By Amrita Varma
The vernissage of The United Art Fair was a refreshing change from what we experienced in its first edition. None of the chaos that existed in the first edition could be seen. If one expected the fair to showcase a streamlined thread of good quality high end art one would be disappointed.
However, if you went in with an open mind to seeing art and craft from artists, designers and photographers who would showcase works from a youthful rawness to the not oft seen sparks of extreme creativity in gaps to the established names with their work which had been hidden in their study and now found light, one would find it an enjoyable experience to move through the halls.
Why the need for an artist driven fair when we have one driven by galleries already, you may ask. It comes down to the variety and varying quality of art and craft available in this country in its contemporary context which though produced, needs to be given highlight and perhaps be consumed, somewhere. The limited galleries and their full to capacity stable of artists cannot cater to such needs. The United Art Fair seems to aim at filling that gap.
One of the highlights of the fair was the ability of the viewer to appreciate and view works at peace in the true sense of the term. The curators under direction from Peter Negy had got some semblance to the wide variety of works on display. There was ample spacing of works and there was enough space to walk and experience each art piece without being trampled on by a passerby as one has seen in many a fair in this country.
The fair was built on a massive scale, a daunting task which would overwhelm any experienced curatorial team and the management of the United Art Fair .Due credit must be given to the curation done at the fair for exposing the variety of talent of various levels with such dignity.
The music and dance performances were meant to put the passerby into the mode but at times I did find a few people complaining of its interference in their idea of viewing the works.
Within the four days of the fair 300 artists of varying skills and levels of expertise got a voice that is perhaps one of the most important things the fair has done for Indian contemporary art as a system. The curators had a tough time putting the works up overnight as they hardly got any time before the fair opened. This resulted in a few hiccups, which the team handled well. The curators under direction from Peter, worked independently in bringing in the works of the creative community from across the country on a tight deadline.
Works on display were largely paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and photography and experimental art did not see the light of day looking also at certain practical and economic constraints for the artist.
The involvement of NGO’s in the art sphere through the works done by the men, women and children they support was another degree of inclusion.As a system it gave an open platform to various arts from the works of a college pass out to a traditional kalakar to the established contemporary artist. The curation had no sections, which also allowed for a wider dialogue and the artwork got primary stand. It also gave a mixed feeling as the flow of the curatorial energy was edgy.
The inclusion of design within an art fair has been done before around the world and this was one of the dialogues,which though controversial, needed to be taken forward in Indian Art. With this edition we saw it opening out. This is another dialogue.which is important if we are to grow as an artistic community.
In the fair we did see a few sparks of creative output from Indian designers who tried to push the envelope on the creative aspect to make the functional design into a work of art. One felt a want for more.
Some works from designers remained good design and some could be seen as memorabilia one may like to collect.
Not only does this serves as a starting point for designers to get more creative within their artistic boundaries in future, it also serves as a notion for curators to keep a keen eye of what is pushed as art within design to be part of an art fair.
A new voice in photography came through from exquisite photographs of Raja DeenDayal’s photography to the new documentary photography on the violent aspects of humanity in Ryan Lobo’s works. There was a sense of fulfillment in seeing rare photographic works which are an essential part of our visual culture and have not been seen or appreciated ever before. One also got a sense of novelty from the display of Manu Parekh’s photography,which is a medium the artist had not exposed before.
The decorative arts were a part of the fair and the quality one found within this aspect left one wanting considering the rich heritage we can draw from in this aspect. There were a few works made by exceptionally perceptive and creative craftsmen and women who looked at the mediums in a new light.
While the fair did well in its display and as a voice to the many miffed voices of artists from varying artistic backgrounds wanting to bring out their works it failed to draw the kind of audience one expected.
The sales of art work was also very slow, part because of the recent economic factors, varying range of art work quality and part because of a weakness within the sales team of the fair to connect and bring to the table the collectorship across the country and abroad.
Sales is an important factor for the growth of an artist and must be given its due.
The collector turn out at the opening was poor and sales on the first day and after were not up to mark even though prices of most works were kept at a reasonable range.
In this second edition of the United Art fair what one took back with them was an open dialogue on various forms of art and alternative voices. These came to life with a freshness of new raw works from the young artist to recognized figures within the creative sphere speaking in a new light on the same platform.
The United Art Fair was a creative platter that offered variety. Was the fair spreading itself too thin in being able to handle this kind of diversity?It is a matter left wide open to the realm of debate.Did it manage to indeed push the envelope on the quality of emerging art or was that compromised on the scale of divergence? These are important questions as they look at emerging Indian art which has its grounding in the near future.