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India Art Fair opens under new ownership deal

MCH Group took a majority stake in the fair and now plans a digital overhaul

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The India Art Fair opens its doors to the public today, 2 February, under a new ownership deal. As of last September, the Swiss-based MCH Group, which owns the Art Basel franchise, now has a majority stake (60.3%) in the fair. 

One of the first ports of call for MCH in Delhi is an overhaul of the India Art Fair’s website and the development of an app. “There’s infinite opportunity for art fairs to evolve in the digital age,” says Moenen Erbuer, the recently appointed head of design and user experience at MCH. “We will focus on digitally enriching the on-site experience, such as ticketing and VIP passes, but a big part of our effort will also focus on bridging the gap between the physical experience at the fair and the digital catalogue.”

Erbuer is demonstrating a prototype of the digital catalogue at a talk at the fair on 4 February. “It will enable visitors to easily like, share, download and save works of art that you see at a booth at the fair,” he says.

There are no plans, however, to replace the physical fair with a simulated version. “Virtual art fairs have been tried before but the market wasn’t ready. And it still isn’t today,” Erbuer says. “At some point someone might nail it, but the industry still has a long way to go. Meanwhile, our vision and focus is not to replace, but to extend the physical market place with technology.”

MCH is working with the existing management team at the India Art Fair. Neha Kirpal, who founded the event in 2008, remains its founding director and retains 10% ownership (the previous owner Angus Montgomery has 29.7%). 

Marco Fazzone, the managing director of design and regional art fairs at MCH, stresses that the plan is to “support the existing team’s work, and build on the unique regional DNA of the fair.” He adds: “The intention is not to make the regional fairs into one brand or create a global fleet of fairs like Art Basel.”

Until now, the India Art Fair has largely been a local affair, with around four-fifths of its programme comprising local galleries. Last year, under the curatorial direction of the international director Zain Masud, the focus successfully expanded to include South Asia–Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

“We have seen a strong and growing global interest in Indian and South Asian art,” Kirpal says. “Visitors from around the world have been flocking to new international initiatives such as the Kochi Biennale, or the Dhaka Art Summit. It was natural that MCH Group should wish to partner with the India Art Fair on its first regional art fair initiative.”

MCH is yet to announce other fairs it plans to partner with, but Fazzone confirms it is in discussion with SME London, which manages Hong Kong’s Art Central, Sydney Contemporary and Art16 in London; Angus Montgomery; and Art.Fair Cologne, which is moving to Düsseldorf in November.