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Taking the intimidating art gallery trope out, and pairing art with good food, music and innovative additions, the seventh edition of the India Art Fair plans to bolster both engagement and investment. This year, the fair boasts a line-up of 90 booths, 45 illustrious speakers and hopes to garner an audience upwards of last year’s impressive 90,000. But it all began with an ambitious idea written on the back of an airplane bag. Founder-director Neha Kirpal was working at a PR firm in London when her love affair with the art market began. It was her goal to bring to India the same enthusiasm that UK’s 9,000 art galleries harboured. “India has a rich 5,000 years of cultural history, but the lack of engagement with art was surprising and the markets were grossly untapped,” says Kirpal. When she first embarked on making her idea a reality, she found the artistic fraternity to be alienated and uneven in the audiences it catered to. “I wanted to bring a democratic international platform that would bring about an exchange of ideas—so, better production and appreciation of art,” she shares.
A major achievement for the fair is that 40 per cent of artwork sales are credited to first-time buyers. But to Kirpal, the India Art Fair isn’t just about the economic boost it brings—it’s a harmonious engagement with art forms sans elitism. “There are people who fly in, and there are people who hop on a bus or two to get here. The diversity is incredible,” she says, observing that the fair has played catalyst to festivals and movements across the country, like The Kochi Biennale and the Dhaka Summit.
This yea1r, Girish Shahane serves as the artistic director of the festival. Having curated Art Chennai last year, Shahane deems this an entirely different experience in terms of scale and scope. He has also overseen the programming of the Speakers’ Forum, featuring names like Feroze Gujral and Jitish Kallat. “There is an increasing number of fairs such as the Venice and Berlin Biennale, that are focusing more on artists from within their specific region. This reflects not just a desire to differentiate the fairs from the mainstream model, but also the demands of the market,” he feels. Kirpal has been open about her lack of in-depth knowledge on all things art which begs the question—can non-artists play an active part in elevating India’s art scene? Shahane believes they certainly can. “Outsiders always provide a breath of fresh air, while insiders tend to get complacent. Neha in 2008 disrupted the functioning of the market,” he admits. Future plans for the fair include an app-based art gallery combining facts and humour for concept notes, a Google art project and an art weekend in different cities.
Till February 1, at the NSIC Exhibition Grounds, New Delhi. Details: indiaartfair.in
—­Divya Karthikeyan

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