The India Art Fair is the leading platform to discover modern and contemporary art in South Asia. In anticipation of its upcoming 13th edition – taking place in New Delhi from 28 April till 1 May 2022 – Jaidev Pant has an insightful conversation with Jaya Asokan, the Fair Director.
The India Art Fair has become a trademark exhibition for modern art, with people from all over the country looking forward to the event. What can one expect this year? What should audiences watch out for?
The upcoming edition of the India Art Fair will be first and foremost a celebration of the strength and resilience of artists from India and South Asia. From the monumental fair facade being designed by the young Indian artist Anshuka Mahapatra, our pick from an open call we led in partnership with The Gujral Foundation, to a long and diverse list of names being shown within our exhibition halls for the first time, the aim is to give a platform to new talent and to present the bright future of South Asian art.
Along with the stellar list of 60+ galleries from India and abroad presenting at the fair, an exciting new dimension of this year’s fair will be the unprecedented number of non-profit art institutions, museums and artist collectives. From a large-scale mural celebrating gender and creative expression by Bangalore based transartist collective Aravani Art Project supported by Saffronart Foundation, spotlighting grant-winning projects of Serendipity Art Foundation and Space 118 to incredible presentations by legacy arts organizations such as the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Kochi Muziris Biennale, Chennai Photo Biennale and many others, we hope we bring the crucial work being done at the grassroots level in India into focus.
At the same time, we will have an eye to the region’s rich art history, with a newly revamped ‘Platform’ section being led by curator Amit Kumar Jain, and including a selection of masterpieces of Indian living traditions, including Madhubani paintings, primitive bhuta masks and bronze sculptures. We believe in the dynamic cultural scene of India today, the binary classification of folk and contemporary art simply does not hold, and we are pushing to place both at a level playing field.
You can also expect to see important and iconic works by India’s most loved modernist artists from Amrita Sher-Gil to M.F. Husain –– a perfect gateway into understanding and appreciating our art history. At the same time, our public programme of talks, performances, outdoor art projects and artist-led workshops will show off the contemporary voices and presentations, giving audiences an opportunity to participate and take a closer look at the variety of works on display.
Do you think the rise of NFTs and technology in art has changed what kind of art and artists sell in the market? Will the fair be incorporating the NFT currency or conversations around it in any form?
The fair is a place to reflect on and give shape to contemporary art world trends. For the 2022 edition, we have invited Terrain.art, a pioneer in this field in India, to present digital and NFT works by young Indian artists like Amrit Pal Singh, Khyati Trehan and Laya Mathikshara in a dedicated space at the fair. We will also have a talk around NFTs through which we hope to shed some light on the blockchain model and how artists are using it.
I feel modes of circulating and selling art are always changing, and whether it is art that goes through traditional routes or NFTs, ultimately the story and work put into the piece will always be most important, along with the community of people it inspires. We are looking to NFTs as an exciting possibility, the full potential of which has not yet been fully explored, and are keen to lead the discussion in this space.
Do you think with the pandemic and the consequent shift to mostly virtual art exhibitions and viewings, more diverse audiences are becoming interested in the art world? Or has the digital divide in India further limited who can access art-related events?
For sure! Digital has allowed art to flourish beyond the big cities, where most galleries are located, as well as become an important means for both collectors and creatives to discover and follow the works and careers of their favourite artists. Although it can never fairly replace seeing and experiencing art in flesh and in person, the power and potential of the online cannot be understated.
Social media especially has become a major medium for sharing and consuming art, and from a market perspective too, it’s having an incredible impact on the art world. Art can be shared, admired and bought all on a smartphone. In very concrete terms, the result is that we are seeing millennials and young buyers buying art online and on social media, without ever having to visit a physical gallery, art fair or auction house.
Galleries have been quick to jump on board too and are using social media and other digital platforms to expand their presence, publish prices and increase exposure for their artists. And both galleries and artists are seeing a growth in art transactions originating online, even among their more traditional “offline buyers”.
I also see digital spaces and communication as an opportunity for knowledge sharing and cross-boundary collaboration. In fact, we recently held a fully virtual international symposium on the future of South Asian art titled ‘Staging the Contemporary’ with Ishara Art Foundation in Dubai, with tremendous results. Artists and practitioners from all across the region from Mizoram and Assam, Delhi, Colombo, Karachi and Kabul were able to come together with a global audience — a feat that is only possible online.
As per you, what kind of art is more popular in the country currently? Are people gravitating towards more traditional artworks and artists or has the modern art space with emerging artists taken over the scene?
Even though there is an active and growing interest in digital art, photography, performance art and so on, the buying we are seeing currently largely remains in the domain of more traditional art forms like painting, prints and sculpture. The fair is the perfect place to discover art, across a range of mediums, styles and price points. Wherever possible, we attempt to push these boundaries and bring in new visions of what art can be to our audiences.
What vision do you have for the Art Fair 5 years from now? Where do you think the art world will be in terms of artists, gallery owners, and consumers?
India’s art market is dynamic with strong domestic demand. The market has been resilient and the pandemic year sales recorded an increase of 57% from the previous fiscal year sales of ₹560 crore / US$ 75 million.
We’ve seen greater collaboration and curiosity amongst art world players to learn, experiment and adapt to changing audience needs, whether it’s galleries coming together under collaborative digital efforts such as South-South, InTouch and TAP India to sell works, or engaging local audiences under Mumbai Gallery Weekend and Delhi Contemporary Art Week. Auction houses have upped their digital games and artists too, with online sales initiatives such as Art Chain India, and supporting each other through the challenging times.
As a fair, we are striving to take this upward trajectory further, in terms of continuously bringing not just fresh new artists but also nurturing new and young collectors. The art world can be daunting and opaque, and a big aim of the fair is to open access, whether through the strength of our editorial and social media voice or year-round programming to give local and international audiences an insight into India’s dynamic arts scene.
Moreover, the boundaries of art are certainly blurring, and we welcome it. A big aim for the future is to build more and more bridges with other creative fields such as design, fashion and architecture — continuously welcoming people into the world of visual art from neighbouring territories and renewing our idea of what art can be.
Finally, I believe the future of art will be incredibly diverse. I really hope we’re able to broaden our horizons and champion artists across different backgrounds, genders, age groups and abilities.
Jaya Asokan is Fair Director at India Art Fair, where she is responsible for the strategic and curatorial enhancement of the fair, and increasing its footprint in India and internationally. Bringing over 20 years of experience in numerous creative industries including arts, culture, design, fashion and luxury, Jaya has played an important role in repositioning the fair whilst spearheading international gallery and institutional participation along with overseeing the partnerships and production.
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