Art is intimidating.
A scheduled visit to the Art Fair is preceded by many frantic hours of googling names of artists you’ve never heard and straining to understand the difference between visual and light installations. You take a cab instead of the metro to give yourself a few more minutes to cram some names. But web browsers don’t teach how to pronounce Guillot or Vregille, so panic grips again.
But five minutes on the blue carpet and you realise the mistake was elsewhere: The sparse art knowledge could have been covered with the right sartorial choices. You’re a crumpled mass of yellow kurta in a sea of black and beige, ornate prints and floral dresses.
Hesitant steps take you to a nearby stall: It’s Dali – ah that name came up on the pre-fair research. You heave a sigh of relief.
But wait, there’s no Dali nearby, it’s other artists who have taken inspiration from him, artists whose name you can’t twist your tongue around. Who’s Cha Jong Rye and whoever has heard of rice paper sculpture? I turn away from a painting-sculpture a little too early and catch the booth manager smiling at me sympathically.
By now, a crowd of mostly media unfortunates like me has beginning to build at outside the entry to the VIP lounge where alcohol is in free flow. A friend catches me hovering near the waiters serving wine – the glasses flying off the plate far quicker than any art sale – and teaches me the right amount of time to spend looking at an artwork. There is a way to stand, look at the information plaque without giving it away and nod after an appropriate amount of seconds.
Three stalls down, I am feeling pretty confident. I have mastered the head tilt and nod, even practiced on some hapless Bangladeshis foisted to fulfil the fair’s south Asian theme. I don’t flinch when art novices like me use Anila Quayyum Agha’s intricate light installation as a profile photo background.
The high point follows. You’re looking at ornate folk paintings at a booth when a high-society scion walks in. She’s followed by a photographer and tail of people – she appears to be one of those young collectors everyone’s talking about. She takes off her tan gloves and asks, “kya hai yeh?”. The artist respectfully describes her work. “Is it for sale?” – she walks off in a huff after learning it’s not.
Firm in the knowledge now that there are more people like you – even though they don’t look like you – I walk towards the only installation I am excited about. This is a project around crumbling buildings in Calcutta, where you’ve crushed and been crushed, and you’ve even learnt what maquettes mean.
But the rekindling of love with Calcutta isn’t to be. The installation turns to be a set of stones in the middle of an isle, fixed on grilled boxes. I stand staring at the rocks and forget the art etiquette. I turn away too soon, only to realise the person next to me has let out a gasp of joy at the installation and is now rapturously talking about how touching the project is. I walk away in shame but not before catching a glimpse of her coat.
Art is intimidating, more so when wrapped in a Rajesh Pratap Singh.
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