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Dialogue across dialects

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Life Refracted through art: The Sakshi Gallery at Art Basel (top) and other participating Indian galleries.
Life Refracted through art: The Sakshi Gallery at Art Basel (top) and other participating Indian galleries.


The Art Basel 2008 held in Miami recently saw a strong participation from Indian art galleries, enabling Indian artists to interact with established and emerging artists from around the world and to forge collaborative relationships.

‘when the market has changed so drastically, we were all able to reassess our positions within the history of contemporary art.’

The most acerbic comment during Art Basel on Miami Beach held recently was written in bold, black and white letters on the floor of the Mary Boone Gallery booth. A wall-to-wall text piece by Barbara Kruger, it spells out two quotations. One, from Goethe, observes, “We are the slaves of objects around us”. The other, from a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, reads, “He entered a shop after shop, priced nothing, spoke no word, and looked at all objects with a wild and distracted stare”. These lines truly sum up the experience of a frenetic fair that embraces more than two hundred galleries and many ancillary exhibitions and events in other locations in the Miami area.

Several Indian Contemporary Art galleries were seen at the Art Basel in Miami, 2008 — Bose Pacia, Nature Morte, Sakshi Art Gallery, Chemould Prescott, the Guild Gallery — who have been participating in many international art exhibitions/ fairs annually for several years. Rebecca Davis, one of the Representatives for Bose Pacia states, “For these types of events one’s main objective is to introduce the work of the galleries’ artists to a wider range of collectors, curators and such than might be otherwise possible. Certainly sales are a big part of these exhibitions; however, this is not the sole objective for participation. This year in Miami we exhibited works by Thukral and Tagra, Pushpamala N. and Alexis Kersey. The response to all of these artists was phenomenal. It is exciting to see our artists in dialogue with the range of seasoned as well as emerging artists whose creations fill the walls of the convention centre every December. It is a great time for all of us to reconnect with our associates in the art world and to forge collaborative relationships that will undoubtedly continue to foster innovation and critically engaging projects for years to come. Especially in times when the market has changed so drastically, we were all able to reassess our positions within the history of contemporary art. Now is a time when everyone is able to catch their breath; collectors can take a little more time to make decisions about acquisitions and dealers can continue to focus on edifying the careers of their most talented artists. And while it has been a startling change from the fast-paced, cut-throat transactions of previous years, I believe that the overall sentiment of exhibitors at Art Basel Miami was one of positive hope for the future of the art market”.

On a similar note, Sakshi Art Gallery (which has recently opened its first overseas branch in Taipei, Taiwan earlier this year) had their gallery represented at an adjoining venue — “Pulse Miami”, an interesting fair. They showcased works by Sumedh Rajendran, Sunil Gawde, Valay Shende, Riyas Komu, Justin Ponmany and Chintan Upadhaya. “Our booth really did grab a lot of eyeballs. Valay and Sunil’s work were the most appreciated. “The White Rose” is by Sunil and “The Dabbawala” by Valay. Valay’s work was covered with many watches (depicting the punctuality of the dabbawalas!) and all of them were actually ticking…with reference to the market, we were able to sell 50 per cent of our exhibits. Since this fair was the second favourite for collectors after Art Basel Miami, there were lot of footfalls and many collectors visited this particular fair. The other Indian galleries were in another venue — Art Asia Miami, which I am afraid, was not the best fair. So I don’t know how many visitors they had, but I do know that they did not sell much or anything!” claims Usha Gawde. However, what really stood out during this time was art in two different venues — the Art Positions situated directly at the beachfront, where 20 young galleries displayed their programmes in shipping containers converted to public art spaces and the Art Video Lounge, a specially designed lounge, featuring a comprehensive curated programme of contemporary video art. Hopefully next year, Indian galleries will have an Indian artist in one of these venues…

Thrilling experience

To take in so much art in so short a time is by turns thrilling, numbing and totally mystifying and the sense of art as a merchandise is overpowering. Still, events like this do occasion collective soul-searching, especially now, as the art world grapples with recession. It is true that the amount of money that is being spent on art has gone down considerably, and that many galleries and dealers are affected, but in events such as this you can still come across many buyers who are continuing to buy art for its intrinsic value and also as an investment. The notion of having a “boom” in the art world is definitely under question but has opened a premise to reflect and question art making processes and the commitment of the artists. “Greater introspection, more time and space to explore creativity, and focus on business ethics will help in strengthening the market in the long term. As most analysts point out, this period of adjustment will help in the consolidation and stabilisation of the art market. Well, it is important to begin the year on a positive note,” states Bernice Steinbaum, a curator/gallery director based in Miami.

Sasha Altaf is an art critic based in Florida.



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