‘The United Art Fair is the middleman now’

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For the artists, by the artists Nagy, Menezes, Pande, Kaul and Rahman. Photo: Ankit Agrawal
For the artists, by the artists Nagy, Menezes, Pande, Kaul and Rahman Photo: Ankit Agrawal

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

Historically, galleries have eased the pressure of market demands on artists. What will this ‘direct interaction’ achieve? Also, the power of selecting artists rests in the hands of curators, some of whom own galleries or are affiliated with them. Does this mean that the underpinning philosophy of the UAF  has changed?

Peter Nagy I am the only one who owns a gallery (Nature Morte). The rest of the team is not “affiliated” with any gallery. Our aim was not to remove the “middleman”, because the UAF is itself the middleman now. But we have nothing to do with the sales and are also exempt from giving works to buyers, shipment of works or dealing with clients. We have stepped in to correct one of Annurag’s conditions, “that the works be priced at artist’s studio rates”, which are considerably less. Since the UAF and its organisers are now functioning as a gallery, they’ll get a percentage of the sales. The works have to be priced up, so the organisers’ cut can be factored in. The artists are also paying by giving the organisers one or two of their works.

Then how is it different from the India Art Fair?

PN The process is more democratic because the gallery does not decide from its list of regulars. At the India Art Fair, the gallery signs up, pays for a booth and showcases artists who are part of their ‘regular stock’. After a while, the fairs become star-driven, commercial and predictable. When I visit fairs like Art Basel, Art Hong Kong and Frieze, I see the gallery name on the booth and I can almost predict the names of the artists. It’s boring!

Alka Pande Besides, the India Art Fair is not a curated show. Yes, there are curated booths, but the entire fair does not have a prevailing aesthetic. The UAF will have a strong curatorial content with each of the portions relating to one another.

Meera Menezes At the art fair, most galleries will not showcase artists who won’t sell. We will be mostly showcasing emerging artists, who are not in exclusive contracts with galleries.

Can the Capital take another art fair in the middle of a massive economic slowdown?

AP The curatorial team believes that in a country of 1.2 billion, we can surely support more than one fair. It is an affordable art fair.

How do you discover new talent?

PN I came up with a list of 30 artists whose works I admired but simply did not have the time in my gallery’s schedule to exhibit.

AP I delved into my database of artists working in various crossover genres. For instance, Mattancherry artist Suresh K Nayar’s works are mostly undisclosed. Manisha Jha is an architect who works in the Madhubani style, but her art is completely different. I will also be showing Rajendra Behera, who does Oriya patas on silk. Their work brings a new vocabulary to traditional art.

MM I have mostly considered emerging artists who I have not managed to include in my curatorial concepts, along with senior artists like Kausik Mukhopadhyay, a Mumbai-based artist who has not got enough exposure.

Ram Rahman I have made exciting discoveries about the work of some historically important photographers. For instance, Ram Dhamija’s photographs of the 1950s and ’60s. JH Thakker’s classic movie star portraits, OP Sharma from Triveni Kala Sangam, who’s done portraits. None of them have sold work in the commercial art market or shown their works at public fora. I have persuaded them to do special editions and this will be a mini photographic section.

There is also Selva Prakash, a young photographer who does street portraits. I’ve also picked Manu Parekh, who has been practising photography secretly. I chanced upon it 10 years ago. Personally, I like his photography much better than his painting. I have also persuaded architect Romi Khosla to show his work from conflict zones in Palestine and Bosnia.

Heidi Fichtner A number of artists came to mind, who haven’t been shown much in the primary urban art centres or who are yet to enter the gallery system. This would include artists like Kumaresan Selvaraj from Chennai and Parag Sonarghare from Delhi. I was also really keen to bring creative practitioners who are working in fields other than contemporary fine art, or whose practices, I feel, should be considered within the realm of fine art; take for instance ceramicists Ashwini Bhat and Shirley Bhatnagar, or the sound artist Hemant Sreekumar.

Mayank Mansingh Kaul I come with an art history background and have been working in the fields of fashion, photography and product design. So, the artists I will be showcasing are from those walks of life. I find that I am fascinated by work that observes Indian men through their sense of fashion or popular culture. Photographer Aparna Jayakumar will be showcasing Flex Firoz on muscular Parsi men contrasted with the Babumoshai of Kolkata’s streets. Ryan Lobo will display from his series War and Forgiveness.

Has the committee come up with alternative modules for sustaining the UAF?

PN There is a plan to take some of these works to different parts of the country, to do smaller exhibitions and sell the works. We will just have to wait and see where it goes.

RR A rotating curatorial team is an experiment we’re trying.

What are the other highlights?

PN There will be surprises. I’m excited about the layout. Instead of having booths like little shops, it will have an organic, fluid structure, more like a museum space. We hope people get lost and discover little nooks and crannies.

Most auctions indicate a further correction in the art market. How does this impact the UAF?

MMK I have lots of friends who want to buy art, but it’s difficult for them to find their way around. Since my main engagement is design, it is very exciting for me to know that there is a segment of buyers in their 20s and 30s, who are well-travelled and have an interest in art.

AP India has about 100 art collectors, who are serious about buying art. I am constantly asked for advice from people who want to buy art but don’t want to buy the masters, especially after the first market collapse in 2008. Now we are looking at affordable art, nothing that is priced at Rs 20 lakh and above.

RR Part of the fair’s marketing mechanism is to sell one large part of the collection to corporate clients. We hope that this will continue to sustain the UAF.

UAF will be on at ITPO, Pragati Maidan, Delhi, from 14 to 17 September

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