It’s a typical day in New Delhi, India. Throngs of passersby dodge traffic-filled streets, engaged in everything from peddling Kleenex, water and plastic jewellery to participating in the joyful tunes and explosion of colourful saris from an unexpected Indian wedding that is making its way through the lines of slowly moving vehicles. All of this one can see as they make their way to the NSIC grounds, the location of the 10th edition of the India Art Fair, taking place from 9-12 February.
There’s been several firsts for the South Asian modern and contemporary art fair over the last two years. The 2017 edition saw a new investor in the form of the Swiss-based MCH Group, owner of the powerful Art Basel franchise, announce a majority stake in the India Art Fair. This year witnesses fresh leadership with the fair’s new director Jagdip Jagpal who hails from the UK and formerly worked on international partnerships at Tate, and, most recently, with New North + South, a network of 11 art organisations in North England and South Asia.
Fair director Jagdip Jagpal
Jagpal brings to the table an expanded programming that places a strong focus on galleries and public and non-profit institutions in India and South Asia. “We’ve looked particularly at how we balance the Indian galleries with the international galleries,” said Jagpal in her welcoming statement, emphasising the importance of supporting the Indian gallery system. “The galleries here in South Asia generally have spent years and years developing artists. Without them and the artists, we don’t have a business.”
However, this year does see a renewed participation from some heavy weight blue-chip international galleries. Both David Zwirner and Blain | Southern are taking part in the fair for the first time. There is also Karla Osorio Gallery hailing all the way from Brasilia, Brazil with a group show of works by contemporary Brazilian artists.
Timothy Hyunsoo Lee. Murmuration I. 2017. Watercolour on Arches Aquarelle Paper. 84x93cm. Courtesy of Sabrina Amrani Gallery
Still, emphasises Jagpal, the strongest gallery segment will veer towards Indian and South Asian art. “We will always limit the amount of international galleries participating at the fair; there will probably be around a 70 per cent South Asian and possibly, 30 per cent international split.” The latter, she says, must be encouraged to bring new work or specially commissioned art to the fair.
A new addition is the Arts Projects space, an area where visitors can linger and view specialised projects. These include the vibrant new paintings of Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi staged by Nature Morte; the intricate photographic archive of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil capturing his family and particularly his daughter, Amrita, an artist herself. His images capture a modern India on the brink of transition.
Imran Qureshi. Courtesy of Gallery Nature Morte
There is also SHADOW 3, an interactive video work and projection by Shilpa Gupta, which explores the dynamic relationship between the artist and the viewer. “We thought we would create a new project space as a lot of the artists previously felt their works became lost at the fair,” said Jagpal. Additionally, she incorporated a new segment to the Speaker’s Forum titled “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” whereby several South Asian artists speak in-depth about their art creation over the last few months. “We really wanted to bring the stories back to the fair,” said Jagpal.
With a total of 78 art galleries participating this year, contemporary spaces returning from India include Chatterjee & Lal, Jhaveri Contemporary, The Guild, Threshold Art Gallery, Latitude 28, Nature Morte, Kalakriti Art Gallery, Chemould Prescott Road, GALLERYSKE and Vadehra Art Gallery. Kolkota-based Experimenter is taking part in the event for the ninth year with a strong group show, including works by Ayesha Sultana, Julien Segard, Krishna Reddy, Prabhakar Pachpute, Praneet Soi, Rathin Barman, Sahil Naik, and Sohrab Hura.
Rasheed Araeen. Red Square (After Malevich). 2015. Acrylic on wood. 63x63x7in. Courtesy of the artist and Aicon Gallery, New York
“Experimenter presents an exhibition that explores possibilities of reviewing and revisiting histories, relationships, architecture, even materials and forms to think of them under new light,” said the gallery’s co-founders Priyanka and Prateek Raja. At New Delhi-based GallerySKE is a booth dominated by Sudarshan Shetty’s multimedia works. There’s a long wooden table filled with carved wooden replicas of appliances, pots, pans, binoculars and other miscellaneous items, and in an adjacent room the artist’s wooden vessels combined with blue and white Chinese porcelain.
At New York-based Aicon Gallery, a regular participant at the fair, the colourful geometric sculptures of Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen are impossible to miss. “His language is universal; it is abstract and it is minimal,” said Prajit Dutta, owner of New York-based Aicon Gallery. “It is much more portable than figurative work. I think the fact that his vision is fresh is something that really speaks to people.”
S. H. Raza. Sanmati. 2013. Acrylic on canvas. 59x59in. Courtesy of Akar Prakar Gallery
Similarly, the multimedia photographic works of hipster Moroccan-born London-based artist Hassan Hajjaj, newly represented by the gallery, immediately catch the visitor’s gaze. “This is the first time that Hassan has shown in India and we think the sensibility of his work will attract the Indian visitor,” said Dutta. “Why? One is the vibrancy of his colour palette and the other is the mix of design, fashion and art that defines the broader cultural context of what he does. Just look around you in India and you will see the same vibrant colours. This was where colour was invented.” Other works on view include paintings by modern Indian greats S.H. Raza and F.N. Souza as well as the poetic contemporary depictions of Rina Banerjee.
A strong showing of pivotal works by Indian modern greats can be found throughout the fair. DAG (Delhi Art Gallery), a gallery with branches in New York, Delhi and Mumbai, staged a show Navratna: Nine Gems on India’s national treasure artists in perhaps the largest booth at the fair featuring names such as Raja Ravi Varma, Abanindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gil, among others.
L to R: Hassan Hajjaj. Maalem Simo Lagnawi. 2010. Metallic lambda print on dibond with wood and plastic mats. 40x30.75in. Edition of 5. Hassan Hajjaj. Yadi. 2013 .Metallic lambda print on dibond with wood and tomato tins. 52.25x36.75in. Edition of 5. Courtesy of the artist and Aicon Gallery, New York
At Delhi-based Art Heritage, the intricate works of the late K.G. Subramanyan were exhibited alongside the sculptures of Keralese G. Reghu and the striking photographic works of Iranian Babak Kazemi. The poignant abstract canvases of M.F. Husain can be found at New Delhi-based Gallerie Nvya, which also features works by Viveek Sharma and Krishen Kanna. It’s undeniable that modern and contemporary Indian art seem to marry more than ever this year. When juxtaposed visually they offer new ways to read the country’s past and present histories.
It’s impossible to escape the resonance of the mystical in Indian modern and contemporary art. A longtime resident of the sacred city of Varanasi Italian artist Francesco Clemente shows a series of delicate works on paper at Blain | Southern. “We have taken six of our artists to the India Art Fair, however, the spine of our presentation is the work of Francesco Clemente,” said the gallery’s Director Matt Carey-Williams.
Francesco Clemente. Emblems of Transformation 97. 2014. Watercolour on paper. 29.6x20.9cm and 41.9x33.5x2.1cm
Clemente is a pivotal figure in European painting from the 1980’s onwards (he was the leading protagonist of the Transavanguardia movement from Italy) but has, for decades split his time living and working between New York and India. We wanted to showcase his work for this reason, but also bring other artists that share his poetic dialogue with colour and his almost mystical take on the everyday.”
Blain | Southern, which has branches in London and Berlin, has witnessed a growth in the number of Indian collectors over the past decade, especially those with an interest in Western contemporary art. “Since our largest gallery is based in London we already have the pleasure of working with several clients from the ex-pat Indian community there,” adds Carey-Williams. “The Indian market feels like a market that is growing and one that is ready to step up to the next level, much like China was 15-20 years ago.
Ankon Mitra. Temple Column. 7 in diameter, sheet aluminium clad with wood veneer. Courtesy of Art Centrix Space
Positioned close to entrance is a giant sculpture of a turquoise and blue speckled pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama. Called Starry Pumpkin, the work is one of the stars at David Zwirner’s booth. Priced in the triple digits and made specially for the fair, its colourful aesthetic, like the artist’s works on paper that align another wall, reflect the bold hues and vibrant patterns so popular in India. “When we were thinking about the fair she was an artist we wanted to bring since she’s one of our major international artists and already has a following in India,” said director James Green. “She really responded to the idea of being in India and gave brand new work for the fair – things that had never been seen before, like the pumpkin sculpture.”
Around Kusama the gallery has included another seven artists, including Oscar Murillo, Alice Neel, Chris Ofili and Luc Tuymans. “With the gallery opening a space in Hong Kong last month (our first outpost in Asia), and increasing our presence in the region through fairs and institutional exhibitions with the artists we represent, we have been engaging with South Asia a lot more,” added Green. “We have been connecting with Asian collectors through our galleries in London, New York and, as of January 2018, Hong Kong – so it is a natural progression to come to India and exhibit at the fair.”
Yayoi Kusama. Starry Pumpkin. 2017. Fiberglass reinforced plastic and tile. 134.6x149.9x149.9cm
Ultimately, as Jagpal underlines, it’s about broadening the visitor’s experience of the South Asian context. “Art fairs naturally evolve because your market evolves just as the way that culture is perceived,” said Jagpal. “We want to broaden people’s experience at the fair. The best thing about this fair is the support we are getting from the artists and the artists community and also from the foundations and public-funded institutions and the biennales and that’s a really important thing for me. Working closely together is how the South Asian art scene is going to thrive.”