September 14, 2013


By Amrita Varma

It’s been some time and we still hear of the recurring slump in the art world.

This world as we know, seems elusive. The chaos and mystery surrounding it in the least is terrifying and conflicting news on the so-called ‘art market’ grinds the rumor mills. 

So what is happening in our contemporary art scene so far? I decided to get a deeper insight. 

LadoSaraiNite was a microcosm of that bigger picture of which one has kept abreast over the year.There were a few interesting works in galleries across Delhi like that of ShuchitraGahlot’s ‘Shut Up Internet’ and Arun Kumar HG’S works which also seemed to simultaneously bring out the nuances of what is happening in the art world. I noticed that the crowds, which once thronged those streets had watered down. The facts are galleries have shut down. The facts are sales are on an all time low since last August. Even works below fivelakhs are now difficult to sell.

 The facts are there is negligible presence of the once hyped Indian art cadre in the global scenario. The facts are art is becoming a user commodity rather than a medium of thought and culture,and every designer claims to be an artist and every person who owns a handsome camera claims to be a photographer and is getting away with it. Auctions are preferring to slow down on their sales of contemporary art works in the secondary market and considering alternatives of having more space for other art forms. 

So what is happening to us as acontemporary artist community? Are we at a dead end?Have we lost our voice?The economy taking a downturn along with property going down doesn't help the commercial aspects of art. 

Does the politics of the country with elections round the corner necessitate the movement of money away from art to feed the burgeoning political elite’s need for power? Does the politics of art effect it’s moving to greater growth? These are questions that scratch the surface of a deep -rooted problem. 

Stirring this hornet’s nest is not easy. It's a complex incestuous relationship each component shares with another and blame transfer is inevitable. 

The signs were glaring us in the face earlier,the reality has now struck a chord. Any amount of marketing and false information will not hide what needs to be dealt with. It requires courage. 

It is time to make that shift. A shift, not just the physical or commercial areasbut it’s root,the mental and attitudinal aspects. 

By no means am I denying the contribution of each individual within this system where it is, frankly speaking, hard to keep art alive. This however, is not enough if we really want collective growth and true appreciation of art. 

Galleries closing down alsocannot be considered a sign of downturn. The Indian art market is highly unstructured and in previous cases, its gallery owners have chosen to open and close galleries on grounds of personal reasons rather than professional ones. Some have shifted to other spaces that are more rent friendly. Some have dissolved into a larger gallery set up to aid legitimate growth.  

What is worrying though is the quality of art work shown and its prices.

This directly effects the appreciation of art and also its sales, which runs the art market and its growth.More importantly it speaks of our contemporary art scene as a nation. 

One sees innumerable corporate honchos entering with a website selling ‘contemporary art’ with claims of being passionate about it. Shoddy copies of the original works of art or bland strokes of paint blotched on canvas are paraded as art. For most it is pure commercial interest with a commodity (read ‘ dead object’) in mind. Literally crucify art for art’s sake.  

Galleries are helping their cause. 

It is in some cases,the gallery pricing. They do have rents and overheads. However, in hard times like now I wonder how galleries can demand 50 percent for the works sold from the artist when they are not able to honourproper sales or curation or even being a mentor of the artist over longer periods of time for good quality art and artistic growth.  

Sometimes, one also finds the artist in need of reality check with unreasonable price ranges.The money has to be justified somewhere. 

The curation is also at a loss. The thematic context or environment of the work, which was primary, is neglected and works are jammed together with no thread running between them except the tall writings on those white walls which seem to be sanctified as church and God. How does one expect the cultivation of the young collector with such drama playing the arena? 

India is a young country in the contemporary art scene. The socio political scenario of this region is also very unique to this part of the world. What works elsewhere cannot be aped here. The reality is that with a fistful of a few hundred collectors one cannot hope to keep the art scene thriving or alive in the long run when most of these are satiated from it and most will go whichever way the wind turns.  

Building collectors within the country is key. To develop serious collectorship with deeper appreciation we have to be serious our self. Face the truth. 

Bringing in new collectors is only possible when the artwork resounds with connectivity with the immediate environment of the country, its people and its true issues, concerns and sentiments in mind. Quality of art along with effective pricing where the nature of the structure is more on sharing rather than cutting off the other will help. 

Cliques need to disintegrate. One agrees with the fact that together one can build sounder structures. A balance is needed.By suffocating art within a few pockets where it becomes the word of law due to its advantage on local or international exposure, whichever the case, a league of deserving artists waiting at the frontline are not getting their due. Fair exposure of talent will help improve conditions where the primary concern is the art work, not the influential people backing someone or the artist’s ability to market the works on his own.  

Slashing prices on dead stock by 50 percent won’t help. Assessment will. 

High quality work will sell in reasonable price ranges at any time whether the economy goes up or down or there are changes within structures. 

Effectively alive alternate spaces for exhibition of artwork would be a good idea at the time to encourage growth. Art colleges and publishers need to place close attention on the future writers and critics so they are well informed without being pompous or colourful in their writings.They must have some conviction in their writings and reinvigorate dialogue in art. 

Inclusion of deserving artists and curators with quality of artworkand it’s pricing primarily in mind, is the road map to getting out of this situation. 

Having opened the proverbial Pandora’s box of most qualities aka fear and insecurities but one,as in thecase of the legend, I bring it to light. This vital quality is hope.  

Hope in the same people who knowingly or unknowingly have weakened their own system and faith in their exceptional abilities to correct their own paths and move towards re building the art scenario as they had done so bravely through pressing times with negligible help from government bodies not very long ago in the early nineties.  

It is time. We each have our work cut out for us.

It is vital to giveart its respect back as an ethical legitimate business of serious concern, which invigorates the people who’s, lives it touches and see it breathe again