India's first biennale opens to technical glitches, rave reviews

With technical glitches and management issues, India's first-ever biennale, which opened in Kochi on Thursday, proved to be disappointing for artists, art collectors, gallerists, art lovers and writers from across the country and the world.

About 30% of the 80-odd works that were scheduled for display across the art fair's 13 venues are either not complete, not installed - or not in the city yet. These include the much-anticipated installation by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. Mixed-media artists also faced problems with basic infrastructure such as projectors.

"I don't think the venue even had power supply when I reached there," said Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam, speaking of Durbar Hall, where his video-work on the extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh was to be installed. "The organisers have said they will give me another space to display my works, but I'm only here for four days, so I hope it happens before then."

However, the 70% art works that have been put up got positive reviews.

"I am very happy that India has finally managed to host a biennale. It is a grand Indian art wedding," said gallerist Shireen Gandhy of Mumbai's Chemould Prescott Road art gallery. "The only problem is the scale on which it has been organised. The organisers would probably have been able to manage better if they had invited fewer artists."

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which will remain open till March 13, was conceptualised by artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu. "Some works have not been displayed owing to issues such as limited funds, Customs clearance and some artists' insistence on getting to the venue on the last day," said Krishnamachari, curator of the biennale. "We are happy that people are appreciating the works on displayed. The biennale is also helping promote cultural tourism in Kochi."

Parisian art writer and curator Fabrice Bousteau said: "I really, really love the works and how they blend with the architecture and history of Kochi. The artist-managed biennale has integrated local history and community with art and engaged people from all walks of life."


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