The 7th edition of the India Art Fair hosted at the NSIC Grounds in Okhla saw the premier selection of Indian galleries, but very scant participation of both international galleries and artists.
This year, representation of the Indian Modernists was at par with that of the Contemporaries, in both quantity and quality. Most international fairs have separate dedicated sections that make it easier to navigate the fair. An attempt at the same was perhaps the reason why Delhi Art Gallery’s mini-museum was positioned across from the main halls, a curated chronological display of works from Kalighat paintings to those of Shanti Niketan right up to the Indian Moderns of schools based in Baroda, Delhi and Mumbai. A Sculpture Gallery was conceived as an adjunct and a series of presentations including informal discussions with artists on topics of printmaking, collecting and activation of the visual arts through dance were organized within the gallery’s outreach program. At exit, was a bookshop stacked with DAG’s excellent publications on the various periods of art production in India.
In the main hall, of specific interest were some of the gallery supported solo projects that aligned with the spirit of an archive and book making: Sudarshan Shetty’s ‘I know nothing of the end’ presented an accordion styled book with images of film stills from a death ritual in an Indian home facing a blank page with a line of unpunctuated text. The work is a suggestion of the cinematic in our everyday, narrated through setting, lighting and placement of objects. ‘The Museum of Chance Objects’ by Dayannita Singh introduced the idea of the ‘book’ simultaneously being an art object, an exhibition and a catalogue. With 88 different covers, mounted in wooden frames on the wall, the book became more than a compilation of reproduced images. Shilpa Gupta’s research project with Asian Art Archive ‘That photo we never got’ comprises an assemblage of documents that explore the friendships and tensions within the art field in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Fragmented, suggested or starkly said- the letters, photographs and clippings made a rather ironic statement in its positioning within the fair. Similarly, Nandita Kumar’s ‘Emotive Sounds of the Electric Writer’ was a way to stimulate the tradition of letter writing anew. Performed by a typewriter, text from each letter received through an open call was blotted onto paper and then composed as sound, in part inspired by John Cage’s Chance Score.
The primacy of drawing and explorations of space through interventions on paper resumed an important position within contemporary art language. Ayesha Sultana’s geometric graphite on paper works at Emperimenter, Kolkata investigated the materiality of both graphite and paper, cheating the viewer into perceiving metal instead. Sachin Takade’s architectures on paper at THE LOFT, Mumbai, Parul Gupta’s line drawings at Gallery Lakeeren, Mumbai, Gallery Espace’s ‘Wall of Drawings’ alongside the solo section of works by Nilima Sheikh, Dhruvi Acharya and Chitra Ganesh’s collaborative live drawing that was completed within the four days of the fair were some of the welcome sights.
Photography was represented by Tasveer, India who brought works of Chrispher Taylor and Sebastian Cortes. Photoink, Delhi brought works of Chandan Gomes, Dhruv Malhotra, Ketaki Sheth, Madan Mahatta Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya and Raghu Rai. Wonderwall, Delhi presented works by Karan Khanna, Prarthna Modi and Prabuddha Dasgupta amongst others. Pablo Bartholomew’s series ‘A Tale of three cities’ along with a pair of photographs by Gauri Gill from the series ‘Balika Mela and Jannat’ hung at the Thomas Erben, New York booth. I found three absolutely stunning photographs from 1997 titled ‘Notes to the Body’ by Sheba Chhachhi hanging at Volte, Mumbai. Art Heritage, Delhi curated an interesting section on photography called Fictions that highlighted the interplay of performance and social commentary within each frame.
The Speaker’s Forum, although poorly attended threw up critical issues for discussion including Curating Civilizational Histories- a take on how contemporary artists and curators engaged with history, regional cultures and eco-politics. The session included a brilliant presentation by British artist Jeremy Deller, moderated by Abhay Sardesai, editor of Art India magazine. Another session explored the discipline of Art Writing. Presented by the Courtauld Institute of Art, London and Art Forum International Magazine, the session’s presentations pointed to the increasing agenda of commercial enterprise with respect to art writing, and the overlaps between art history, curatorship, and criticism.
The seventh year of the Art Fair saw a focus specifically on ‘Indian Art’ with a host of works from the South Asian region. The layout was better designed, allowing for ease of movement. A number of collateral events and exhibitions in galleries, cultural centers and museums opened from the beginning of January creating a buzz around the fair and expanding the scope of what the art fair now represents. It is more than simply a fair, it is also a time that necessitates keeping a calendar for the selection of things of interest to see and engage with.