Harmut Wurster is delighted, surprised and regrets that he could keep more works of art on hold. On the evening of Day 2 at India Art Fair, its contemporary platform ZOCA booth was sold out. The exhibition consisted of a series of 100 paintings on the theme Oriental Garden about the juxtaposition of past and present stories using miniature school elements by Ahmedabad-based artist Jignesh Panchal. Plus, five works inspired by temple architecture by paper magician Kulu Ojha of Odisha. The highest price of an artwork sold at its stall came in at just over Rs 21 lakh.
“It’s overwhelming but I have no more works to sell now,” laughs the gallerist, wondering how to bide his time for the next two days of the fair at NSIC Grounds, Okhla, ending on Sunday May 1. “We are even considering getting more artwork from Ahmedabad, but I realized it was too much of a hassle, especially since it’s so hot right now, we’re melting.”
ZOCA has always had good sales at previous editions of the art fair, says Wurster, but has never been sold out and that quickly. “I think the appealing aesthetic of color, imagery and intimate spaces of the two artists really played on people’s minds. It’s really important what you snag at a fair of this scale.” The artistic promoter says he always selects artists who are rooted in their culture but who have a contemporary and global language. “So the art can be exhibited in New York or New Delhi, but it has to be discernible where the artist is from.”
Other participants in the 2022 edition are also showing excellent sales, and as in the case of ZOCA, better than the pre-pandemic editions. The four-day event, which hosts 79 exhibitors, including 65 galleries and 14 institutional participants, is seen as a litmus test of India’s post-pandemic art market as gallerists and their artists have faced severe challenges over the past two years due to lack of funds, labor, physical display and customer interactions, as well as personal health, safety and trauma from the loss of loved ones to Covid. Against major backlash, such as a reduction in international galleries largely due to increased travel and shipping costs due to burdensome Covid protocols, exhibitors are pleasantly surprised by the rocking sales and are relieved to have taken the risk of spitting an expense to occupy the space of the stand.
“We almost sold everything! responds Director Sunitha Kumar Emmar of Gallery Skye. The works sold include one of the fair’s highlights, Hyderabad-based Faiza Hasan’s charcoal explorations of her family’s history. There’s Mumbai artist Sunil Padwal’s 50-frame wall installation titled If absence could speak which contain objects found from his growing years; a bouquet of ceramic garlands by Dutch-Indian artist Rajyashri Goody whose works express Dalit resistance; Abir Karmakar’s Covid-era Humanless Landscape titled Twin tanks; and some images of Somnath Bhatt’s 10 new artworks in gouache on Kozo handmade Japanese paper series.
Gallery owner Sunaina Anand from the 17-artist Art Alive Gallery group exhibition titled Transmutation, sold a Thota Vaikumtan for Rs 30 lakh; and a post Covid comment by Vipul Badva titled Interconnected Lives sold for Rs 1.5 lakh. Few pieces of an entire display were sold from the Sakti Burma series each priced at Rs 2.5 lakh; black and white photographs by photographer Rohit Chawla for Rs 2.5 lakh each and architectural murals by Anil Thambai in graphite on multicolored hemp for Rs 75,000 each. IAF fledgling artist Meghna Singh Patpatia, who creates using a fascinating range of materials – gold, rice paper, canvas and ink – has sold a few and has a good chance her glass installations will sell out for Rs 1.75 lakh.
Anand says shopping habits were quite interesting this year. “What’s different this time around is the interest of collectors in young contemporary artists, their variety of mediums and themes, and the idea of collecting them young, which is quite exciting. Yesterday (day 1), most visitors came to look at most of these senior artists, and during this viewing, they spotted works by younger artists, so they bought works by senior artists yesterday, but came back today to see young contemporaries again. When you see something new, unexpected, you need time to process and understand it. So it usually takes a little longer to collect the works of young artists, but this time it’s working better than before. Anand thinks the pandemic had a part to play in this shift in buying attitude. “After the pandemic, people’s outlook on life has changed. They want to do things right away, and this has even been reflected in their method of collecting art. The audience for art has grown.”
Mandira Lamba of Blueprint12 Gallery, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, agrees with the refreshing and changing buyer response. out of the 10 artists. Nepalese artist Youdhisthir Maharjan’s delicate images engraved on used books, Meghna Gavireddygari’s four politically nuanced works, Vipeksha Gupta’s charcoal and graphite works on paper from his FOLD series, and large-scale works by the Sri Lankan artist Kingsley Gunatillake have all been purchased. . “The highlight of this year is the revenge with which high-level dynamic young people (HNI) have visited and really supported the artists. They are very experimental, have done their research but have no preconceived ideas about the way a work of art should be.” This mindset has helped forge sales for the Integrated Arts Forum, which Blueprint 12 runs in conjunction with Exhibit 320, and which has seen sales for its collection of tribal artwork and textile traditions. “We had no expectations from this stand as if we had foreign collectors who are usually drawn to traditional works for their exotic aura, but again the young Indian collectors surprised us.” His personal highlight is the sale of two large-scale Warli artworks by Sada Shiv and Balu Mashe, sons of the late National Award-winning artist, Jiyve Some Mashe.
In previous editions, Ankon Mitra, known for his large-scale origami works, presented two to three works and usually had a 4-day sale. This time he has a unique artist booth for Art Positive, and at day 2, has already sold two works, and reserved two of the seven works exhibited in goatskin, Kasavu sari, terracotta and other materials. A work of two flying birds depicting the Greek legend of Icarus and Daedelus has sold for Rs 4.5 lakh, while a walk-in mirror room installation priced at Rs 18 lakh is in store. “During the pandemic, people had time to build or finish their farms because their businesses had stopped and they were at home. They finished those projects and now want to populate those spaces with works of art. Most of those who have purchased and reserved my works belong to this group,” observes Mitra.
Mumbai-based Rukshaan Krishna of the eponymous arts initiative, a beacon for Baroda-based mid-career artists, was one of the last exhibitors to leave the stands last night. She was busy uninstalling sold works of art and replacing them with new works. Aisa says she has demolished the gallery’s usual one-artist stand format to accommodate two artists – Sanjay Barot and Ajay – long associated with the gallery, and does not regret it. Two of Barot’s three artworks – each in their signature style frame bearing 75 portrait medallions – and three of Ajay Dhapa’s works sold for between Rs 4.5 lakh and Rs 12 lakh. “A few days ago, work on the structure of the art fair was halted due to a dust storm. Everyone at this art fair has faced challenges this year, but the truth and beauty are never hidden for long, and good artists will do well.”
One of the reasons sales have soared this year is that the Covid interlude has given galleries enough time to plan their IAF editions in advance, Anand believes. Throughout the past year, she and her artists have been going back and forth to prepare quality works to be exhibited during the 2022 edition. Over the past two years spent at home without pressure to organize a exhibition after exhibition, artists and gallery owners have had enough time to “evaluate their work and declutter their minds”, which is why “the quality of the art has really improved”. “Even as gallery owners, our programming has become more structured, planned and focused. Before, we didn’t know how to say no. As gallery owners and artists, we used to take on projects that we didn’t want, but we were pushed or persuaded to do it, and found ourselves caught up in back-to-back work with no time to stop. Now we have learned to say no.