India Art Fair looks poised to join the big league
Despite slow sales and some lacklustre local exhibitors, the event is ready to grow with the country’s developing collector base
By Georgina Adam. Web only
Published online: 31 January 2012
Enthusiasm was high at the opening the fourth India Art Fair—formerly the India Art Summit—which launched in Delhi on 25 January (until 29 January). Along with its new name, it had a new location in a huge exhibition ground in South Delhi and a far more international roster of 98 exhibitors (half international, half Indian), ranging from “big box” galleries such as White Cube and Hauser & Wirth to pioneers from Texas, Latvia and the French island of Réunion.
Last year, Sandy Angus and Will Ramsay bought a 49% stake in the fair after selling their shares in the Hong Kong fair, so it has new part-owners as well; Neha Kirpal, who created the event, remains director. Her creation has come a long way from the first fair in 2008, which had just 34 exhibitors—only two of them international—and attracted 10,000 visitors.
This year’s opening drew a number of major museum directors and collectors, from Tate Modern’s director Chris Dercon to Indonesia’s Budi Tek. The auction houses were also out in force, with posses of specialists from Sotheby’s and Christie’s plus Bonhams’s newly appointed representative Gayatri Juneja.
The fair was housed in three vast tents very much on the model of Frieze, and it certainly looked professional. Attendance was over 80,000 according to the organisers, but down on last year’s stunning 138,000 visitors. The organisers said this was because there was more “general public” in the previous, central location.
Nothing is simple in India. Although the government had agreed to waive a customs levy on imports, there was still duty and 12.5% sales tax to be paid on anything bought at the fair, with the result that dealers were reserving rather than selling and concluding transactions out of the country. The organisers also had to contend with India’s notoriously obstructive and lackadaisical bureaucracy—for example, the road to the fair was only paved the day before it opened.
The market for contemporary art has been weak in India for the last six months, a decline resulting from the pre-financial-crisis bubble. And art collecting in India is still nascent. “You must remember that India has only been open economically since the early 1990s,” said Lekha Poddar. “Collecting is going to take time to become established here.” She is one of two collectors, the other being Kiran Nadar, to open spaces showing contemporary art in Delhi. Still, exhibitors were taking the long view, and hoping to establish contacts in a country with a burgeoning rich list of people who have a definite desire to acquire all the trappings of wealth. “We see the fair as being about building a trusted presence rather than quick sales,” said Greg Hilty of Lisson.
So, what was at the fair? Those international galleries who represented Indian artists (Anish Kapoor at Continua, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta at Hauser & Wirth, Rashid Rana at Lisson, Mithu Sen and Sakshi Gupta at Galerie Krinzinger) had brought them, while White Cube was showing Hirst, Quinn and Tracey Emin. But once past the smartly-hung big exhibitors, the quality took a sharp plunge downwards, with some stands plastered with a cacophony of garish paintings, floor to ceiling. “If we took just the really good Indian galleries, there would be about ten,” explained one member of the selection committee. Next year, the committee will include some international selectors.
On the whole, the international dealers did not make strong sales and some made none at all, not only because of the tax situation. Among those who did report sales was Continua, which sold a Daniel Buren for €55,000.
Many of the Indian galleries, on their home turf, were happier but buyers were bargaining hard. “People want deals,” said Kishore Singh, the director of the Delhi Art Gallery. “Collectors have returned to buying the modern masters because the contemporary market has lost value, so they have lost confidence in it.” He had made a number of sales and was confident they would include Laxma Goud’s Untitled, 1973, at $250,000.
Sales elsewhere included a Bharti Kher purple bindi painting, I changed my mind, 2011, tagged at $250,000 at Hauser & Wirth; photographs of Marina Abramovic amongst pots and pans garnered much interest at Lisson, priced at €25,000-€160,000, with one sold at €70,000 on the first day.
Some observers blamed slow sales on Davos, held at the same time, which had apparently attracted major Indian industrialists. “The timing is terrible, everyone’s complaining,” said one foreign dealer, who had made no sales. The location did not garner praise either: it was an hour from the centre when traffic was heavy, which seemed to be most of the time. Nevertheless, the event has stepped up into the international league and seems poised to develop, as collecting develops in India. And encouraging news was that London’s Tate is preparing to launch an Indian art acquisition committee.
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