In 2008, months before the Lehman Brothers debacle brought the chips down in the art market as well, Rakhi Sarkar, director of Kolkata-based CIMA art gallery was trying to find new ways to expand the narrowing base of art collectors in India. She found inspiration in Nandan Mela, Santiniketan’s annual art fair conceived in 1973, where teachers and students would sell their work together to garner funds. “Till the 1990s, a lot of upper-middle-class professionals could afford art, but when the prices soared during the boom, this segment found it very expensive. Art became a prerogative of a few and could not reach average homes, which began to concern senior artists because those people truly appreciated art,” says Sarkar.
An answer emerged in the CIMA Art Mela. Launched in Kolkata in 2008, the event promised the viewers art at prices much below the market rate, from the masters to youngsters in whom Sarkar saw potential as well as artists pursuing traditional Indian practices such as Madhubani, Pattachitra and Warli. After becoming a much-awaited event in the cultural calendar of Kolkata, the Mela debuted in Delhi last year. Within hours of the opening, the works of some of the known masters were sold-out.
She hopes for a similar response this year too. On sale will be works of over 85 artists, with prices ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 75,000. The list includes senior artists such as Paramjit Singh, Thota Vaikuntam, Manu Parekh and Nayanaa Kanodia. If a 2016 Rabin Mondal mixed media on paper featuring a portrait costs Rs 75,000, a Jogen Chowdhury 21 cm x 29.5 cm costs Rs 50,000. Babu Xavier’s mixed media acrylic is priced Rs 33,000. “We realised that there was a demand last time for slightly bigger works of a slightly higher price range, so we have worked on that. We also have a wonderful range of medium-sized works on canvas,” says Sarkar.
She is also wary of agents making a purchase for further resale. “We try not to sell more than two-three works of senior artists to one person,” says the gallerist. Among the younger names will be Ashoke Mullick, Sushanta Guha, Suvendu Basak, CIMA award winners Swapnesh Vaigankar, Subhajit Dutta and Harendra Kumar Kushwaha, among others.
Speaking about the profile of the buyers, she notes how the fair attracts both seasoned collectors as well as first-time buyers. “We have managed to initiate several new buyers,” says Sarkar.
Preparing for the hectic forthcoming days, she adds that requests have also come for the fair to travel to Mumbai. “The question is how many good works can be managed at that price,” says Sarkar.
CIMA Art Mela will be held from April 12 to 16 at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Delhi.