India Art Fair: In capital form?

The India Art Fair seems to be in a state of flux. About a year and half after the MCH Group, which runs the prestigious Art Basel, acquired a majority 60.3% stake in the fair, it is ready to sell. Significant cost-cutting measures after losses the group incurred led to the axing of the regional art fair initiative, under which it had bought IAF.

Galleries are now playing the wait-and-watch game. “The (future of the) fair will depend on how it does this year,” believes Premilla Baid, founder of Bengaluru-based Gallery Sumukha, while gallerist Roshini Vadehra of New Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery acknowledges that “the change in ownership creates slight uncertainty”. However, IAF director Jagdip Jagpal is quick to dismiss any anxieties, claiming that “galleries haven’t blinked” and she is inundated with requests to participate in the 2020 edition. “India Art Fair is a brand story now, and interest in South Asian artists is growing. It’s just a change of ownership and doesn’t have an impact on the future of fair,” she says.

Tighter curation

While Jagpal has been at the helm since mid-2017, it is only this year that IAF has taken the shape she’s been giving it. “I got less than five months to plan 2018,” she says, adding that over the past year, she has been actively travelling across India and South Asia building connections with art communities and institutions. The South Asian art ecosystem is reflected in the programming. IAF will give greater exposure to Bengaluru’s Museum of Art and Photography, Dhaka’s Bengal Foundation, the Nepal Picture Library, artist Satyabhama Majhi’s outdoor project work for the Bhubaneswar Art Trail, and the Serendipity Art Foundation, which organises an annual arts festival in Goa.

India Art Fair: In capital form?

This year, there’s a tighter list of 75 participating galleries, in the 70:30 ratio of Indian/international galleries that she had started last year. These have been selected with care to show regional diversity. Among international galleries, Kyoto’s Sokyo Gallery will make its IAF début with contemporary ceramic artists Satoru Hoshino, Kimiyo Mishima and John Mason. Other galleries will also showcase Japanese artists, like South Korean Arario (Kohei Nawa and Keiji Ueamatsu) and London- and Berlin-based BlainSouthern (Chiharu Shiota).

There’s a lot to take in. A brief guide on what you must not miss at the 11th edition:

India Art Fair: In capital form?

The big draw

India’s lack of an energetic museum programme has meant that the works of internationally-renowned artists are rarely, if at all, displayed here. If Yayoi Kusama’s works was a highlight last year, this year, it will be Ai Weiwei. Berlin gallery neugerriemschneider’s booth makes its IAF début with two works by the Chinese dissident artist, whose politically-assertive and provocative works have not endeared him to the Chinese government. Of the two works, Porcelain Vase (Journey) from 2017 is a response to the refugee crisis. Traditionally used to glorify the Ming dynasty, the blue-and-white paintings here depicts migrants trudging along in grim weather conditions. Continuing the juxtaposition of past social and cultural practices and contemporary reality is Iron Root (2015), which depicts the structure of a wooden root in industrial materials of iron and car paint — a comment on industrialisation and change.

India Art Fair: In capital form?

South wave

A key aspect of IAF ever since Jagpal has taken charge is the outreach to galleries outside of Delhi and Mumbai that represent artists in their region. Gallery Sumukha works closely with South Indian artists, and will show works by the internationally well-known artist Ravinder Reddy, Ravikumar Kashi and Shanthamani Muddaiah. At the booth will be fibre-glass, rather than the usual bronze, editions of Reddy’s series of heads, Muthyalu, and a series of white-on-white relief drawings by Kashi. Muddaiah will also feature in the fair’s Art Project space with Carbon Wave (2017), a sculpture made of burnt bamboo. Taking inspiration from Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa, her work reflects on the magnitude of the environmental disaster awaiting us, and yet denotes an air of positivity with the use of bamboo, with its carbon sequestration properties.

India Art Fair: In capital form?

Parallel shows
  • 24 Jorbagh, the Gujral Foundation’s experimental art space, has always inspired site-specific works. This year, it presents a solo exhibition, In the Absence of Writing, by multidisciplinary artist Astha Butail, curated by Reha Sodhi. With a focus on Zoroastrian Avesta, the Jewish Oral Torah and Indian Vedic philosophy, Butail draws parallels between traditions and offers an “interactive exploration of cultural values and notions of time”. Opens February 1
  • Contemporary artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra will explore their notion of ‘play’, from a cultural and psychological perspective, in their project Lullaments. They will also be designing a watch with Rado. STIR Gallery, February 2
  • Devi Arts Foundation presents a star-studded group show, curated by artist Sumakshi Singh, whose ‘micro-world’ installations and experiential pieces exploring space and memory have made her one of the most watched young Indian artists. Deeper Within Its Silence will explore the connection between ‘non-things’ such as sound, light and vibration and existing forms. Alwar Balasubramaniam, Zarina Hashmi, Sheela Gowda, Vivan Sundaram, Manish Nai, Idris Khan and Mithu Sen will have works here. From January 28

Performance art

Sajan Mani: Just the title of his piece, Art will never die, but COW?, indicates an issue of pressing social relevance. According to him, in the cow politics being played out in the country, eating beef fry-parotta seems a political act. The Dalit experience has informed the art practice of Mani, the son of a rubber tapper in Kerala. “It’s never been a major subject of Indian contemporary art,” he says. “I feel it’s my responsibility to respond to social reality and the deep-rootedness of caste.” The personal experience of raising cows, and the emotional bond that develops — “we don’t need a political group to teach us this” — will form a part of his narrative, which will also bring in images, videos and drawings to create a performance installation. February 2, 3-5 pm

Mithu Sen: The daughter of a poet, Sen says she has been sensitive to the uses of language from an early age. In her own practice, though, she manipulates the norms governing it, “almost like a game”. The development of her ‘non-language” works were influenced in part by personal experiences, particularly the Bengali speaker’s move to Delhi and difficulty in expressing herself in Hindi or English. She started writing poetry with glitches, composing new alphabets, communicating in gibberish, and using ‘Un’ as a non-language narrative trope. Her illustrated lecture will be in “heavily jargonised, noisy... and nonsensical language”. February 3, 3.45-4 pm

Amol Patil: His two 120-minute performances are focussed on Mumbai and its working class — addressing questions of survival, politics and notions of hierarchy and purity. In the first, a group performance, Patil will invite 10-15 sweepers to blow soap bubbles; “some (in the audience) may interact with them in a playful manner, but others may dislike them”. His works have often had a personal trigger, and in his solo performance at IAF, Take the City, he will relate text written by his collaborator, Niccolo Moscatelli, of life and survival in the city, and compare them with theatre scripts about mill workers, sweepers and immigrants written by his father and grandfather. February 1, 12-2 pm, 4-6 pm; February 2, 4-6 pm

India Art Fair: In capital form?

For all pockets

GallerySKE is reviving its IAF 2009 project, StoreSKE, which offers 20 works of 11 established and emerging artists at “accessible prices”, ranging from ₹100 to ₹5,000. The artists — Sudarshan Shetty, Abhishek Hazra, Orijit Sen, Dia Mehhta Bhupal, Tara Kelton, Suchender P, Bharathesh GD, Abir Karmakar, Pakhi Sen, Rashmi Varma, Martand Khosla — will also engage with the audience at the venue. According to Shazia Salam from GallerySKE, many of the artists have “made work that are an extension of their current explorations”. Like Bharathesh whose hand-painted pop sculptures are inspired by works being conceptualised for future projects.

India Art Fair: In capital form?

IAF in print

The year-long process of updating its website and blog posts has led to the inaugural issue of IAF’s print magazine. It will feature an interview with London-based artist Idris Khan, a view from Ratheesh T's studio, a piece by Jyotindra Jain on Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam, and one by Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi on what she did last summer.

Collectors’ guide

The India Art Fair is conducting a number of private walkthroughs and talks aimed at young collectors. Berlin-based collector couple Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim will speak of their love for collecting, while Indian collector Radhika Chopra will hold a round table discussion on how to start a collection, which will also be the aim of a curated walk. Nishad Avari, specialist for South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, will offer insider tips on buying at auctions, while Anupam Sah, chief conservationist at Mumbai’s CSMVS, will speak on the importance of restoration and taking care of artworks. To register, write to Bhasha Chakrabarti at

India Art Fair: In capital form?

By the book

The CMYK bookshop on the fair grounds may seem like a good place to seek some personal space, but while there don’t be surprised if you end up with specialist knowledge on Tibetan and tribal art. Mitchell Crites, collector of Gond painter Jangarh Singh Shyam’s works, will give a talk on his works. Publisher Taschen will spotlight an illustrated book on murals of Tibet by American photographer Thomas Laird. And photographer Bharat Sikka will have a signing of his new book on Kashmir’s “unspoiled landscape”, Where Flowers Still Grow.

Viya Home @ Bikaner House
  • One of the off-site listings of IAF is interior designer Vikram Goyal’s début show at Bikaner House. Celebrating 15 years of his brand, Viya Home, it will explore his work with decorative art — from furniture to lighting solutions. Opens on February 1

On the sidelines

Jagpal has curated a series of talks in a section called ‘What I Did Last Summer’, which invites artists to talk about the works they’ve done recently. With the director’s own personal interest and work with young British-Asian artists, it is not surprising that we’ll be hearing from UK-based Idris Khan (who did a recent commission for the British Museum) and the “darkly funny” multimedia artist Hardeep Pandhal, on how their personal histories influence their work. Also speaking will be Siddhartha V Shah, on Massachusett’s Peabody Essex Museum becoming the first museum outside India to focus on its modern artists, in the South Asian art section that he curates.

IAF is on from January 31 to February 3, at the NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla. Details:

India Art Fair: In capital form?


The Irregulars Art Fair

As a reaction to IAF, The Irregulars Art Fair (TIRAF) débuted last year, to provide a space for independent artists. In its second outing, it continues to challenge hierarchies and established markets. “This year, our theme is Altered Realities, and we have two satellite shows — one at Agenc, where over 40 digital artists and illustrators will display posters they created on our theme, and the other at Dhan Mills, where muralists will take over the back walls of the building,” says curator and co-founder of TIRAF, Tarini Sethi. With almost 140 artists participating (up from last year’s 50), the fair has also brought on board more curators to create “a reading room, where we will be showcasing and selling zines”, performances that will include bands, like The Groovesmen, opera singers and rappers, film screenings and more.

From January 31 to February 5, at Studio Khirki. Details:

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 11:19:17 AM |

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