India Art Festival - A democratic Art Platform
Predominantly Indian Art has come under a lot of scanner and controverseries. Admist of this, there has always been a lot of need to promote art in various forms as there seems to be a growing interest in art, unfortunately doing it right seems to be a question. India art festival has been in trend to make a strong statement in this space, and there are many reasons for us to believe that this art fair is here to stay. Below are the excerpts from an interview with Rajendra, founding director of one of the largest contemporary art events in India - India Art Festival.
1. How did you envision when you started India Art Festival - from start till today?
In the hindsight things look differently; however the birth of India art festival itself was not planned, the way it took shape in the last eight years. The art fairs started happening in India at New Delhi and Mumbai since 2008.
As a publisher of Art Journal, a quarterly art magazine, I was part of both the art fairs happening in Mumbai and Delhi as their media partner in 2009-10. After two editions in 2008 and 2009, the art fair in Mumbai did not come up with any edition in 2010 for the reason known only to them, as they had fairly successful edition in the previous year with good galleries as participants.
Then Mumbai was left without any art fair of its own. Though art fair in Delhi was consistent and became the big brand name.
I am on the management committee of the Bombay Art Society for many years. In 2010, after one of the committee meetings, I was chatting informally with the then president of Bombay Art Society, Late Mrs Prafulla Dahanukar in the office of Bombay Art Society at Jehangir Art Gallery; the discussion was about art fair, not happening anymore in Mumbai but big art fair continues at Delhi; Late Prafulla Dahanukar in fact proposed some exhibition of grand scale and made me take initiative and India Art Festival was organised first in 2011.
In the first India Art Festival edition in 2011, Late Prafulla Dahanukar was the Chairperson, Dr. Saryu Doshi, the President, and Anupa Mehta also supported as Advisor VIP relations. I used to execute the plan discussed together with the trio! So there were many brains behind the establishment of the art festival.
Except for Anupa, as all three of us were associated with the Bombay Art Society & Artists centre - the public institutions, promoting art and supporting independent artists; our aim to start the India art festival was basically to create some platform for independent artists and simultaneously bring in art galleries under one roof.
The mission was to democratise the process of 'art viewing and buying', as most of the bigger private art spaces remain unapproachable for inarticulate rural and many urban artists too.
Art festival was devised to be an interface between Indian artists, art galleries, art collectors and writers with an objective to create a dialogue and network amongst them.
Initially there were questions raised on such mixed module of art fair bringing artists and art galleries together; however we studied prototypes of few art fairs worldwide and created 'India Art Festival' module like 'New York Art Expo' in which independent artists and art galleries participate under one roof since 25 years at famous venue; it proved beyond that there is no conflict as such if independent artists and art galleries exhibit together and India Art Festival too is an example of it. In the last eight years, IAF worked as a talent hunt show as well and many young artists launched by art festival in the artists' pavilion have now joined art galleries and we are happy for them, as they entered mainstream art.
2. What is your perspective about Indian Art, how is IAF shaping the same?
Post-2008, Indian Art market is again back to realistic ways of functioning to the certain extent. We saw art market boom ( 2001-2007) and also saw it bursting. It was good and bad too; it has inflicted some damage but initiated the purging process as well, which is good for art.
Purging of the elements that entered in the art business for making fast buck sans passion for it. The benefits are also not insignificant; boom period has made many Indian artists reach to global arena and made international auction houses take notice of India Art Market, irrespective of its small size. Our master artists started getting a long overdue price for their artwork, though still away by international standards.
India Art Festival is a domestic art fair; it creates the buzz in art field - amongst artists, art buyers and reaches out to all the constituents of the art market. Art Festival is happening from 2011 and 70% of our exhibitors are repeatedly participating. This can happen only when they get some returns from the art festival.
3. What have you been focusing with IAF vs other festivals that are around? Could you highlight some key differences?
There are no art fairs in India, except India Art Festival and art fair that happens in Delhi. Art Fair in Delhi is an international art fair, the face of India internationally and I am a fan of it myself; rather I took inspiration from them when I was their media partner in 2010 before art festival started.
Having said above, art fair has the certain benchmark; nothing is wrong with it when you are addressing international audience and exhibitors. But their benchmark leaves the whole lot of smaller and mid-level art galleries and artists out of mainstream art fair circuit and are deprived of exposure.
This is where India Art Festival comes into the picture and try to amplify the voices of unrepresented elements, be it artists or mid-level or online art galleries. We try to get them to the wider audience.
The audience may be domestic or international. There is no difference in art festival and art fair, except that, later hosts the big fat glamorous party and former is an affordable platform for exhibitors without frills and undue glamour.
4. Is IAF positioned for Collectors or just casual buyers?
India Art Festival is advertised in all forms of media; IAF campaign is the highest paid campaign than any other existing art fair in India. It is oriented toward art collectors as well as casual buyers. The considerable trade which happens at the Art Festival has made 70% art galleries to participate every from the first edition in 2011 till today.
Most of the old-time art collectors are saturated now and many of them turned in to dealers. So casual buyers are rather important, as they are in large numbers but getting them to the venue is tough and it happens with umbrella kind of media campaign, which we undertake.
5. Your take on importance of Online and offline galleries and how they are shaping up the art industry in India and overseas
The Art Dealers, smaller & mid-level art galleries and online art galleries are playing very important role in the secondary art market. The secondary art market in India has evolved and became very flexible and fluid. Earlier, it was difficult to get master artists artworks except in few major galleries; It had created liquidity issue in the art market.
Now artworks of even master artists float in the secondary at market and land up in the smaller art spaces or online art galleries because they charge small premium making it lucrative for genuine art collectors who want to reshuffle their portfolio want to liquidate their art investment. Smaller galleries, online galleries have diminished monopoly in the art market to great extent and its healthy for the art market as monopoly chokes the competition.
6. Do you think that India should adopt a model of the artist not selling directly and their works must be sold through galleries only? Why and why not?
In India we have the huge number of artists, more than 80,000 including young emerging, mid-career, established and masters. We do not have the sufficient number of art galleries to accommodate all these artists. Plus art galleries exhibit only sealable names for obvious reasons; galleries have overheads to take care and there is nothing wrong to put up only economically viable exhibitions.
Having said above, 70% artists who remain outside art gallery system depend on public art galleries or public platforms like art fairs. Due to this reason, we have incorporated artists' pavilion at India Art Festival to facilitate exhibition opportunity for unrepresented artists.
But if the artist is inducted into gallery system and gets associated with a particular art gallery, then s/he should sale through the gallery, as it will leave him a lot of time for his creative activity in the studio. If artist sale through the gallery, s/he need not have to deal with market forces and will get peace of mind to concentrate on studio practice.
Plus, the artist can not market himself the way gallery can; s/he cannot praise her/his own artwork, but gallery can do so. India Art Festival is the strong supporter of gallery system and we believe that we should have robust gallery system like Europe where artists are loyal to their art galleries.
7. As an art critic, what would you like to change going forward in both Art Market in India and IAF?
Well, the art market has its own way of functioning. It will be nice if our art market develops some kind of transparency in valuations and bigger deals, instead of keeping it secret.
The biggest problem with art market is liquidity; except few masters, there is liquidity issue which keeps uninitiated art buyers & investors away from the art market. There should be some way to introduce liquidity in the market. However, this is the universal issue and not only in India.
Events like India Art Festival or any other art fairs create big buzz and bring in many first-time art buyers, expanding periphery of art patronage. India's share in the global art and antique art market is minuscule and it should go up. This will happen only when we have more events creating the new set of art buyers.