Indian Art Fair Mirrors Signs of the Time


Impressions of the 6th India Art Fair 2014 in New Delhi, India

You stand wondering when you look at a black Buddha at the centre of a twenty foot circle, sitting in deep meditation surrounded by very colourful textiles, stickers, glass beads and toys used on a canvas and wood panels. Such serenity amidst such kitsch! This huge artwork dazzles you in the middle of a tent at the Sixth India Art Fair in New Delhi.


Staggering with image overload, it shows the influence of mass media, pop culture, architecture, environment and landscapes of East and West. The artist from Beijing says this work shows the swift change of China’s social system. It is also a satire on Asia’s fast evolving social, financial, environmental and technological systems. Bang in the middle of these shops selling art books, art materials, art magazines, costume jewellery and refreshment stalls with tea, coffee and snacks, this art expression was created Yo Hongxing, a Chinese artist, and is titled, ‘If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him’.

At the entrance to this hall was a ten-foot high head of a baby Chintu or Smart Alec called Iconic Shrine Lost Soul. With its mouth open and shining big blue eyes, its chrome yellow face is covered by many images that change as one goes around it. The artist, Chintan Upadhyay, claims it is the lost head of Ganesha before it was cut off by his father, Shiva, and later replaced with an elephant’s head. The huge fibreglass head has traditional Shekhwati art-form images from Rajasthan. Intrigued, many visitors wanted to have their photo taken with this enigmatic, cute baby (as I did).

Indian art has come of age with her artists arriving on world stage, selling their artworks for millions of dollars and organising a world-class Indian Art Fair in New Delhi. The art at this event displayed humour, satire, quirkiness and, of course, imagination.

On entering the main hall, an exhibit showed Mahatma Gandhi sitting before a circular Coca Cola logo and painted on a stack of Coca Cola crates, the Mahatma was shown working on his spinning wheel. Another such exhibit showed the Dalai Lama’s face painted on these crates. A mobile sculpture by L. N. Tallur showed the mid-life crisis of a stone-faced man squatting in front of a spinning car tyre smeared with mud splattered all over her and on her face. It was titled Path Finder! Here was the rat race offering a humorous version for the spiritual seeker. In all her glory, the Hindu Goddess Saraswati was shown painted sitting atop a rubber duck! A clothes line had some garments hung to dry but the twist was all the garments were made of small, shiny steel balls!

An off-beat exhibit was a desktop computer cut in half and its screen showing a newscast that stopped visitors in their tracks! A golden deer about six-foot high caught the eyes of every passerby reminding them about the style of Damien Hirst. One visitor remarked, “Is this the deer that Sita wanted in Ramayana?” A curved mirror with a huge garland reflected distorted faces of everyone who looked at it. No wonder many people captured their crazy ‘selfies’! A similar exhibit was a mirror that showed your face upside down…

Around 100,000 visitors admired the works of Indian artists and were also surprised by works of Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol and Andre Masson on display. Renowned Indian painters like M. F. Husain, Jamini Roy, S. H. Raza, Dayanita Singh, L.N.Tallur, Anindita Dutta and Rajorshi Gosh and F. N. Souza, sculptures by Anish Kapoor and Subodh Gupta attracted his attention. The fair showcased over 3,000 works by 1,000 artists by 81 exhibitors across the globe, and attracted around 100,000 collectors, art lovers and critics from all over India and abroad. Major art auctioneers, Christie’s, a sponsor of this fair, and Sotheby’s were also involved.

Other art events are also timed with this fair. The National Gallery of m Modern Art in New Delhi opened an exhibition of renowned artist Amrita Sher Gill’s definitive works; Sotheby’s held a reception to showcase paintings for their forthcoming auction in London; and many Indian artists held their own shows.

Subodh Gupta’s Aura was a ceiling-high sculpture made from stainless steel utensils illuminated with a great many tube lights in a big jumble. The light created an illusion that foreshadows the emptiness of things – big and small. The stainless steel utensils with their towering presence are placed in perspective by the strong white light and the illuminated illusion conveys the make-believe prosperity of the new middle class. “Seems like the loft of a utensil shop,” commented a visitor.

Surprisingly, the director of this humungous exhibition is a young lady from Delhi, Neha Kirpal. The story goes that in 2008 she visited London while working for a PR and event management firm. She was awed by London’s phenomenal feverish art scene with 9,000 galleries. She wondered, Why not have an art fair for Delhi?

During a flight, she wrote the business plan on the back of an airsickness bag, got off the plane and convinced her employers to loan her ten million Rupees to create the Art Summit with the first show in 2008.

The fair is judged by the calibre of the visitors. Before it is inaugurated, receptions are held for collectors and foreign visitors. During the four-day event, buyers, VIP visitors and art aficionados are allowed and the fair is open to the public after lunch. The entry fee was high at Rs. 300 (about US$ 5) per person, although art students payed a much lower amount. Going round the fair, you could see elegantly dressed people talking art in soft tones and keenly admiring the art on display. The three main halls have their own cafes and meeting places and public seating for those get tired. It is all very sophisticated, unlike most Indian public events. And what a treat for the eyes!

Kul Bhushan

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