India Art Fair hosts huge crowd on final day

A visitor walks past a creation by Tapas Sarkar.


Neha Kirpal's great gamble seems to have paid off-- at least for now--as the art crowd turned out in huge numbers for the last day of the India Art Fair. The gallerists, undaunted by five straight days of exhibiting, went on a charm offensive to make last minute sales. While these transactions were carried on in discreet corners of the stalls, and were mainly done by seasoned collectors, the general public ambled through the large tent, often making it difficult for gallerists to control their movement through their stalls. Kirpal however is elated with the numbers, calling it a 'tremendous quality step up' from the last Fair. "There's a larger crowd that have been cultivated through the three years of showing previously, and are now genuinely interested in buying. So there's been an increase in direct sales as well," she added.

The Trend Setter

The cosmopolitan aspirations of the Fair are abundantly clear as foreign and Indian buyers and exhibitors have mingled to forge new alliances for the global art market. "In the absence of an institutionalised, concentrated effort by the government, the Fair, by default, is where the art community can really network," said Geetha Mehra of Delhi's Sakshi Gallery. Some broad figures from under Kirpal's careful watch were that almost 80 per cent of the galleries sold more than one artwork, going up to as much as 14 works being sold by a single gallery. The stalls did an average business of between Rs.55,000 and 60 lakh per piece, with the higher end of that spectrum settling at Rs.3 crore. While the Ravinder Reddy woman sculptures and the Indian modern masters were quick to go, it was photography, videos and installations by emerging artists that did exceptionally well this year, even amongst the traditional collector base.

The Art Fair also emerged as a pivotal meeting point for international buyers to meet each other, exchange notes and buy work from each other. "We have foreign galleries commissioning Indian artists and vice-versa. The fair has become truly international in nature, " claimed Kirpal, adding that it wasn't just Christie's and Sotheby's that showed interest, but also collectors from New York, Australia, Indonesia, Sao Paolo, Isreal and China. The surprise factor, it seems, has been that even insular Chinese collectors have taken initial steps towards patronising Indian art. There was also a spurt in tier-two collectors from smaller cities like Ahemdabad, Jalandhar and Jaipur, and corporate commissions by multi-nationals, who've recently begun to build collections.

International Report Card

The perfect picture, of happy selling, buying and free exchange between the cultures may not however be a complete one. India's old worries, of too much red-tape, bureaucratic influence and appallingly high taxes continue to mar the profits of the international gallerists. "While the overall response to the fair has been positive, I hope the next time, the organisers can help with the administrative difficulties," said Jose Fermin Serrano of La Aurora Gallery, whose stall had a rare collection of Picasso drawing tucked away in the back. Ursula Krinzinger, director of the Austrian Galerie Krinzinger, complained about the lack of awareness that still plagues the Indian art market. "What I'd like to see more of is international artists being sold here but Indian collectors only pick up work they recognise. They aren't willing to experiment just yet," said Krinzinger, adding that in their second year at the Fair, they're still to make a substantial earning from their sales. "But we're hoping for a sustained post-Fair response," she signed off.

London's Lisson Gallery hit a sweet spot with performance artists Marina Abramovic's series, which was shown for the first time in India as one of the Fair's solo projects. "We are amazed by the response to her work," said Ellie Harrison-Read, a sales associate at the stall. "We didn't come in with the expectation of sales but we've done quick business on that front," she added. The advantage of displaying a solo artist rather than several together was felt across the board, as focused attention led to quicker sales decisions. Abramovic's work itself, a mixed media presentation of photographs and moving images was one of the most startlingly unique pieces at the Fair by an international artist.

Other however, had concerns about the direction in which the Fair is headed. "It's great that the Fair has made such a good footprint and there is a flood of people coming in. But that hardly impacts it as a business venture, which it primarily is. The organisers must make up their mind and maybe have only one day open to the general public," said Michele Bowman who had to shoo away eager crowds from a vivid sculpture of 'The Trojan Horse' at the Robert Bowman sculpture gallery, where works worth Rs. 7 crore are on display. Despite her exasperation, Bowman says that the Gallery is sure to return next year, since the growth potential of the Indian art market is too good an opportunity to lose out on. "It's a slow process of diffusion, and eastern collectors need to get out of their comfort zone of familiar artists. But we've come back to build a relationship, since many of our buyers in London are Indians," she said, while nervously watching the never-ending stream of children trying to pose with the classical Italian sculptures at the stall.

"Of course it's a slow process of gaining appreciation for an audience that's never seen this kind of work," claimed an indignant Mehra. "Where is the cultural mandate of the government? Where is the cultural agenda? To them probably, a Mayawati statue is the only real work of art they know."