India Art Fair 2019: Director Jagdip Jagpal on new trends, simple communication in art and why art is more than just a social event
The India Art Fair, 2019 begins tomorrow and this magnanimous platform is back with new voices, versatile mediums and compelling narratives. One of the most engaging platforms to discover modern and contemporary art from South Asia, it will showcase 75 exhibitors from 24 Indian and international cities.
If we speak of art in general, it has mostly been understood as the realm of the elite and the assumptions around it has always been a subject of discussion. We have always encountered a plethora of inquisitiveness around the subject, identity and the intention of art. Who is it for? What is the message? What does it truly depict? Is it hype or an archive of unseen realities? Random musings for the privileged or the voices from unheard corners? The questions wander in many directions and the responses are mostly vague. The art world needs to communicate in a more simplistic manner and director Jagdip Jagpal couldn’t agree more.
Jagpal, who has over 30 years of involved experience in several creative industries including arts and culture, publishing and media, luxury and fashion, is a master of South Asian art, heritage and design. A former trustee of the Wallace Collection and Almeida Theatre in London, and an advisor to the New Art Exchange, Nottingham, her previous work was around managing international partnerships and programmes at Tate.
As the conversation begins, the vibrant restlessness, the holdall of ideas she carries takes centre stage. Jagpal lights up on the thought of making art a simpler domain for more conversations and interest from diverse mediums and communities. She says, “Something that we started last year was to make sure that we show the best of the South-Asian art. It is important to have the best galleries who are representing good work and giving opportunities to new artists. There are many artists who have shared their work on digital media and we are looking at supporting them to showcase their work. We will always be committed to 70% full space for Indian galleries. It will be fantastic to represent everything but, you have to come to a point when the space is limited and it is important to kind of reflect on the models more for extending opportunities.”
“We are encouraging galleries to atleast bring one new artist who hasn’t shown before at the fair. The business is difficult. Also, without the artist, without the gallery, there is no art fair. We are not a biennale, we are a fair. We got this massive platform where people participate from around the world. People want to be in the same room as an artist and they want to hear them speak as to what the artist wants to say. If they don’t want to say, it is upto them. We are also introducing things like a book shop for art lovers. You can’t afford to buy art but you can afford to buy a book. We have also introduced a couple of book signings and we hope that visitors will enjoy that along with the artists. It’s a great means of communication. People always say that there is international art and then there is Indian contemporary art. But, we are international art so we have in the same space, these remarkable international artists with Indian artists. We work as a team and everybody’s opinion matters”, she adds.
On addressing the prominent trends emerging in the Indian art domain currently, she says, “People are reflecting upon textiles and weaving, even though they are not using it as a material necessarily. If you look at Delhi based artist Tanya Goel’s work, the techniques and pigment creation is fascinating. There is a lot of interest in photography as well. We are capturing the best of that so that people can see the art element to it. We want people to know about things that are happening outside of Delhi and Mumbai. It’s nice to just see paintings again. There is a lot of multimedia and sculptural work as well. So many artists are painting now. There are different mediums around like knitting. You hear something about the medium and you wonder but when you experience it, it’s very different. You don’t have to read a three page curatorial note to make you want to go see a piece.”
“The trend in international museums is to make the language more accessible in describing the artwork, give people basic facts. When you got a limited number of words to put up and it should be simple and accessible. You should write for varied audiences. If you are using technical jargon, even the jargon means different things to different people. There has to be a common language. We are also introducing a magazine with a simple, accessible, introductory tone. If you want people to learn, it’s upto you to communicate clearly with the masses. We have talked about new artists and not the same line-up to give voice to the emerging artists. We also have a parallel programme and when we hear about something interesting, we start listing it for the upcoming programmes”, she adds.
The divide seen in the art industry is facing challenges and now it looks like that the space of art is opening for one and all. Even for a commoner, who hasn’t had an interactive experience with art, they don’t really feel that they are not a part of it. They feel welcome now and the interest is pacing up. It’s open for all as a creative medium to interact, explore and participate. She says,“ It is intimidating. We are encouraging curatorial talks. What we have done is that majority of the talks are not in technical language. Artists speak like the rest of us. The thing is that if you go to an environment where people are talking on technical lines, it appears as if the art sector just talks to itself and worries why they can’t get more people interested in art. We are working on the inclusive aspect with workshops, talks and interactive spaces with audiences from different backgrounds. We have commissioned 5 tactile works for the fair so that the Indian audiences engage and appreciate it. We’ve have Sajan Mani and Yasmin Jahan Nupur as we are looking extensively at performance art this year. We have commissioned five tactile works for the fair this year, including a tactile version of the David Hockney’s 1995 BMW Art car.”
Sharing her insights on the Indian art industry as a consolidated space and the serious divisions in terms of creativity, superiority, concept and voice, says Jagpal, “There has always been this slight friction when we talk about open houses. Currently, everybody seems to be working together as it’s in everybody’s best interest to not have the sector dominated by one particular group. We are building the primary market for contemporary art and not just for us and the galleries. When we do that, eventually, the auction houses also benefit from that in some shape or form. This time, we are collaborating with institutions, open houses and galleries. Through that commercial vehicle, we are able to really support artists and new ideas and in the end, it pays back as it increases engagement at every level. For instance, we are encouraging people to go to Kochi Biennale as well and quite a lot of international groups are interested in the same. We don’t say that come to India Art Fair and don’t go to Kochi.”
A layman’s understanding of creative people is that they are more open and accepting. The new collectors and galleries are definitely trying to enthuse a new voice and swift success. The process of reaching the standards set by the stalwarts and experts in the industry is not difficult but it has to be done understanding the process and focusing on the nuanced aspects of escalation in this domain.
Says Jagpal, “When people see what is achievable, they also understand the standards that have been set. It takes a lot to put something together and you need experts from the very beginning to make it a success. You need to get your governance right. The earlier generations have set the tone as to how it’s done. If you want to learn and create something, you have to do it in a collective manner.
In this day and age of social media, making appearances at popular events and ticking off the to-do list pressures of participation to reflect social and cultural growth is enormous. It raises another question. Have we forgotten the sense of respect towards such initiatives and movements?
Says Jagpal, “Art is more than just a social event and it should be respected like that in any form of representation. You are taking a space that somebody else could have got who was really interested and involved. That interactive space must be valued otherwise, it ruins the experience for others.”
Buying art on the spot remains an innocent yet powerful question, the India Art Fair has ‘A New Collector’s Guide to Buying Your First Piece’ that talks about essential tips for buying your first artwork, budget, collection type and how big a work should be.
As we are looking forward to this year’s India Art Fair, we hope that new trends reflect and many more creative voices get space to interact and express their vision. Let’s dream big!
The author tweets at @jha_srishti and can be reached at email@example.com