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Artistic Strokes

The India Art Fair had everyone spinning on its fingers as art experts, enthusiasts and connoisseurs flocked to the venue to experience pure beauty and intellect. The gallery owners who exhibited at the Fair are surely in high spirits!

The India Art Fair had everyone spinning on its fingers as art experts, enthusiasts and connoisseurs flocked to the venue to experience pure beauty and intellect. The gallery owners who exhibited at the Fair are surely in high spirits!

As the warm winter sun shone through the venue of the 4th India Art Fair (IAF), a swarm of people thronged to get a glimpse of the artistic creations exhibited by some of the most well-known galleries in the world.

And it was quite a mélange! Proudly strutting artists, well-dressed gallery owners, fast-paced PR professionals, kitsch-clad art aficionados, high-heeled fashionistas and suited up VIPs were all animated about the Fair, which has become quite an awaited event in India. As people streamed in, servers were waiting in line, like a guard of honour, holding trays of wine and canapés.

And once inside, all around were paintings, sculptures and installations big and small – it was an oasis of art!

Redefining Art
It is not only the art itself which magnetically drew people to the Fair. Concrete changes have been made in the management of the Fair, the outcome of which a number of people were rather curious about. In 2011, Ms Neha Kirpal, Founding Director of IAF, divested a 49 per cent stake of the Fair to two of the co-founders of the Hong Kong International Art Fair – Sandy Angus (Chairman of exhibitions company Montgomery Worldwide) and Will Ramsay (Founder of the Affordable Art Fair and Pulse Art Fair). The Fair was renamed from the previous India Art Summit to India Art Fair. And the venue was shifted from the Pragati Maidan to the unusual but more spacious NSIC Exhibition Grounds in Okhla.

IAF featured 91 exhibitors from 20 countries presenting about 1000 modern and contemporary artists across a 12,000 square metre custom-built space. The Fair saw a diverse contingent of galleries, with about 57 per cent of them being Asian (more than half of them Indian), 26 per cent from Europe, and the remaining 14 per cent from North and South America, the Middle East, Africa and Australia. The state-of-the art setup was under the guidance of the company doing the Frieze Art Fair in London while the venue space was designed by Indian set designer Sumant Jayakrishnan. Alongside, the space also included well-placed art projects, a video lounge, an art bookstore, cafes and an open-air amphitheatre.

The change of venue and management improved the event considerably. Ms Maren Kirchhoff, the curator and gallery manager at Die Galerie, which participated for the second time in IAF, said, “The new venue was certainly a difficult location to develop into a reasonably professional Fair location. But nevertheless, we welcomed more seriously interested clients for Western art, made profound new contacts and continued establishing Die Galerie in the emerging Indian art market. And, last but not the least, in contrast to last year, we did sales.” Germany-based Die Galerie was the cynosure of most eyes as it showcased artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall.

First time participant Richard Mauger, Director of Mauger Modern Art, was all praise for IAF saying, “Large, well-produced and excellently attended. Neha has brought the event up to a level where it can be compared to the Art Basel’s and Armory’s of the art world. The IAF committee ensured a high quality of work was exhibited.” Mauger Modern Art showcased contemporary art works leaning towards unique 3D effects.

The VIP Lounge, sponsored by watchmaker Officine Panerai, was spacious and better equipped compared to the previous year. Mr Milvin George, Managing Director of Officine Panerai (Middle East), was visibly pleased at the improved Lounge. The relationship between IAF and Officine Panerai has been rock solid as the watch manufacturer has been sponsoring the VIP Lounge since the first edition of the Fair.

Though not to say that there is no scope for improvement, Mr Mauger iterates, “I know that this was a new venue for the Fair, and there will always be teething problems with temporary structures, but the clients we spoke to said that they found their Fair experience better than last year. Certainly it means that with the extra space available, the Fair has the option to expand and integrate aspects such as project areas and restaurants perhaps. I know many people were keen on the idea of a defined space for large scale installations. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens next year. I do think, like many others, that this Fair will go from strength to strength.”

IAF also had sessions scheduled to educate people about the meaning of art, its history and the current culture of buying art. Interestingly, there was even a session titled ‘You don’t have to be a millionaire to collect art’, which was moderated by Ms Maithili Parekh, Director, Sotheby’s India.

In a commendable step towards nurturing art collectors under one umbrella, the India Art Fair Collectors’ Circle was launched in September 2011. This membership-based programme reaches out to young and new collectors in cities across India. These members will get access to talks, studio visits and social events throughout the year.

The Response

Exhibitors happily welcomed the positive response from guests. “The interest was overwhelming, especially in the known names such as Picasso, Dali and Chagall. Those classics are, of course, well-known in India. But we also got a good response for our contemporary artists such as the Italian painter Claudio Massini and the German painter Volker Stelzmann. Many Indian visitors truly consider the Fair as ‘the’ new platform for art in their country and are enthusiastic to get in touch with art from abroad,” Ms Kirchhoff said.

This feeling of exhilaration was shared by Mr Mauger too. He said, “The quality and level of interest was staggering. We had one client deciding between a Martin C Herbst oil painting steel sphere on our booth, and an Anish Kapoor on another. People were definitely in the mood to buy, but it had to be very special pieces with high integrity for them to seriously consider taking the plunge.”

Both exhibitors though, were not too happy with Indian laws, which restricted them from importing their works safely without incurring high costs. While Ms Kirchhoff rued the fact that they couldn’t get a larger collection to India due to high costs and absence of proper logistics, Mr Mauger was perturbed with the barrage of formalities. “There were a spaghetti junction of forms, documents and permissions needed to get the art into India, coupled with the headache of actually making a sale. We decided to ask our clients to make their orders once we land back in London to avoid the stifling paperwork. We do hear that tax laws will be relaxed in time for next year, which will make releasing works from the Fair – rather than sending from London – much easier,” he said.

Competing with Korea
Much to our surprise, a lot of exhibitors were gauging the maturity of the Indian art market vis-à-vis the Korean market. Interestingly, Ms Kirchhoff and Mr Mauger view the market with different eyes. According to Mr Mauger, this other Asian market is more inclined towards buying works from native artists rather than international art. “Our experience in Seoul was that the Korean market is good, but Korean buyers are keen to purchase works from Korean artists primarily. The ratio of sales was explained by a Seoul gallery to us as 80 per cent Korean art, 10 per cent A-list international artists, and the final 10 per cent of sales consist of non-expensive, exceptionally well-produced works. The Indian art market (in our brief experience) is still very Indian artist centric, but more open to exploring art from other countries. The response to Jeff Robb’s 3D Lenticular’s was very strong, with the sales to support this. A number of museums are currently in touch with us at the moment to work out the best way to showcase his work here,” he said. Ms Kirchhoff, however, stated quite the opposite, saying that Indian audiences were more knowledgeable about and prone to buying Indian art rather than international art.

Another crucial point is the red tape that international galleries have to face in India. “In Korea, as in Singapore, no tax on art is required and the temporary import of art is much less bureaucratic – two very important factors – which in contrast are still very complicated in India and constrain the art market’s growth,” Ms Kirchhoff said.

Despite the tangling laws and sheafs of paperwork, India is still a very important market for international galleries and artists alike. Mr Mauger says that he will “definitely” take part in IAF next year. The Die Galerie too promises to take steps to strengthen their relationship with the Indian market. Ms Kirchhoff explains, “After having returned from the Fair, it’s our most important duty to keep in touch with our contacts during the year. We have to gain and maintain the personal confidence of our (new) clients as it is the first and most important basis of successful gallery work, but not easy to achieve. Another activity to strengthen the Indian market will be the active contact with other professionals based in India. We might be able to initiate first cooperation with Indian galleries.”

There is optimism in the air, growth is on the charts and art lovers are eager to learn and embrace art intrinsically. IAF took the right steps at an opportune time to plant its feet.