The India Art Fair is not trying to be an international fair, and regional fairs should not be looked down upon, says Jagdip Jagpal, fair director. She says it is important to have depth instead of being “a mediocre, average kind of everything”.
The fair, which began in 2008, has been promoting South Asian artists and designates 70% of the fair space to Indian galleries exhibiting South Asian art. The fair, which exhibits works by artists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka besides Europe and the Americas, is “opening people’s minds” about the diversity and dynamics of South Asian art, says Jagpal. This year, the fair showcased five hundred artists, and featured 81 modern, contemporary, and institutional exhibitors.
Edited excerpts of an interview with Jagpal:
You have been the director of the India Art Fair for three years now, this is the 12th edition, how has the experience been?
We weren’t getting to see a lot of art, non-western art, particularly South Asian Art in the UK despite the fact that there is public funding. It is difficult to always tell whether people are not looking for it or also how much about it is actually being made accessible, and is being communicated to audiences and potential audiences as opposed to a very small group. For me, the fair had lost its identity and I saw this as an opportunity to look at those things, and how the fair could play a big role in the future of contemporary art.
The first thing I did was we committed that a minimum 70% of fair space will always go to Indian galleries showing South Asian art. Also what I found in that last two editions is that the galleries are ready to take more risks in bringing artists that haven't been shown before.
On the international side as well, it is really important to understand where South Asian contemporary art sits because it is within international art, and be able to put it on the same platform as some of the well-known artists. People here also understand how important South Asian art is in the context of international art and that’s been an important piece. It’s brought people to India, whether its gallerists or other people and really opened their minds to the diversity and dynamic of the South Asian art scene.
You asked whether Indians are looking for art, in your experience are they, and what is the kind of art they looking for?
I think, yes. It is not dissimilar in other parts of the world—if you are working how much time do you actually have to go to museums, to go to galleries. There are new museums coming up here like the Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC) in Kolkata, they will take time to mature, and then you have the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, which has a long-standing pillar for the arts community and public art. But we don’t have that much public funding for contemporary art and ongoing exhibitions and marketing.
It’s all very well to say that people aren’t coming or people should go. Everybody is looking for something interesting, or looking to learn, or experiencing, but it’s also a question of—if you are doing something you should tell people.
Some galleries have spoken about challenges in exhibiting in India, including shipping and customs, etc. Have those been ironed out over the years?
We have got one of the lowest space prices for the level of our fair. We have tried to keep it down and that’s why it is difficult and we have to look to other means to keep that down. Even within India, shipping, installation is difficult for international galleries, because the process is quite lengthy and expensive. But galleries are coming back. It’s a big decision for them but they make it because they are committed to the long term.
We are not attempting to be an international fair, there are international fairs everywhere. Regional fairs are not something to look down upon, I think it’s something to be proud of, to have that identity. To have that depth instead of being a mediocre, average kind of everything.
How commercially viable has it been for you and for the galleries?
It comes in patches. It is an area where it is a small but growing market. It is important for the financing model to be not too dependent on just one or two income strains. There is slow and steady growth and people recognise the potential, things are looking up.
Would you also talk about some of the trends in art globally, and South Asia?
I think there are a lot of multidisciplinary artists, that's very strong now. Definitely a trend for an increase in sales for works that represent what’s happening in the society, whether it is political and economic, or to deal with climate change and ecological factors. There has also been in the growth of younger, new buyers. Some of the well-known artists have gone back to oil on canvas, which is fantastic. There has also been a greater interest in female artists. It’s a lot easier for a female or non-binary artists to get their name and work out there irrespective of the theme. There is more acceptance of interest in different themes. The number of South Asian artists who have had international exhibitions, it’s growing year on year, whether it is in America or Europe. That’s also reflected in the museum visits that we get, who are looking to extend their collections.
Do you see Indian audiences being more receptive to newer forms of art that use image, sound, or video?
People take from whatever they see, whatever they want. The thing is you react, whether you like it, love it, hate it, or you’re intrigued by it, or it has no effect whatsoever. It’s just being able to access it or come across it.
What are your goals for the Art Fair, where do you see it in the next five years? Has the economic slowdown affected the art market?
A slowdown doesn’t mean going into the negative, it just means it is not speeding up as much. In the art sector, it is fewer peaks and drafts. Twelve years ago when the industry was controlled by a number of factors, it came back through residencies, funding, institutions, so the foundation is very strong. People who do it as an investment, look at the value of the moderns. For other people, it is about thinking about their purchasing decisions. The increase in professionals, and people who haven't looked at art before, and are now, that is good.
In terms of goals, the main thing is whether we are achieving what we set out to achieve. Year on year why should people feel they are a part of it, are we delivering to them and what should we be delivering now. Art will always be created, our role is to help reach the market.