Art rewind 2017: When art broke free of gallery walls and went public
This year, art was not confined to stuffy galleries, and instead took a life of its own. It was made accessible thanks to public art installations and various such projects across the country.
Art has traditionally been used as a medium of expression but conversations have often been restricted within the four walls of a gallery, catering only to a niche audience. In 2017, however, public art took on a life of its own -- breaking down walls of confined spaces and spilling out to the streets, making the art experience accessible to all.
So the 142-year-old Sassoon Docks, housing one of Mumbai’s oldest fish markets, became a vibrant canvas, and an old barge in Goa was transformed into an art space during the 2nd Serendipity Arts festival. Earlier this month, designer and artist Manish Arora embellished Mumbai’s Jindal mansion with yards of cloth, hand embroidered and printed, as a symbol of love and peace. Walls in public spaces became canvases for those looking to expand their creative spaces, whether at the ghats in Pushkar or a Delhi Metro station wall.
“It is a wonderful message in today’s times of conflict and uncertainty, and public art can do this beautifully and meaningfully,” said Gaurav Bhatia, managing director, Sotheby’s India. The increase in the number of public art events in the past year explains why the need for such installations goes beyond merely beautifying the spaces they occupy. St+art India’s initiative at the docks, for instance, was aimed at reviving Mumbaikars’ interest in a forgotten part of their city, with graffiti and shows telling stories of communities like the Kolis, the Banjaras and the Hindu Marathas.
In April, the non-profit organisation tied up with Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to give the Arjangarh Metro station an artistic makeover with illustrations of indigenous birds and animals found in the country. Stations on the newly launched Magenta line are also being painted in themes representative of their surroundings. Similarly, Orijit Sen’s installation maps Goa’s Mapusa Market, while touching on issues like GST and demonetisation.
According to Tushar Sethi, director of Astaguru, an auction house, art has the capability of triggering revolutions with an impact. The power of art in the public realm lies in its inevitability, the fact that it can’t be missed by anybody in its vicinity. “It can portray a powerful and moving statement to a diverse audience in an instant...,” says Sethi.
Arvind Vijaymohan, chief executive of Artery India, an Indian art market intelligence and advisory firm, adds that public art’s growing visibility and presence is a development that was “highly overdue”. “It is a strong tool in sensitising the public at large to the importance of art in everyday life, and very crucially improves the visual landscape of our urban spaces,” he says. The recently opened sculpture park in Jaipur’s Nahargarh fort is one such example of a tourist spot evolving into an international art space.
“It shares and celebrates diverse international creative expressions and is a wonderful tourist attraction – a fine example of how state governments can patronise contemporary art,” Bhatia says. A strong focus on cultural value marks the resurgence of the Indian art market in the past year. This is likely to continue in the years to come, he adds. The other trend in the country’s art scene in 2017 was the shift in collectors’ interests from the big five -- V S Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, M F Husain, S H Raza and F N Souza.
It’s not that the legends are fading, it is that artists like Bhupen Khakhar and Arpita Singh are also making waves. Bhatia notes that 2017 saw international institutions wake up to the exciting Indian art scene and the inclusion of Indian modern and contemporary artists. From Khakhar at Tate and Nasreen Mohamedi at Met Breur to a retrospective of Nalini Malani at the Center Pompidou, the year was clearly a success. The leading records set in 2017 include works by Bhupen Khakhar (Rs 9.41 crore), Manjit Bawa (Rs 5.05 crore), Jogen Chowdhury (Rs 3.19 crore) and Ganesh Pyne (Rs. 2.83 crore).
But Sethi refuses to equate this shift with a “metamorphosis”. “Only 30 odd artists from the modern segment are still being constantly pursued,” he says. While there is optimism about the overall Indian market, the digital art sector is yet to make a mark. There is rising interest in new media practices and experimentation aplenty, but digital art still has a long way to go before it gets mainstream, feels Vijaymohan. “Digital art will remain relatively niche. In the Indian context, this is even more sharply evident as ours is still at a comparatively early milestone,” he says.
The lack of awareness and exposure in the Indian art market space and amongst the audience is also to blame for the inconsequential growth of digital art, says Sethi. “The transaction of this segment is less than 2 per cent in the grand scheme of things and therefore digital art still has a long way to go before it is considered a significant segment of the Indian art market space,” he says.
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