Much of the response to The Indian Art Summit has been programmatic and boosterish. That may have been the real story of the recessionary fair. Or something more textured and realistic might have taken place. Zehra Jumabhoy tells it like it is in ArtForum’s Scene & Herd column:
Last year, Mumbai’s big-wig dealers largely boycotted the fair, opting instead to “wait and watch,” but this round they turned up en masse, putting their best (if more casually shod) feet forward. Sakshi Gallery showed off a glittering El Anatsui installation featuring bottle-caps woven to resemble silk. Sharmistha Ray of Bodhi Art sat determinedly next to Hujoom, Gargi Raina’s wooden sculpture of a decapitated horse, and staved off rumors of closure. International galleries making forays into the Indian art market were out in full force, too. London’s Lisson Gallery arrived with two metal discs by Anish Kapoor: One ice blue, the other fire-engine red, they resembled giant sequins.
Not everyone was bubbling with good humor (or sparkling wine). “It’s a bad year,” grumbled one disgruntled dealer. “People are just putting a good face on things.” Others were disappointed with Sinha’s section, which they argued, privileged trendiness over artistic merit. Subodh Gupta’s comment on war, Gandhi’s Three Monkeys made up of three massive heads—one of a soldier, another of a burka-draped person, and the third of a man in a gas mask—built from the artist’s signature pots and pans, was probably not selected for its subtlety. And Sinha’s much-anticipated video lounge consisted mostly of shorts by artists better known (quite justifiably, it turned out) for their work in other media.
Notwithstanding mutterings of “Let’s see whether our new collectors pay up,” the fair was largely deemed a success. By the end, Sunil Gautam of Hanmer MS&L guessed that nearly forty thousand people had walked through. Were they buying? At the very least, we know the two Kapoors were snapped up. “Expectations were surpassed,” reiterated Mortimer Chatterjee, co-owner of Chatterjee & Lal. Most of the fifty-four galleries jubilantly professed to having largely sold out their booths. Gautam himself could be spotted ecstatically shaking hands and promising an “even better” fair next year. The Summit might have been cautious in its scaling of artistic heights, but it provided a much-needed boost to the Indian art scene in recessionary times. “The tide is turning,” yelled New York dealer Thomas Erben as he whizzed off to a celebratory dinner.
Chit Chaat (Scene&Herd/ArtForum)