The recent 3-day Art Mart held at Epicentre -- the fourth of an annual series – put together a very erratic collection of Indian Art, along with an overly-diversified range of crafts-oriented pieces. This 'eclectic' forum was, seemingly, our answer to Delhi's International Art Fair. However, evolved quality-control is an absolute imperative in selecting works for any serious Art Fair -- a lack of which here resulted in a visually-insipid khichdi. Displaying random mediocrity as an option to exclusive aesthetic displays is not any kind of solution; it actually begets for us a cultural problem.
Aside from a very average mixed-bag of Indian art -- which also included some overtly-aspiring as well as over-exposed repetitive artists -- Art Mart-4 was also a 'Mela', with 'corollary themes and distracting entertainment events'. A section, Art and Cinema, displayed peculiar and clichetic 'Bollywood-inspired art.' As a 'celebrity draw', art-film Director Ketan Mehta was present at a pre-release DVD screening of his film on the thespian Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma, and his muse, 'Rang Rasiya'. And then, a musical evening of vintage Bollywood melodies played on the piano by a young pianist Abhay, in the open-air theatre, also became a part of the Art Mart.
Cinema and the Fine Arts are separate entities that cannot be so easily thrown-together, under a quick 'avant' label. Further, the advent of the Digital Print has, of late, evidently tossed-in too many breathless aspirants. This category includes eagerly-ambitious ingenues and artistic pretenders in a great hurry, who crave to be 'trendy' and 'cool', by jumping onto the current 'Arty' bandwagon.
'Art Appreciation courses' and 'Artists' Workshops' were also perfunctorily thrown into a 3-day time-frame. In this context, a separate section for disseminated discussions, readings, and serious interaction is vitally necessary. There was little cultural interaction at the Mart, with no designated space for methodical idea-sharing. Another practical drawback at this Mart was an absence of central seating arrangements, which is essential in all good galleries and museums. This caused further dissipation of concentrated viewing and appreciation.
With around 20 small stalls for painters, sculptors and photographers, and a further 20 motley artists depicting 'Bollywood', the range of this Event was inherently limited. A rather peremptory catalogue did not provide either a complete list of participants, sufficient texts or nuances.
Among the stalls on offer, Paint Your World, showcasing the students of artist Kavita Jaiswal, who conducts workshops at Epicentre, was the only group-effort containing some nuanced, sensitive painterly creations. Chavi Rajpal's quirky, dry pastels on paper bear a whimsical contemporary originality. Sumedha Goel's personalised acrylics in honest impasto strokes, bearing metaphysical titles such as 'Hum sab kathputlian hain' and 'Eternal Search', communicated spontaneity. Nishi Bajaj's poetic oils, depicting urban commuters in a metro, evoked subtlety and pathos. Sharmila Bhasin's pastel portrait 'Lines of Time' bore sensitivity, representational skill and finesse.
The Mart included some technical 'heritage and architectural' sepia-toned photos by Amit Pasricha, under the label Archiva – packaged with an obvious intent on the 'gift' market, and bearing a 'calendarish' feel. Other artists like Anjanna Kuthalia, Farhad Hussain, Sangeeta Singh and Rohit Sharma displayed average and repetitive works, where the spark of genuine self-expression remained notable in its absence. By contrast, the fledgling, relatively-immature paintings and photographs of the teenage sisters, Madhulika and Tulika, contained more honest emotional content!
Among the more 'craft-oriented' idioms, Meera Dutta's stall, Shanghai Strokes, of Chinese-inspired brush paintings, contained certain conventional watercolour skills. But such work does not convey any sort of contemporaneity. Neither did the laborious Tanjore and Pichwai-derived iconic paintings of Neena Chhabra; nor the folk-art remixes of Geetika Sangwan, in a disturbing variety of imitative renderings. The Gurgaon-based boutique, Ibex Interiors, presented some masterly Orissan wood carvings; but again, these cannot be considered contemporary artworks by any standards.
In summation, the next Art Mart will need to introspect long and hard. Correctly maintaining India's aesthetic and intellectual quality, and responsibly conveying serious cultural ideas, is a basic necessity. There should not be the infliction of yet another motley assortment of art-masquerades. The consultation of reliable analysts -- and the engagement of more serious artists -- is imperative. It must be remembered that great art emerges from exalted, inspirational sadhana -- and it is not the stuff of facile, sales-oriented melas.