The metropolis has undergone radical changes and so has the art scene. Ashrafi S. Bhagat on the metamorphosis

The city of Madras metamorphosed to Chennai in the mid-1990s, and by the end of the century brought with it abundant changes in the metropolis. The skyline was marked with high rises, the roads with a network of flyovers, the classical dance and music performances with the parallel emergence of ‘other festivals’. It was also a time when South Indian dosas and idlis started competing with chaats, pizzas and burgers and when the salwar kameez all but replaced the sari.

As the metropolis underwent radical changes in various arenas, so did the art scene which witnessed dynamic shifts in artistic output and impressive progression in the last decade. With economic liberalisation and auction houses playing a seminal role in setting the benchmark for artists’ works, a good market was developed for art buying.

The emergence of art galleries, more than 20, from a few, offered space and visibility for artists and provided opportunities for the display of art works in different mediums. Curated shows opened up space for different thematic content and the city opened its doors to artists’ works from across the country and abroad.

The city also offered a practising and learning space — “Ilango’s Art Space”, created by artist A.V. Ilango, which continues to play a constructive role, allowing aspirants to develop their individual visual language. Art galleries in the city became proactive and the art market boomed; connoisseurs and the art sensitive public were enthused enough to park their money in art.

Important galleries that have made efforts to widen the scope and depth of artistic pursuits are the Lalit Kala Akademi, Ashvita Art Gallery, Artworld, Forum Art Gallery, Vinnyasa Premier Art Gallery, Lakshana, Athreya Art Gallery, Prakrit Art Gallery, Gallery Sumukha, Sree Parvathy Art Gallery, Indigo and Labernum Galleries and the Ayya Art Galleries. And, of course, Apparao’s, which has been in the art business for the past 25 years.

Increased space

The space for art was enhanced not just physically but ideologically. During the last one-and-a-half decades, there have been art auctions, seminars, events and documentation. Art shows have progressed in terms of thematic content such as Nature, mythology, cinema and everyday life, captured through photography, sculpture, installation, collages and assemblages.

Some shows, “The Marco Polo Diaries”, for instance, were dynamically planned bringing art, music and food together. The gallery also played a defining role in the “Chennai Sangamam” festival, with a curated exhibition premised on the tradition of line, titled “The Spy in Black”. The shows here have been provocative, titillating, engaging and visually delightful.

Artworld’s exhibitions offered variety. Besides showcasing the works of artists from around the country, especially Kolkata, internationally-known names such as Duccio Berti, Davide Graziole’s Olaf Van Cleef Kathleen Scarborough and Brigitte Smith occupied centre stage.

Vinnyasa’s single most important exhibition was the one foregrounding the masters and pioneers of the Madras Art Movement. Taking the cue from here, many galleries extended the idea of only showcasing artists of the Madras School. Forum Art Gallery’s exhibition ‘Reclaimed’, organised jointly with the British Council, Chennai, celebrated the achievements of a new generation of British artists, categorised as the ‘new British sculptors’, who used recycled materials innovatively in their works. The art scene in Chennai has also seen the emergence of many young artists. Ashvita showcased the works of Vinay and sculptor Yuvraj. C. Krishnaswamy painted his canvas through a yoga performance; Dhinakar Sundar’s lotus leaves had abstract paintings; and during the Chennai Sangamam there was a show of popular art featuring calendars, match box designs and stickers.

Sumukha showcased Ganesh Selvaraj’s assemblages and paintings, Aparajithan’s paintings and B.O. Sailesh’s computer generated sculptures. Lalit Kala Akademi, as usual, exhibited the creations of artists working out of their own studios. Noteworthy among them were Benitha Perciyal, M. Siva, Jacob Jebaraj, N. Ramachandran, N. Srinivasan, K. Balasubramanian, Mark Rathinaraj, Santhanam Krishnan, Umashankar, George K.

Auctions

Art auctions have become the order of the day over the past decade, indicating a growing interest in acquiring works of art by connoisseurs and investors. Auction houses, independently or in collaboration with galleries, have been conducting auctions in Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, besides online auctions by various dotcoms.

Consequently, some galleries have extended their art dealings to the auction arena that aids the secondary market — works are sourced from collectors and sold at auctions. “Woman Inspired”, “Specially South” are some important auctions organised by Apparaoart Auctions, established in 2006. It was the pioneering auction house to offer an online-cum-live auction. “Confluence”, an auction of paintings by the senior artists of the Madras Art Movement, was hosted by the Taj Coromandel and Bishwajit and Sarala Banerjee of Artworld in aid of ABS (Association of British Scholars) and the Rotary Club of Madras. These important auctions created an awareness of artists, raised their benchmarks and brought them greater visibility. A number of auctions also supported philanthropic causes.

Over the centuries, art has morphed to suit cultural conditions. From private patronage and collection to objectification and commodification of art, we now transcend these categories in an era of globalisation to enter into the arena of art investment. In the last few years, some private banks have begun providing professional services for investment in art to a niche market segment. Contemporary awareness about art has increased with the entry of the corporate sector, which has patronised it in a big way. But before this could develop further, the recession which started in mid-2008 has taken hold. It has been a setback for artists but some astute collectors have found this the right time to invest in art.