With 600 artistes – 497 upcoming and the rest established – the United Art Fair (UAF) may not be about the numbers game. The India Art Fair (formerly India Art Summit), scheduled for February 2013, is already boasting of 1000 artists appearing through 100 galleries. Instead, what makes UAF notable is the artist-led model, keeping the middlemen – galleries and dealers – out of the equation.
“When galleries join a fair, they pay a hefty amount as rent. To recover that, they only display the most bankable artists and have to bump up prices. Upcoming artists rarely get featured in such a setting,” says a central Delhi-based gallerist who requested anonymity.
It could because of this that established artists are supportive of initiatives like the UAF. Padma Bhushan awardee and veteran visual artist A Ramachandran says, “Any activity that promotes young Indian contemporary artists is good. What is really required is educating the Indian public about why it’s important to buy original art. There is a different pleasure around having an original piece of art in your home.” He adds that a work of art changes for you as you interact with it every day.
Some others are not so enthused. Eminent artist Krishen Khanna says, I for one am not one to have art presented in a bazaar. Besides, with so many artists, how does one get promoted?”
Another point of contention is UAF’s rather unorthodox model While sales will attract a 35% commission, which is standard practise, what is unprecedented is that the organisers will keep one artwork selected by the artist.
Johny ML, director, UAF, say, “Giving us an artwork is a gesture of grace, reciprocating our efforts. The artworks will be part of the UAF collection and will be taken around the country for smaller events which will keep the brand alive.”
Commenting on this model, Mukesh Panika, former founder director of Religare Arts Initiative, says, “Sure, the model is unorthodox but it is also about investing in the artists. Finally, it’s between the artists and the organisers – if they are fine with the arrangement, it works.”
However, says Panika, the real challenge is to build the fair’s credibility and to sustain it till it becomes a significant occurrence on the art calendar.
Experts say that fairs like these can be good opportunities for collectors to buy art at relatively affordable prices (though all price ranges exist), as has been seen in artist-led fairs across the world – such as Indonesia’s Art Jog; the UK’s New Artist Fair, The Other Art Fair, and Urban Art; and Dubai’s SIKKA.
Apart from the 600 artists, the UAF will also showcase sculptures, videos, a master’s corner (with works of greats like Tyeb Mehta).