PREVIEW In the run-up to the India Art Fair, SHAILAJA TRIPATHI tells us what to look forward to

India Art Fair (IAF) is now a permanent fixture on our cultural calendar. It happens every year but there’s something, an artwallah will tell you, special about this year’s edition. And that’s excitement and a market looking up, even though the process is going to be long drawn out. Neha Kirpal, Founder Director of IAF, will tell you that art happenings on different scales that occurred during the course of last year slowly added up to restore confidence and energy to the art market. “Be it Christie’s auction in India (The inaugural auction had Vasudev Gaitonde’s painting selling for Rs.23.7 crore) or the success of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Subodh Gupta’s show at NGMA or various other events, I think they have all come together to create a very positive atmosphere once again.” On that note, we give you a low-down on the sixth edition of IAF that’s slated to take place at NSIC Grounds, Okhla, from January 30 to February 2.

The basics

Around 90 booths will showcase 3000-plus art works by 1000 artists from across the world. The exhibiting galleries can be divided into 50 per cent Indian and 50 per cent international. While there were around 12 art projects last year, this year they have been doubled. And then there are curated walks, collateral events, speakers’ forum, and the new mentor and protégé programme, making the fair an exhaustive affair.

More experimental

“It was a conscious decision to have more of these large-scale art pieces, more sculptures and more installations. The idea is to leave an impression in the mind of a layman, and half of these projects are inside the venue, not outside,” reveals Kirpal, explaining the inclusion of 24 art projects by artists like Sheba Chhachhi (“The Mermaid’s Mirror”), Dayanita Singh (“File Room”), Leena Kejriwal (“Missing” — which deals with the issue of the girl child), Chintan Upadhyay (“Lost Soul” — a gigantic baby in fibreglass) and others.

In her video art project “Contested Spaces - 1/25” , Bhavna Kakar of Latitude 28 brings works of prominent artists like Tintin Wulia, Rodrigo Braga, Sherman Ong and Wael Shawky. The latter has shown his works at prominent biennales around the world and more recently at the Documenta. “He uses a range of media to produce work that explores issues of history, religion, culture and the effects of globalisation on society today. I will be showing a work from his ‘Larvae Channel’ series. The animation was produced using the rotoscope animation technique, where live-action is filmed then re-traced, frame-by-frame. The film follows an elderly Palestinian couple in the Souf refugee camp near Amman, Jordan. His process looks at daily life in the camp and the hardships faced by the couple,” explains Kakar.

A stress on performance

As opposed to last year, the number of performances has also gone up. “Tears of Portugal” will have Portuguese artist Jose Gracia Miguel perform and paint live every day of the fair. Then our very own Princess Pea in her “P O Box (the pea house)” explores ideas of identity, self-worth, the conflict between traditional and contemporary roles of women in Indian society and the celebrity cult. For this, Pea will set up her room for public viewing and has gifts and takeaways for her viewers.

U.S.-based Anindita Dutta is right now parked in Sanskriti where she is working on her performance piece “Everything ends and Everything matters” that deals with the transience of life. The artist has roped in alumni from the National School of Drama and other performing artistes who will interact with a clay-covered spiral architectural element. “I will bring together three different elements — my body, material and sculpture — in my performance. I see a growing acceptance for performance art because it has an instant connect with the viewer, provided you are very good,” says Dutta, a first-time participant at the fair.

Though not a performance, the performative angle of photographer Dayanita Singh’s “File Room” will get highlighted with the artist making books live in front of the viewers every day at the venue at 5 p.m.

Innovative booths

With 350 works chronicling the history of Indian art, Delhi Art Gallery’s booth should be among the most interesting booths. “I don’t think anybody has ever attempted this earlier at the fair, and because the subject and the scale is such, the gallery is even going to have curated walks within the booth,” says Kirpal.

On the other hand, Mumbai-based Gallery Maskara’s booth will be converted into an art installation itself. “This is the centenary year of the First World War and this is going to be our second show revolving around that. The 16 works which are a reflection on war and violence will be housed in a barrack-like environment. The idea is to make it very experiential where the work and the context in which it is viewed are not disjointed,” says Abhay Maskara, who will be at the fair for the fourth time.

A new buzz in buyers and collectors

“There will be buyers and collectors from 37 countries. Of course there is a big Chinese delegation led by Indonesian-Chinese collector Budi Tek as part of our exchange programme with China, and then there will be people from MOMA and Tate. Interestingly there are going to be collectors from middle-eastern countries as well. And I also notice a new wave of buyers in tier two cities like Surat, Ludhiana, Pune and Ahmedabad, etc. A lot of architecture firms and real estate companies are investing heavily in art,” states Kirpal adding that to cater to this growing interest in buying, there is a session on collecting — “A Passion for Collecting – The Journey of Two Collectors” — between Budi Tek and Rajiv Savara, Founder Trustee of The Savara Foundation. Said to be among the top few collectors of art in the world, Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim will also be part of the art extravaganza.

Sessions galore

According to Kirpal, the eight sessions at this year’s Speakers Forum convened by art critic and curator Gayatri Sinha boast many more international names than before. “We have noticed that artists’ conversations are received very well so we have a few of those, like in “Things in their true light” with the iconic Swiss artist Peter Fischli and Sarnath Banerjee. Since humour is an integral element for both, it was ideal to have them converse with each other,” explains Kirpal.

“Looking Back, Looking Forward — The Future of the Contemporary” will have Bharti Kher in conversation with Jitish Kallat.

First time galleries and museums

While Galleries like Continua, Galerie Lelong (which is bringing the acclaimed artist Nalani Malani), D Gallery, Aicon, Art Lounge make yet another visit to the fair, Mark Hachem from France, Galerie Non from Istanbul, Art Chowk from Pakistan and Galerie Klaus Benden from Germany are opening their innings this year. Also watch out for some engaging presentations by Shanghai Himalayas Museum and the Mark Rothko Center, Latvia.