Yesterday, I wrote that art is merely the tip of the iceberg at an art fair, and that I am responsible for a chunk of that tip at India Art Fair 2015. Today, I will focus on that chunk.
To begin with, there is the layout of booths of galleries that have rented space. India Art Fair displays many disparate kinds of art. In the past, there have been occasions when neighbouring booths clashed to the detriment of the overall viewer experience. My task was to help plan the basic grid of the booths and suggest a sequence of galleries based on their programme.
Then, we have a section called Special Projects, which are spots provided for free for artworks that might be difficult to sell because of their medium or scale, but enhance the overall quality of the fair. There are 22 such projects at the fair, many of them outdoors. In planning the outdoor projects, I thought primarily of a set of locations that were in need of being dynamised. For example, there is a long stretch of road between the main parking and the exhibition tents. I was keen that this not be dead space, and eventually found an excellent partner in the street artist Daku, who has painted a 100-meter stretch of asphalt with the repeated slogan, 'This is commissioned vandalism'. It adds an edge to the fair, enhanced by Sanjay Theodore's mobile app offering viewers an instant critical response to any work of art they photograph on their cellphones. Both these works are almost impossible to sell, and illustrate the philosophy behind the non-commercial Special Projects.
Veer Munshi's Fallen House, memorialising last year's flood in Kashmir, and Francesco Clemente's tent, titled Taking Refuge, whose interior induces moments of contemplation within the surrounding bustle, occupy prime plots within the venue, the NSIC campus.
Curating usually involves building on a theme, but this is difficult to do at IAF because the Special Projects do not have a section to themselves but are interspersed with gallery booths. Despite the lack of proximity, I have tried to build connections between projects. For instance, in the first tent, Dhruvi Acharya and Chitra Ganesh are collaborating on a 17-panel painting. Moving down the aisle to the exit, the last work viewers see before leaving is Muhammad Zeeshan's On Indefiniteness, in which the Pakistani artist has placed two completed canvases in glass tanks that gradually fill with inky water, occluding the image. Acharya and Ganesh began with blank canvas, and will end with a finished work, or something close to it, while Zeeshan began with finished work and will end with a black blank. Whether viewers feel the connection or not I do not know, but it was in my mind and guided my choice of placement.
An important feature of IAF is the conference, known as the Speakers' Forum, which adds intellectual heft to the fair. Past conferences have usually been well-programmed and drawn large crowds. But those seminars could have been held in a different location with little loss, because they had no integral connection with the fair. This year, for the first time, IAF appointed an Artistic Director to take charge of both non-commercial aspects of the fair: conference as well as projects. This allowed me to connect the two, by scheduling sessions drawing from the pool of artists who have created works at the fair. Viewers fascinated by individual projects will be able to gain a deeper understanding of the creators by hearing them speak about their practice. Equally, listening to these artists will enhance audience members' understanding of individual projects.
The link between Speakers' Forum and art projects will hopefully keep visitors in the fair for longer, and encourage many to return for a second look. The same is true of works that develop in time, such as the Acharya-Ganesh collaboration and Zeeshan's drowning canvases. There is a Bollywood term called repeat value, and a dotcom-era one called stickiness. My aim as Artistic Director has been to enhance the stickiness and repeat value of India Art Fair.