A Window To A Long-Term Relationship With India And Its Art

31/01/2015 8:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
CHANDAN KHANNA via Getty Images
In this photograph taken on January 29, 2015 a visitor gestures with his wine glass towards photographs by India-based US photographer Sebastian Cortes displayed during the India Art Fair in New Delhi. For years, its been Indias grand art festival but this year more than ever, India Art Fair is raking more eyes balls by bringing a gamut of modern and contemporary works from across the world to satiate the growing art appetite of the metropolis - Delhi. AFP PHOTO / CHANDAN KHANNA RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE, MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST,SEBASTIAN CORTES, UPON PUBLICATION, TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo credit should read Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

The 7th Edition of the India Art Fair opens at a point of time where we are seeing a noticeable evolution in the strategies and models of international and regional art fairs, dictated by the general maturation of the global art market.

Traditionally, people tend to categorise all art fairs under the same banner--as one type of entity--whereas that is not the case at all. There has never been one global model. Each fair needs to define itself and its objectives according to its own regional and local context.

There are certain fairs that are defined purely by a commercial objective and do not consider the local market and its evolution. Some are not even based in a local market, so they become destination fairs. The Art Fair Basel, for example, is not concerned with educating people and building a market. It is about pure business, which is completely different from India, where one of the key objectives has always been to build the local market.

The India Art Fair is a local city-based fair. It's not a destination fair since it's focused on Indian art, and Indian markets, and what we're building is from the ground up. Whilst the fair can certainly compete with other major international fairs, this crucial difference must be acknowledged by those who like to compare fairs as a way of measuring success. A blanket comparison of a Basel or a Frieze with India makes no sense. Since their objectives vary, they cannot be measured along the same parameters.

Another factor that makes a significant difference to the evolution of art fairs is the changing perspectives of the collectors. No longer is it interesting for collectors to follow White Cube or Gagosian all over the world. They can just go to one of their international galleries and attend a select few fairs. When collectors go to Dubai, for example, they want to see Middle Eastern art, when they come to India they want to see art from India and the subcontinent, when they go to Istanbul, they want to see art from that region. Many of the international fair-goers are actively looking for these differences, and that's kind of where the opportunity for our emerging markets comes up.

So, as opposed to the pure business objectives of international fairs typified by the Basels, we need to recognise the significance of the India Art Fair as a vehicle for education, accessibility and market growth and development. The art fair gives a really easy-to-negotiate, easy-to-enter window into India. It creates an organised structure and world-class format to tap into the country. International galleries exhibiting in India will use this window of opportunity for differing reasons.

Some galleries participate as an experiment--dipping their toes in the water. Some galleries do it simply because they love India, and they like to do business here, whilst others do it for the real future business potential. What we do see with most is the desire for a long-term relationship. This requires a level of commitment, because it takes time when you're building a market, when you're showing international art to people who have never seen it before, and when there are very few museums and galleries that show international art year round. It's an educational process, and it will take a while. So people who are in it for the long term tend to do a lot better.

Galleries that have some connection with India also tend to do better. So, for example, if they have even one Indian artist in their booth programme, along with a whole international set of artists, there is a reason why people will become familiar with their booth and then they can share their international programme with them as well. It's a small sort of conversion process, often with impressive and quantifiable results, where significant connections and lasting relationships are established.

From a geographical perspective, other galleries will alternate between various emerging markets, such as Rio one year, and India the next. And some come simply to pick up on the art scene here, perhaps to facilitate exchange shows, in order to represent Indian artists abroad. In fact, since the fair began, we've seen a huge increase in the number of Indian artists who are doing shows with international galleries.

For the Indian galleries, what's interesting is that by creating an art fair here, we bring the art world's attention to the capital. If an Indian gallery were to participate at a fair abroad, let's say FIAC in Paris, it may not get as much attention from western collectors as it would from exhibiting at India Art Fair. Because here India is the focus, and galleries know that if big museums are coming to India, they are coming to look at Indian art. Otherwise they're going to remain only 1% of the local art market. It is a high-risk and expensive enterprise and difficult and very cost-prohibitive for Indian galleries to change that by doing more abroad. With the complete lack of state support, no participation in international biennales, no country pavilions, how are people going to know about Indian art? The only real sustainable way is to do it on our turf here. That is the real value creation of India Art Fair for the Indian galleries, and that's why they keep coming back.

The question for an art fair is not whether it's set up--there are lots of fairs being set up. There is a huge proliferation of fairs around the world. The question is how many of them will survive, and have survived over time. There's an equal number of fairs shutting down--that's not such a widely reported fact. At the end of the day it is all about sustainability. And you can only sustain yourself if you are in a market that can be sustained and has long years ahead. In that sense, I'm privileged that we have been doing this in India.

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