takes sheen off Indian art at Spanish fair
Madrid (Spain), Feb 18 (IANS) Special invitee India's show
at global art fair ARCO-Madrid 2009 was robbed of some of
its lustre due to a wary market and a panorama section that
had a narrow focuss on post-contemporary movements.
The highlight of the five-day ARCO-Madrid this year was the
India Panorama, an exhibition of works by 54 artists from
14 galleries across the country, the guest nation in 2009.
But, despite drawing large crowds and hundreds of enquiries
on acquisition and sale, it did not translate into brisk business
at the fair that ended this week.
"I am sure India has a lot more art; I wish there was
more space to display a bigger spread and variety. Last year,
Brazil, the guest country at ARCO, was more comprehensively
represented," Pilar Baselga, a Spanish art historian,
The India show focussed on the post-contemporary movements
of the 1980s, 90s and this decade.
German art critic, writer and curator Heinz Schutz, a regular
at the fair, felt the Indian panorama did not reflect a fixed
identity because of two reasons.
"The exhibition was too small and there was too much
pop art around. The artists were young and new. It would be
good to go deeper into the history of Indian art," Schutz
Experts, artists and gallery owners at the fair attributed
the slowdown to two factors. One, the acute recession in Europe
which has dented the sale curves of quality artworks across
the continent. Two, the unfamiliarity of the conservative
and largely insulated Spanish market to trends in contemporary
Indian art and the young panorama.
Art historians, reviewers, market watchers and auction analysts
said Spanish buyers should have been acquainted through a
well-documented showcase tracing the history and chronology
of Indian contemporary art over the last 50 years and accompanying
discussions on the country's art history.
Spanish curators also rued that several Indian regions, especially
West Bengal, often dubbed the cradle of modern and contemporary
art, was not included in the Indian panorama. Even states
like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were ignored.
But the deepening recession in Europe was the primary stumbling
block that crippled the pace of commerce. This downturn is
seeping into the contemporary European art market as well.
At ARCO - which strategically did not put out too many exorbitant
art works on sale - high-end Indian art did not find too many
Two works by Jitish Kallat, one of the most popular young
Indian artists in Europe, on display by the London-based Haunch
of Venison gallery at the fair, lured throngs of curious art
buffs and collectors, who enquired about the prices but refused
to bite the bait.
The works, "Universal Recipient (showing a Sikh man with
a turban)" and "Aquasaraus (a dinosaur-like water
truck)" were priced at 100,000 euros and 300,000 euros
In comparison, another contemporary artist, Shilpa Gupta,
whose installation works were priced at 50,000, 10,000 and
8,500 euros respectively managed to sell because of their
pragmatic price bands and quality.
Photographer Dayanita Singh's landscapes and figure studies
- one of the highlights of the huge cache of limited edition
photographic prints at the fair - were tagged at 5,500, 4,000
and 3,800 euros respectively. And they sold too.
The fact that museums - one of the largest bodies of buyers
in Spain - are battling cuts in acquisition budgets further
muddied the market dynamics at ARCO. Last year, Reina Sofia,
one of the country's most prestigious museums of contemporary
art, spent 2.3 million euros at the fair, but this year its
art spend had dwindled.
The commerce trends at ARCO are an echo of the greater picture
of the art market across Europe.
In an auction held at Sotheby's in London Feb 5, experts
were unusually restrained in their estimates. Gone were the
$10 million plus works.
On Feb 12, Christie's figures for its 2008 global art auctions
across 14 vends globally showed an 11 percent decrease over
2007 because of the bleak global economic backdrop. The amount
raked in by the London-based auction house in 2008 was $487
"But as we move into 2009, recent results give good reasons
to remain positive about the global art market where demand
remains strong for well-estimated, unique and sought-after
works of art," said Edward Dolman, the London-based chief
executive officer of Christie's International.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)
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