February has inundated art-enthusiasts with the much-anticipated bonanzas of both contemporary and ethnic Art. A parade of international galleries and artists descended dramatically upon Delhi once again, providing a 'world of trendy art' to viewers within one rarefied spot, at the 5th Edition of the India Art Fair – held from Feb. 1-3 at Okhla's NSIC grounds, under the able management of Neha Kirpal, the founder and Fair Director of India Art Fair. This year's Fair showcased 55 Indian galleries and 40 international galleries, with 2 corporates as sponsors. Since this Art Fair's inception in 2008, there has been an overwhelming internationalisation of India's Art market. It has become an active hub of those who wish to be seen in the international Art scene. There are certain disturbing questions, however. The gargantuan commercial appetites of international galleries --- as well as those of artists whose priority lies in being promoted in such environs --- is now actively encouraging and begetting a 'slick' manner of 'commercial art,' within what should be a sacrosanct Fine Art bracket. 'Art-as-a-Multinational-Enterprise' is now making glaringly visible a new bracket of 'trendy art' --- a school of 'visualised briefings'.
However, it is also understandable that such a gamut of worldwide gallery-participants, under the unmitigated arc-lights of commerce, evidently cannot be made possible without mercantile and corporate connections. The examination of this dichotomy requires another quieter space and forum.
A 'special international attraction' of the 2013 Art Fair was the reputed presence of 17 Museum Groups, from Paris' Louvre and Britain's Tate, apparently on the lookout for Indian Art.
In quieter corners, amid the flurry and tamasha, some masters of painterly work were also visible. The 84-year old Indian Progressive artist Akbar Padamsee -- seated silent and observant in a wheelchair in a corner -- was feted in a special booth, by Mumbai's PriyaSri Gallery from Worli. A recent 2012 abstract horizontal canvas, in Padamsee's prototypical red and black strokes, recollecting his 1950s oeuvre, was the focus of this Stall – with other examples of the senior artist's works displayed inside. Grosvenor Gallery London, Dhoomimal Delhi and Vadehra displayed some marvellous masterworks by Souza, the Founder of the Progressive Artists Group. The presence of many Master Indian Contemporaries indicated the immense importance of the vital act of (actual) painting.
Other significant paintings by artists from various countries included major canvasses by the Paris-based painterly maestroes Sakti Burman, Shahabuddin, and Maite Delteil. The special talent inherent in Indian Feminist Art included intricately-laticced painted screens by the Feminist painter Rekha Roddwittiya, and the evolved Photographic Art of Sheba Chachhi --- both of whom merited careful viewing. Atul Dodiya from Mumbai presented an interesting assemblage of photos and shelves with a distinctly 'Indian Vintage' feel. The timeless magic of Surrealistic Figuration was exemplified by the portraits painted by Rahul Arya, shown at the Gurgaon-based Alternatives' booth; while the Greco-German Surrealist Jannis Markopoulos' mesmeric canvasses stood out at Moscow's Frida Fine Arts Gallery.
Europe's Bruno Gallery—from Israel, Italy, Turkey and Singapore—showed valauble works of the founder of Kinetic Art, Agam Yaacov, and the founder of the Swiss Dadaist Movement, Marcel Janco; as well as David Gerstein. Spain's Del Villa Arte Galleries showcased the masterful classic Figurative paintings of Monste Valdes. Paris-Geneva's Galerie Daniel Besseiche presented a formidable pantheon of fine painterly and sculptural works that were very well-documented on gallery-cards --- including Vasarely, Cochery, Miotte, Shahabuddin, Soutra, Longo, Jenkell and Basompierre. Italian sculptor Simona Bocchi showcased unique jute and metal sculptures. The Bangladesh Mukti-Bahini soldier-turned-painter Shahabuddin's Portraits of Gandhi and Mother Teresa stood out in their poetic minimalism.
Leading European galleries displayed some striking collections of Leitmotif-works by Picasso, Marc Chagall and Salvador Dali, as well as major sculptures and paintings by Claudio Massini. On par with these masterworks were a formidable Indian body of Modernist paintings by Jamini Roy, the Bengal School, and the Tagores in Delhi's Dhoomimal stall --- a noteworthy kiosk in terms of its design, strikingly emblazoned with a massive Krishna painting by Jamini Roy. Similar in its aesthetic significance was the powerful Tribal Art of the late art-martyr Jangarh Singh Shyam, devotedly showcased on the international art circuit as a 'Father of the Modern Art Movement' by Paris' radical gallerist Herve Perdriolle.
It is such classic painterly artworks that will stand the test of artistic time, making visits to such art fairs worthwhile for years to come.
Artist, Writer, & Curator
Today, Indian artists who can quickly and unquestioningly deliver 'trendy,shiny, contemporary images' seem to prevail. More reclusive, introspective and serious artists, who choose to devote their time to self-examination and avoid commercial and gallery bandwagons, are lost in this flurry of cocktail-partying and shoulder-rubbing. A 'club-and-coterie culture' seems to have become the alter-ego of the 'successful art' scene. Ladder-climbing frenzy, with a greed to be seen as 'successful and publicised artists', has come to a point where almost anyone who can 'do the needful' can smoothly join the art-as-commerce bandwagon.
In this context, the Absolut (sponsor) kiosks featured novelist Vikram Seth, as well as the Gurgaon Installator Subodh Gupta and his wife Bharti as 'artists'. The novelist, who started painting a few years ago, along with Gupta and his wife, accepted an offer from Absolut to do paintings featuring their alcohol-bottle --- in return for which they would be aptly compensated, and these works would be duly publicised.
Another example of the overcurrent of commercialisation was the art-peddling installation of Australian Art-dealer Peter Burke. He walked around the Fair showing a collection of 2-inch sized miniature canvasses to anyone who cared to look. From miniature Anjolie Menons to Manu Parekhs, such 'Quickie' art was being peddled by him at five- to six-figure Rupee-prices per square foot. He admitted that his collaborator, the American Peter Nagy of Gurgaon's Nature Morte, shared handsome proceeds with him from all sales, while a percentage went to the actual painters...!