Monday, May 25, 2015

Nationality and the market

One aspect of Indian artists who have lived and worked overseas is their concern with identity. S H Raza became the first Asian (or, more correctly, the first non-European) to win the prestigious critics award in Paris in 1956, paving the way for a successful career in France. During its early decades, collectors of his works would have been French or European buyers. In London, F N Souza had launched a similar career and was at least as successful (though he did shift to the US in the mid-'60s). Clearly, it was the native community that bought his art - its scathing nature alone would have been enough to deter all but the foolhardy Indian collector at the time. S K Bakre's sculptures created while in London, Sakti Burman's paintings produced in France but shipped to America for conversion into prints, Avinash Chandra's move to Britain, V Viswanadhan's to France, Ambadas's to Norway, Shoran Qadri's to Denmark, Zarina Hashmi's to New York - you would have to wonder whether these artists were henceforth seen as "Indian", "European", "American" or simply "Western" in the context of their art making.

This question of identity and patronage becomes interesting with Indian galleries promoting Indian art internationally in quest of overseas buyers. Yet, those artists had found collectors in the West since the 1950s on the merit of their talent. It can be safely surmised that their art of the time appeared to have no overt Indian identity, though it might have earned the "exotic" tag. You might sip champagne and roll your 'R's, but does that qualify as being native? Assuredly, anything alien to the local temper, or taste, was likely to be interpreted as Indian. Did this work in their favour?

In varying degrees, most of them were a success. Yet, by the 1980s, they had begun to seek markets in India, which could be a question of legacy (about which later), or a straitening market in the countries of their domicile. Had the mood in those countries changed? Or were dealers and galleries of Indian origin reaching out to them more aggressively than in the past? The rising economic environment in India, and the need to be recognised in the country of their birth, may have triggered the artists' own interest in seeking patronage back home. A fear of mortality is amply evident amongst the creative community which needs to be assured that its legacy will be retained and recognised for generations after. Seen in that context, would you say Raza has been honoured and promoted sufficiently by the French government to make him feel like a French artist (of Indian origin, true, but fellow traveller Pablo Picasso too was not French but Spanish)? Or Ambadas as Norwegian, Qadri as Scandinavian, and Souza as either British or American? Anish Kapoor in UK, and Sujata Bajaj in Dubai and Paris, have obvious overseas buyers, but which nation will claim their inheritance?

I find this interesting for the way it impacts artists' works. With few exceptions, Indian artists appear keen to celebrate their nationality - perhaps as a measure of setting themselves apart as individuals or as a group - and resonance of India's culture manifests itself in their narratives. Today's contemporary artists, whose mediums and interpretations may be global, still seek their subjects and validation amidst local environments, though these manifestations could have resonances that are similar around the world. Which brings me to the questions: As mediums and art become more global, are artists turning increasingly local? Is it artists, or their markets, that are driven by nationality? Given China's current domination of the art market, that should be a pointer to why Indian artists are seeking markets closer to home, even as their promoters are seeking markets away from home.
Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic. 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Sweeping Venice off her feet

Merely in its second edition, the Kochi Muziris Biennale has begun to reveal the impact of exhibiting art in public spaces, integrating the city and its people into a narrative that is less intimidating or exclusionary than art fairs or other expositions. No wonder the 56-edition-old Venice Biennale is among the most powerful of art events worldwide, drawing in visitors to its often site-specific exhibits in the palazzos and other public spaces since its opening in 1895.

Allowing for some interruptions during the two World Wars, the biennale has remained relevant, though it has not always been without its hiccups. While artists such as Gustav Klimt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Gustave Courbet were exhibited here in 1910, the same year a painting by Pablo Picasso was removed for its perceived shock value. Indeed, Picasso only made his appearance at the biennale in 1948 - a year after the Progressive Artists' Group in Bombay had begun to make waves in India, shocking Bombay's genteel public with their first group exhibition in 1949.

But 1948 was also the year that Peggy Guggenheim was invited to exhibit her New York collection of art that she had assiduously built up and turned into a museum, marking the importance of patronage - and collectors - in the creation of art destinations. That has not happened yet in India with organisations still paying only lip-service to collectors at a time when most state museums are stretched for funds and can no longer be relied on to become repositories of the art of our times.

India's contemporary artists have been shown at the Venice Biennale supported by promoters and curators in the West - Subodh Gupta's Very Hungry God springs famously to mind - and the only time the country had a national pavilion was in 2011 when Ranjit Hoskote curated an exhibition of works by Zarina Hashmi, Praneet Soi, Gigi Scaria and The Dream Machine. This year, the Gujral Foundation is participating with the curiously titled My East is Your West that dwells on the phenomenon of dualities with works by Indian artist Shilpa Gupta and Pakistani artist Rashid Rana. In a collateral event, Seema Kohli's Hiranyagarbha or Golden Womb series will be shown at Personal Structures, questioning the conundrum of time, space and existence.

At the time of writing, New Delhi is beginning to empty as the art fraternity heads for the cooler climes of Europe, finding a place for Venice in their travels. India's lack of a visible presence might be embarrassing, but this is the place to view the art of our times, as future stars are allowed to question and provoke, but also evoke our admiration. This year, the Iceland pavilion's transformation of a former church into a mosque by artist Christoph Buchel has created a storm of views from which some discourse might yet emerge. Venice might not famously be the Oscars of the art world but for six months now it will be at the cusp of art and civilisation, offering us a tantalising glimpse of how future generations will view our current times.

It also offers the art world an opportunity to schmooze. Here the great and the good will rub shoulders with the pretenders and wannabes. The smorgasbord of art and conversation is heady, more potent than the champagne that will be served and the cheese that will be nibbled. India's presence as participants might be fleeting, but you can be sure that among those who navigate Venice's canals and bridges will be many who hold Indian passports - and dreams - close to their chests. With the hope that, one day not too far away, its artists will sweep Venice off her feet.

Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic.New Delhi 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Making a comeback

According to Knight Frank's The Wealth Report 2015, "it is always possible to commission a new yacht, but nobody can paint another Monet or build a classic Ferrari"

"Gold has lost its lustre. That's the conclusion global asset managers are making as condominiums and contemporary art emerge as more attractive investments" - as reported in The Times of India.
 According to Knight Frank's The Wealth Report 2015, there has been a 3 per cent rise in ultra-high-net-worth-individuals (UHNWIs, those with wealth in excess of $30 million) worldwide, with 42,272 individuals in Asia (60,565 in Europe, 44,922 in North America), of which the Indian distribution is as follows: Mumbai 619, Delhi 157, Bengaluru 75, Chennai, Hyderabad 39, and Ahmedabad 20. With 'art its most popular investment of passion', what does this say about the art market in India, currently centred in New Delhi and Mumbai (in that order)? And what of the 40 most important cities for UHNWIs in which Mumbai figures at 26th spot, Delhi doesn't figure at all, and the top five cities are London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai?
 With art market research suggesting that art appears to be bouncing back with an annual growth of 15 per cent, what does this portend for India? More importantly, is the $1 billion Indian art market (of a total $60 billion, $16 billion of which is made up by China) even aware of it and creating strategies around it? Frank suggests that big spends will involve luxury and its associated brands. Where does art figure in this? Especially as the report suggests that "it is always possible to commission a new yacht, but nobody can paint another Monet or build a classic Ferrari."
 Art as an asset class has recovered almost all over the world, and prices have begun to harden in India, though still nascently, allowing for huge opportunity as wealth increases and the rich look for a diverse portfolio that moves beyond property, gold and luxury brands. Not only is art seen as aspirational, it also remains accessible with multiple entry points in different price ranges. Though the market stayed stagnant for longer than had been anticipated, the movement now appears stronger, built on a bedrock of competitive pricing and a demand for provenance and documentation that will stand the test of time.
 More interestingly, it brings to question the need for infrastructure not just in the prime UHNWI cities in India but also around the world. Should cities with the world's richest populations develop an infrastructure that will support the growth for Indian art? This becomes especially moot because prices for Indian art are currently seen as low and, with sufficient interest, could become the fad of the global collecting world. If a surge follows, it will return investment on value at a far higher rate than art from more established markets, making it a savvy investment. No wonder banks have started advising clients about art as an asset class that should be considered in the mid-to-long-term range.
 As happened in the period from 2002 to 2008, this will heat up the market, but with the wisdom of hindsight, punters can hedge their bets better, not playing hokey with supply and demand as much as on quality. Having had its fingers burnt, previous investors might be cautious, but with a new, emerging class of investors, art makes great capital sense for most for its uniqueness.
 The difference, this time, might be in the buying parity for Indian art. With global investors watching the India business story play out under a new government, it might be they - rather than Indian collectors - who will power the market. In which case the best time to buy Indian art, before prices escalate, is now.

Kishore Singh    April 25, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

India-Nepal sign MoU to promote art and culture

Kathmandu: Aiming to strengthen their close cultural relations, India and Nepal today signed a MoU to promote cooperation in the field of art and culture. The MoU was signed between Nepal Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and New Delhi-based Lalit Kala Akademi as part of the Nepal-India Art Exchange Programme.
The two academies will work hand-in-hand to further enhance mutual understanding and cultural relations between the Fine Arts academicians, creative artists, cultural experts, scholars and intellectuals of the two countries, according to MoU.
“Art is one of the crucial areas that bring India and Nepal closer. The Embassy of India will lend all support to promote exchange of art and culture between our two countries,” Indian Ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae, who was mpresent on the occasion, said.
The two countries will strengthen their cultural relations through exchange of visits by artists and fine art academicians of the two countries and organise art exhibitions and symposiums on a reciprocal basis, a statement said. The two academies will organise art exhibitions, support translation and publish books related to fine arts of both the countries.
They will also organise seminars and symposia on contemporary art practices, conduct art workshops and other relevant activities between two countries.

— By PTI | Apr 23, 2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700” exhibit opens at the Metropolitan

“Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700” exhibit opens at the Metropolitan
Photo: The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

PanARMENIAN.Net - The Deccan plateau of south-central India was home to a succession of highly cultured Muslim kingdoms with a rich artistic heritage. Under their patronage in the 16th and 17th centuries, foreign influences—notably from Iran, Turkey, eastern Africa, and Europe—combined with ancient and prevailing Indian traditions to create a distinctive Indo-Islamic art and culture. The landmark exhibition Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy, which opened April 20 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, brings together some 200 of the finest works from major international, private, and royal collections, Art Daily reports.

Featuring many remarkable loans from India, the exhibition—which is the most comprehensive museum presentation on this subject to date—explores the unmistakable character of classical Deccani art in various media: poetic lyricism in painting; lively creations in metalwork; and a distinguished tradition of textile production. A highlight is the presentation of all of the known masterpieces and several new discoveries in painting, the greatest art of the Deccan. Another highlight is the display of diamonds—some of the largest ever found—that originated in the great mines of the Deccan.
The population of the Deccan plateau by the 16th century included immigrants from Central Asia and Iran, African military slaves, native-born Muslim nobles, and European missionaries, merchants, and mercenaries. As a result, it boasted one of the most cosmopolitan societies of the early modern world. To provide a glimpse into this dynamic, yet little-known society, the exhibition will focus chiefly on the courtly art of the kingdoms of Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Golconda. These dynamic centers of royal patronage drew some of the greatest artists, writers, poets, and musicians of the period.
The golden age of Bijapur under the rule of Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580–1627) defines the spirit of Deccani art. Masterpieces in painting by the leading court artist Farrukh Husain demonstrates the refined and lyrical style that influenced much of Deccani art. Ahmadnagar’s African nobility included the legendary Abyssinian Malik Ambar (1548–1628), whose portraits are included among other rare surviving works. Numerous examples of the celebrated bidri metalwork tradition from the kingdom of Bidar are also shown. These feature a base composed of a blackened alloy of zinc and copper with thin sheets of silver inlay in striking designs.
From antiquity until the 18th and 19th centuries, when diamonds were discovered in Brazil and Africa, India was virtually the sole source for these precious gems. The extremely rich mines of Golconda produced some of the largest known diamonds. Whether given as diplomatic gifts or traded by merchants, India’s diamonds reached an appreciative audience among European royalty. The Deccan, already astonishingly wealthy, was further enriched by foreign demand for these gems. Among the treasures from Golconda—whose diamond mines were the source of such diamonds as the legendary Kohinoor—is a group of magnificent gems from international royal collections, including the “Idol’s Eye” and “Agra” diamonds.
Also shown are spectacular large painted and printed textiles (kalamkaris), several over nine feet in height and all richly painted with motifs drawn from Indian, Islamic, and European art. These are shown along with sumptuous royal objects made of inlaid and gilded metal, precious jewels, carved wood, and stone architectural elements, many of which draw inspiration from the art of Safavid Persia and Ottoman Turkey.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Modern Indian artist S H Raza 'Yet Again'

Syed Haider Raza who recently turned 93 is the subject of a new book, which gives insight into the life and art of the grand old master of modern Indian art through the eyes of his friends and critics.

"Yet Again," containing nine new essays on Raza has been edited by friend, poet and former chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi Ashok Vajpeyi.

The tome has been brought out by Akar Prakar, the Raza foundation in association with Mapin Publishing.

The nonagenarian artist has led a long painterly life from middle of the 20th century and has been widely acknowledged as a master of modern Indian art.

For nearly six decades his work, vision and life have attracted critical attention from various points of views, his art has been explored and evaluated in many books and collectors of his paintings exist worldwide, says Vajpeyi.

The new book begins with thoughts on Raza's art by critic and poet Ranjit Hoskote who writes about the "Cartographer of lost continents."

Raza's life began in the 1940s with his apprenticeship to academic realism as a student of Sir Jamsetijee Jejeebhoy School of Art in Mumbai. As a founder of the Progressive Artists Group, together with F N Souza, K H Ara, M F Husain and others, Raza passed quickly into an engagement with a stylised reinterpretation of retinal reality in the 1950s.

"Eventually, and after migrating to France, he gravitated towards abstraction, cultivating a symbolist vocabulary; his rhythm of continuous, annual return to India, now culminating in a permanent homecoming, nourished his attentiveness to the teachings of Indic traditions," says Hoskote.

Kishen Khanna, a fellow Progressive Artists' Group member recalls Raza "sitting in one corner of a street in Bombay sketching and painting the streets and houses of localities he was drawn to" and an exhibition of works that Raza painted on a visit to Kashmir. His style, says Khanna was influenced by Walter Langhammer, an exile from Europe.

"At 93, he defies the impediments of age, faces a blank canvas, with a prayer in his heart and brush in his hand ready of the next encounter," says Khanna.

Author and cultural historian Geeti Sen says Raza would not describe his work as 'spiritual' but as 'significant form'.

Born in 1922, after Independence, Raza did not leave for Pakistan as did his first wife and other members of his family, says Vajpeyi. In Paris, Raza met and married a French artist Janinie Mongillat.
Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 
April 7, 2015

Friday, April 03, 2015

Peabody Essex Museum hands over Indian artwork involved in trafficking investigation

The Peabody Essex Museum announced on Friday that it is handing over an Indian artwork to the Department of Homeland Security as part of the government’s ongoing investigation into an alleged international art fraud enterprise.

The work, a mid-19th century Tanjore portrait in the Salem museum’s collection, was purchased in 2006 from Subhash Kapoor, museum officials said. Authorities arrested Kapoor in 2011 on charges of trafficking in looted Indian antiquities.

“These situations are not happy, but I believe at the same time that it’s important to make situations like this transparent and publicly known,” said Peabody Essex Museum director Dan L. Monroe, speaking by phone on Friday. “That’s precisely what we’ve done.”

Monroe said the allegations of Kapoor’s art trafficking have created “shock waves” around the world. “It involves a substantial number of art museums, and they’re not just in the US,” he said, adding that he knew of 18 museums with pieces linked to Kapoor in their collections. “I believe there will be a number of works returned.”

Monroe said the Peabody Essex has been working with Homeland Security Investigations, a division of the federal agency, since Kapoor’s arrest at the airport in Frankfurt in late 2011.

“We took a proactive role to notify the Department of Homeland Security of all works we had through gift or purchase from Mr. Kapoor,” said Monroe, adding that museum officials met with investigators to discuss the provenance, or ownership history, of the piece, titled “Maharaja Serfoji II of Tanjavur and his son Shivaji II.”

“They provided information that certainly confirmed in our mind that this was a work with a fake provenance, and therefore had been illegally sold,” Monroe said.

The Peabody Essex is not the first US museum to voluntarily agree to relinquish a work of art linked to the dealer: Earlier this week the Honolulu Museum of Art returned seven pieces purchased from Kapoor, who is awaiting trial in India.

Luis Martinez, a public affairs officer with Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said by phone on Friday from Honolulu that the investigation, known as Operation Hidden Idol, has already recovered approximately 1,000 items, worth an estimated $150 million, linked to Kapoor. While some of the works are more recent, many are much older, including a second-century BC pillar sculpture valued at nearly $18 million and a 2,000-year-old terra cotta rattle.

“It is the largest seizure that HSI has made from an individual,” said Martinez, who added that investigators have identified approximately 2,000 pieces linked to Kapoor that they suspect were looted. He noted that many of the works are in museums and private collections. “A lot of these museums are victims themselves. They received these works as gifts, or they purchased them from collectors.”

Monroe said Kapoor first established his relationship with the Peabody Essex by donating works to the collection. “He made several gifts to the museum and then eventually offered works for purchase,” Monroe said. “We had no reason to doubt the provenance or doubt the legitimacy of the sale. We reviewed the provenance and did appropriate due diligence relative to our practices and the practices of the field at the time.”

He added that the Peabody-Essex still has “six or seven” of Kapoor’s works in its collection, which federal investigators have told the museum do not appear to have been improperly acquired.

“I applaud the Peabody Essex Museum’s decision to assist HSI with our investigation by returning this precious artwork,” said Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York, in a statement. “I hope their example sets the standard for other institutions that may have inadvertently purchased or received stolen artifacts.”
“Maharaja Serfoji II of Tanjavur and his son Shivaji II,” an Indian painting from the mid-19th century in the Peabody Essex Museum collection.
“Maharaja Serfoji II of Tanjavur and his son Shivaji II,” an Indian painting from the mid-19th century in the Peabody Essex Museum collection.

Monroe said the museum purchased the Tanjore portrait through Kapoor’s Manhattan gallery for $35,000.

But with some of the antiquities involved in this investigation, Martinez said, the value is hard to judge. “For the people affected, it’s a national treasure. Some were religious relics that were looted,” he said. “For them, it’s priceless.”

Malcolm Gay can be reached at
By Malcolm Gay Globe Staff