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A Broader Canvas

With more than five art fairs to be held over the year and foreign galleries coming in by the dozen,is India the new destination for international art?

Written by Vandana Kalra | New Delhi |
February 5, 2012 12:45:27 am

With more than five art fairs to be held over the year and foreign galleries coming in by the dozen,is India the new destination for international art?

Mylene Ferrand is well-acquainted with the global art map and its prominent faces. Director of Galleria Continua that has branches in Italy,France and China,the Italian has a rather hectic calendar,zipping across the world to attend art fairs and exhibitions. This year,a new destination has been added to her itinerary: India. At the recent India Art Fair (IAF),Ferrand brought in Indian favourites like Shilpa Gupta,Nikhil Chopra and Anish Kapoor alongside installations by African artist Pascale Marthine Tayou and Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. “I did not expect people to be familiar with all the artists,but I wanted to know their opinion about the works,” says Ferrand. She sold one of the Tayou’s installations and went home with a list of potential Indian collectors.

Ferrand is just one of several gallerists knocking on India’s doors,trying to catch the attention of the discerning Indian collector,who,after the brief lull during the global economic slowdown,is once again actively,but cautiously,weighing possible purchases. While art prices in India have declined now after a surge in the last decade,the demand remains strong. This has prompted foreign galleries to pitch forth sales surveys. “It is the right time to explore the market in India. We have collectors who travel to London for purchases. Our aim now is to increase their numbers,” says James Lavender,associate director of British gallery Hauser & Wirth. At the IAF,his first sale was Turner prize winner Martin Creed’s pink neon installation,followed by works by artist couple Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher.

It was Sandy Angus,chairman of global exhibitions company Montgomery Worldwide,who first discerned the possibilities that the art market in India afforded. With the intention of organising an art fair in the country,the co-founder of Hong Kong International Art Fair had travelled to India three years ago,but went back disappointed by the lack of infrastructure. The launch of the then India Art Summit by Neha Kirpal in 2008 opened up several opportunities. In June last year,Angus and Will Ramsay,founder of the Affordable Art Fair and Pulse Art Fair,bought a 49 per cent stake in the India Art Fair. In its first year,the summit had less than five international galleries. Four years down,the India Art Fair,with a budget of over Rs 70 million and artwork valued at Rs 700 million,had 98 participants,of which 43 were international.

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In 2012,India will host more than five art fairs. Affordable Art Fair,with 14 global franchises,is expected to make its India debut; India Art Festival in Mumbai,Art Chennai,India International Art Fair in Delhi in September and the online art fair that made its debut in 2011 are all on the cards. The much-awaited Kochi-Muziris Biennale,conceived by artists Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari,will take off in Kochi in December.

So what is it that makes India such a viable destination for foreign galleries? Arun Vadehra,of the Delhi-based Vadehra Art Gallery,feels that it was only a matter of time before global art found an audience in India. “Look at how international fashion brands have penetrated into India. The deterrent with art is the terrible entrepreneurship,but now galleries are doubling up as museums,” he says.

Despite the deep pockets of its collector base,many galleries want to do a survey before they focus on sales. The reason is largely red tape — the tax regulations and import duties result in more than 20 per cent hike in prices. “When compared to Europe,the art market in India is still 20-30 years behind,” says Roupen Kalfayan of Kalfayan Galleries in Athens,Greece. Angus pinpoints the problem. “Despite the slowdown,the West still has a strong collector base. Indian economy is doing much better,but efforts need to be made to reach out to prospective collectors,” he says. Quality control is also a prerequisite,says Robert Bowman of London-based Robert Bowman Gallery,which specialises in 19th and 20th century art. “New collectors might lose interest if they go to a mediocre fair,” he says.

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With the winds of change,solos by international biggies,artists exchange programmes and collaborations are also on the rise. British artist Marc Quinn is planning a solo in India in 2013,Diana Tanvis Loi of Singapore-based Gajah Gallery is considering collaborations with Indian galleries to showcase Indonesian art in India. Sundaram Tagore Gallery,which has branches in New York,Beverly Hills and Hong Kong might open an art space in India. “The future will be determined by the response generated,” says Maithili Parekh,director,business development,India,Sotheby’s.

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First published on: 05-02-2012 at 12:45:27 am

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