Art fair turns India's capital into art hub

Friday January 30, 2015
Reference from
Tilting historic Delhi railway station

Tilting historic Delhi railway station

INDIA'S biggest art fair opened in New Delhi this week with a focus on homegrown artists and exhibits inspired by contemporary themes such as the worst floods in the Kashmir region in more than a century.

A smorgasbord of works by 1,100 artists lured art lovers, gallerists and gawkers to a cavernous exhibition space in the capital, cementing the annual fair's reputation as one of South Asia's top cultural events.

Each year, an estimated 100,000 visitors flock to the four-day fair with entry tickets that cost no more than $6 (£3.98).

The city's glitterati strolled past exhibits by 85 galleries at Thursday (January 29)'s preview clutching glasses of red wine, with several displays sold before the seventh edition of the fair opened for public viewing on Friday (January 30). The show runs until Sunday (February 1).

“We've had five or six sell-out booths and several galleries have done exceptionally well,” founder Neha Kirpal told reporters.

India's art scene has been expanding for the past few years, with auctioneer Christie's second Mumbai auction in December generating sales of $12m (£7.96m). A report by analysts ArtTactic said confidence in the market was at its highest since 2007.

For four days each year, New Delhi becomes a centre for the visual arts, with the India Art Fair at the hub of several spin-off events such as museum shows, seminars and glamorous parties.

“Beyond the fair itself, the effect it has on the art scene in Delhi at large and almost collaterally, the rest of Delhi programmes its art agendas,” said artist Jitish Kallat, who said he would be lucky to attend half the events on the schedule.

A life-size wooden replica of a typical Kashmiri house lies on its side at the fair's entrance, a reminder of the destruction wreaked by floods in the Himalayan state last year.

Kashmiri artist Veer Munshi, who lives in Delhi, took nearly three months to complete the house, and said he would use proceeds from its cost of about Rs3m ($48,500/£32,181.64) to rehabilitate artists and writers from his native land.

Inside the fair, among an array of paintings, sculpture, video installations and photographs is another wooden exhibit - one inspired by a militant assault on the city of Mumbai in 2008.

Mumbai artist T V Santhosh's installation tilts the city's historic railway station at an angle, with several digital clocks on its walls counting down time in the Mumbai landmark.

Elsewhere, metallic beads take the shape of four men hanging on for dear life on a Mumbai train while an army of giant ants, with their bodies sculpted from motorbike parts, bask under the winter sun.

Like other years, customs duty and red tape threatens to temper the enthusiasm of Western gallery owners attending the fair.

“I was told that a lot of the galleries from the United States stopped (coming) because of all the taxes and all the paper work involved,” said Clarita Brinkerhoff, whose Florida-based gallery is exhibiting for the first time in India.

Brinkerhoff's metal sculptures of peacocks, India's national bird, studded with Swarovski crystals found favour with the Delhi crowd, with five of her exhibits sold on the first day.

She wants to be back next year, but said she hoped “the process would not be so complicated”.

It may be years before New Delhi can hope to match art fairs in Hong Kong or Dubai, but director Kirpal is unperturbed. She describes India as an emerging market in contrast to several art markets that have stagnated.

“The good news is that we are at the beginning of our growth curve for the market,” she said. “There's only one way to go.”

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