of photography mourned the death of Martine Franck, a highly regarded and respected documentary photographer, when she passed away in Paris on August 16, at the age of 74. A member of the prestigious Magnum Photos for over 32 years, Martine (like her husband Henri Cartier-Bresson) was a great friend of India which she visited several times, and documented people, particularly in small villages. Her photographs of Buddhist Tibetan children in India and Nepal would be remembered for a long time.

With the death of the 92-year-old gallerist and art connoisseur Kekoo Gandhy at his ancestral home in Mumbai on November 10, Indian art lost one of its best known advocates and promoters.

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