India’s biggest celebration of art returns this weekend. With a focus on Indian and South Asian art, and disseminating knowledge on the subject, India Art Fair 2019 may just be the most stirring yet. Fair director Jagdip Jagpal took over the reins last year and has been focused on turning around the identity of IAF. Having worked in London with the Tate, Whitworth Art Gallery, and New North and South (a collaborative space for art ventures from UK and South Asia), the first thing she did was turn the spotlight on Indian art.
With an exclusive preview on January 31, the show opens to the public February 1-3. There will be a showcase by galleries like Project 88 (Mumbai), Experimenter (Kolkata), Exhibit 320 (Delhi), Zoca (Ahmedabad), Sokyo Gallery (Japan), Neugerriemschneider (Germany), and pieces by Raja Ravi Varma, Tyeb Mehta, FN Souza, Akbar Padamsee and Ram Kumar will be on display. One can also see emerging art at ‘Platform’, with works from galleries like Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Museum of Art and Photography, and the Bengal Foundation (Dhaka).
We spoke with Jagpal on her vision for IAF 2019 and everything one can look forward to this year.
Your must-see artists and artworks list for this year?
Everybody’s read about him, heard about him, there’s a lot of talk about him – Ai Weiwei. It’s a conversation point and there’s always a great deal of interest. In terms of the South Asian artists, the South Indian painter Rakesh is a must-see. We’ve got memorials too – Krishna Reddy and Priya Mehra’s work will be shown, there will be a walk-through about their careers and lives.
The other thing that’s going to be of interest is David Hockney’s work. The canvas was a car for this piece of art, and there’s some lovely funny stories around it, so people will find those very engaging.
You headed India Art Fair for the first time in 2018, also your first full-time project in the country. What was the experience like?
India’s art scene is truly dynamic. I was surprised at the type of contemporary art that’s being produced, not just in the big cities but outside these cities too. I also find it very collaborative here – artists are more accessible, they recommend other people’s work, and that support for fellow artists is a really good thing.
There’s a great deal of interest here for international artists but there aren’t very many opportunities apart from social media to actually see all those works. Yet what people have realised now is that the facilities in India now are at a fantastic level, there are more spaces being built with very high standards, there’s more capacity, more people in the workplace with the necessary skills.
With the Fair, it’s great that we’re able to bring some international galleries – the majority has to be Indian galleries, because we support that, but we’re able to attract big international names, and for me that was a big difference.
You have shifted the focus onto Indian art and artists. How are you carrying it forward this year?
It’s partly about raising the standards and also about having an identity. Why would anybody come to the India Art Fair? People come because the fair is one space to see all that is available. They respect that space, internationally people recognise the fact that it’s got an identity, and is not a mix of lots of different things. In the past, the fair was selling clothes, jewellery, and other things. Now, it’s selling art books, because that’s what an art fair should do. We also encourage our returning galleries to bring at least one artist who’s not previously shown at the fair. There’s lots of different elements in play, but also in this fair you’ll be able to see in the same space Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi art side by side with fantastic international artists.
What’s the vision behind IAF 2019?
We wanted for people to experience different art forms. We’ve got a couple of dance programmes with five key artists this year. Performance art is very live and current, and it’s an extraordinary experience for the people who get to see it. Also, improving the quality, encouraging our gallerists to think very carefully about the way they curate their booth, because they want to make sales, and of course we want them to make sales. It’s about building Indian cultural heritage, and encouraging people to travel out and look at art in other parts of the country. For example, Bhubaneshwar art trail by Jagannath Panda in December – we wanted it to be reflected so we put a piece from that art trail.
And how’re you executing this?
What we’re tracing this year is how do you promote contemporary art, how do you keep expanding the number of people who’re interested, or the number of people who can access it. We’re only a four-day fair, so we’ve really been working on our digital and social media. We used to create a catalogue once a year but we’ve converted that into a magazine. We’re also running a program called ‘Parallel’, which is that when we find out about public museums opening, exhibitions etc., we’ll put those on our social media, promote them, and support outreach wherever we can – that’s been quite popular so far. In the under-45 age group we’re finding a great deal of interest and connection, and that’s really important for the future. You grow interest, the market will grow, and that’s the most important thing for us.
The main take-away for the patrons from the Fair?
People will be genuinely surprised about just how strong the Indian and South Asian art market is, how much interest there is, and how people are looking and steadily buying. Last year, we had lots of first-time buyers, and this year we’ve added a programme for people who want to learn about how to buy art. The Young Collector’s Programme is for those who have the financial ability but not necessarily the knowledge or confidence for buying art.
Secondly, the variety – lots of galleries showing the same artist is not in anybody’s interest, so people will discover artists they haven’t seen before.
How is India’s current art landscape looking, and how do you see its future?
There’s such an increase in cultural activity in India in the last 10 years, with artists’ collectives and biennales. When you have a growth of non-commercial art, that’s the most important thing that shows a steady base. Major exhibitions in major institutions like the Guggenheim, Met, Tate increasingly showcase all South Asian and Indian artists, and that has to be a good thing.
I’ll tell you one indicator that it’s going in the right direction. We’ve got two Kiran Nadar Museum of Arts in Noida and Delhi, Kolkata Centre for Creativity is a wonderful place, Museum of Art and Photography is opening soon, and a handful other museums opening around the country. That is a real sign, that kind of private patronage. You’ve got the people at Gujral Foundation who’ve been active for many years, so the fact that people are putting money into these kind of creative spaces is a really good sign.