‘Global Interest in Indian Art Thrives on the Innovativeness of Indian Artists’

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Girish Shahane | 46 | Artistic director
Girish Shahane | 46 | Artistic director, Photo: Vijay Pandey

Edited Excerpts from an interview 

You are the first artistic director of India Art Fair. What was the brief that you were working with?
There is a section of the fair called the special projects, which are artworks of high quality that are difficult to sell, due to their complexity and size and would therefore, find no place in an art fair, normally. This section has always existed, but didn’t have anybody with an expertise in contemporary art to steer it. I took over that section, and also the programming of the conference, called the Speakers’ Forum.

How did you go about selecting works for the Artistic Projects section? What were the challenges?
In some cases, I approached artists directly for work I thought was interesting. The fair also sends out special project application forms to all participating galleries, and I screened those.

What was the idea behind integrating the Speaker’s Forum and Artistic Projects?
The conference had always been a very good one, with a high quality of speakers, but it could effectively have been located anywhere, because it had no connection with what was happening at the fair. The idea behind having artists’ panels composed of those who were creating special projects was two-fold. First, artists’ talks are usually very accessible, which any art fair should aim to be. Secondly, the connection will hopefully encourage people to look at the projects more closely, and perhaps visit a second time to hear the people behind the art explain their process.

Do you think a curatorial approach is more conducive to art fairs instead of thematic displays and why?
A thematic display will not work at the India Art Fair because the projects are interspersed between gallery booths, that form the bulk of the fair, and show disparate works. I focused on specific locations in the exterior and tried to dynamise each of those spaces.

What are the projects that you are excited about at the India Art Fair?
I’m particularly excited about the outdoor projects and those that have an element of performance.

Is there a market for art in India? How has it changed over the years?
There is a market for art in every country in the world. The Indian market has grown, but only in the modern and contemporary areas. We ought to open up the antiquities trade as well.

Who are the people buying art in India? Has their profile changed over the years?
In the course of the boom, art was sold as a substitute for money or stocks, and attracted a lot of investors who weren’t really collectors in the sense that they didn’t engage deeply with the work.

How are the dynamics of art fairs changing globally?
There is a proliferation of fairs globally, which is making important art galleries much more selective about which ones they show at.

What do you think global interest in Indian art thrives on?
The innovativeness of Indian artists and the importance of India in the global economy and in geopolitics.

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