In Picasso’s shadow

The Indian pavilion at ARCO art fair in Spain saw several hundred footfalls.

Written by EXPRESS FEATURES SERVICE | Published: February 23, 2009 4:37 am

The Indian pavilion at ARCO art fair in Spain saw several hundred footfalls. Bose Krishnamachari’s curated section was virtually an Indian panorama,inclusive,but hardly as riveting as envisaged—a clear case of media hype in overdrive. Galleries in the Indian pavilion were well turned out with good displays and representative works,some of which have already been seen in the city. Vadehra,The Guild and Kashi art gallery stood out,also due to the ingenuity of works on display – Kashi,for instance,simply chose to play a well-edited video of its current exhibition.

The rest of the fair – some 200 galleries from across the world – was like any other art fair,with a bit of the good,bad and the senseless. No,the cash registers didn’t ring at all. Recession has hit Spain as hard as anywhere else in the world. As Bose put it,“Surviving in good times is easy; it’s the tough times that will test us.” Under the circumstances,India did well.

My own trip continued through Madrid,Seville,Granada,and culminated in Barcelona,in the company of six young artists. The highpoint of the trip was a morning spent in the company of masters at the Prado museum. The rest of the trip is a windswept blur of art,artists,architecture and scenic Kodak moments.

In retrospect,the one thing that comes to mind is that nearly every museum-and we visited nearly seven major museums-held its collection of tightly curated gems with the pride of a dowager nursing her family heirlooms. Superb security,great lighting,accurate titles,audio guides,docents,location plans and well-stocked art shops made museum treading a veritable pleasure.

The host of postcards,bookmarks and knickknacks were a reminder of the benefits of classy marketing. There was also the pleasure of seeing groups of school going children looking at art with delight.

Consider the fact that most of us revere the Guernica by Picasso. But ever wonder how many know and appreciate a work called Between the Spider and the Lamp,or who painted it? But for that,we have ourselves to blame. Our masters will pass and there will be very little in terms of documentation and memorabilia for future generations to appreciate.

I now possess a keychain crafted of rubber but based on Dali’s famous clock,handkerchief printed with an image of the Guernica,and bookmarks with images of miscellaneous European masters. At ARCO,there were no souvenirs of works by Indian masters. Neither did anyone give away anything that could help a Westerner remember that which is Indian and great. Our loss.

Downtimes are perhaps a good time to reflect on all that needs to be done at individual and collective levels to promote contemporary Indian art in more substantial ways. Our modern and contemporary art legacies may be young,when compared with centuries of European tradition.

But it would not be amiss if the government decided to convert some of its much underutilised facilities into state of the art museums. Producing and selling quality art memorabilia could even prove to be a great business opportunity in lean times. It doesn’t,for instance,hurt to acquire a quality print even in recessionary times.

(The writer is an independent art consultant.)

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