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A celebration of contemporary Indian art and its rising global stature.
If a fair is expected to bring together eminent personalities and experts in a meaningful interaction with the masses, this is exactly what Art Expo India 2009 in Mumbai (Nehru Centre, Mumbai, September 25- 27) achieved. Prominent artists, famous gallerists, high profile buyers, renowned art experts, top curators and eager investors joined in a jovial celebration of contemporary Indian art and its rising global stature.

Considered among the major events on the country’s art calendar, the second edition of AEI served as the most comprehensive congregation of art collectors, museum directors, critics, art historians, art fund managers and corporate decision makers from across the globe. The fair, a showcase of the very best in Modern & Contemporary art, acted as a flash point, to ignite interest in contemporary Indian art. Stung by global recession and economic crisis, AEI could not have come at a better time, playing the role of a catalyst to revive the art scene.

The central theme was emerging contemporary Indian art and the relationship it shares with the international art scene. There’s no doubt about the fact that India’s art scene has acquired center stage globally. Though Indian art has been in existence for centuries, its impact on the larger international canvas has been rather limited. However, things are now fast changing as witnessed at the expo that was a vibrant reflection of the country’s myriad art trends, encompassing sociopolitical, religious and historical developments.

Some of India’s biggest and best-known galleries featured at the expo. These included Apparao Galleries, Chennai; ICIA, Sakshi, Gallery BMB, Gallery Beyond, The Arts Trust, Art Musings, Priyasri Art Gallery, Pink Ginger Arts (all Mumbai); Latitude 28, Marigold Fine Art, Ashok Art Gallery, Ojas Art, Indian Art Ideas, Gurgaon Art Centre, Dhoomimal Gallery, Bajaj Capital Art House, Progressive Art Gallery, Art Inc., Wonderwall (all New Delhi); Ishka, Cochin; Sara Arakkal, Bangalore; and Kalakriti, Hyderabad. Among the international galleries were Jolrong.com (Singapore/Bangladesh); Galerie ArtSeefeld, Switzerland; Gallery Archana, Malaysia, and 1x1 Art Gallery, Dubai.

Renowned curator-collector Mrs. Kay Saatchi inaugurated the event. The keynote address delivered by her dwelt upon the theme of spotting young talent and building up an art collection. In fact, a major highlight of the event was a series of freewheeling conversations with some of the luminaries of the international art world, comprising Mallika Sagar Advani, Anjolie Ela Menon. Dr. Alka Pande, Jitish Kallat, Ranjit Hoskote, Bose Krishnamachari, Shantanu Poredi, Brian Brown, Sharan Apparao, Menaka Kumari-Shah, Abhay Sardesai and Kirsty Ogg. Themes like buying art in recessionary times; ‘Art in Life: the ‘Daily Pleasure of Collecting’; ‘The aesthetics of the erotic’; (X)topia: A Search for Place, A Place for Search’; Everything is Art; and ‘Indian Art in an International Perspective’ were debated, evoking spontaneous responses and a round of rapid fire questions from the engrossed audience.

Mention also must be made of a mini-retrospective at AEI, which was arranged as a small tribute to S. H. Raza and his dedication to art. The legendary artist has remarked: “I have lived fully, and (always) worked with passion and intensity both as a painter and thinker. It needed 30 years for me to master the art of painting before I arrived at a personal style.” The show encapsulated the spirit of his art practice.

The event spread over three day brought immense sense of satisfaction and achievement to its organizer Vickram Sethi, who has been involved in art for close to two decades and has witnessed the dramatic evolution of Indian art scene. The Arts Trust was set up by him in 1990 with a long-term vision of promoting Indian contemporary art, which was just gaining in prominence at that time. The Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA) was a logical extension of his vision of becoming the best source for quality work by both the distinguished and emerging Indian artists.

Having had his own art gallery, he had valuable first-hand experience of the difference between the art markets in India and outside. He realized that the three challenges to the Indian art market were an unorganized art market, limited collectors and buyers and international exposure, interlinking and affecting each other. He felt the need for a consolidated resource within India for its art scene hence he launched the Art Expo last year.

Harping on the bright future of Indian art and artists as reflected at AEI, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan of The National, a leading UAE based publication, wrote: “Walking through the expo, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a global economic crisis. If anything, the canvases were larger and more obviously bright than in previous years, the sculptures and installation pieces held pride of place, and the new generation was holding down the fort.”

Echoing the sentiments, Mr. Sethi expressed confidence about the bright prospects and potential of contemporary Indian art. He added, “The Indian market is in a very nascent stage compared to the international art markets. However, it’s only a matter of time before it grows at a rapid pace.” Art Expo India 2009 was a significant step forward in this highly fulfilling, rewarding and enriching journey, searching for new, meaningful expression of creativity.