United Art Fair 2012 (UAF 2012) is the latest topic of discussion in the Indian contemporary art scene today. You like it or not, people of the imaginary hierarchy in our art scene now are anxious, curious and even ‘worried’ about the progress of the United Art Fair. They ask these questions: ‘We have enough art fairs. Why do we need one more? And what is the purpose of this art fair?’ Somebody, in a private garden party even wondered whether the organizers were going to run away with all the money that had been collected from the artists and settle in Dubai. Speculations are rife and that is how the United Art Fair is getting consolidated in the general imagination of the Indian contemporary art scene. For the beginners- UAF 2012 is going to take place between 27th -30th September 2012 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. Now read on.
The most important feature of UAF is this that it is of the artists, for the artists and even by the artists: You could call it a clear fair of artocracy. When we think of an art fair what comes to our mind is the picture of booths with the names of galleries largely written on the entrance of it and their favourite artists’ works exhibited in those booths. Often it is noticed that fairs are the places where galleries project the best from their artists kitty and flaunt the most fashionable and bankable works of the recent times. That means, generally art fairs are the platforms where galleries negotiate with the dealers, buyers, collectors and other art operators. Here in the United Art Fair we create a difference by letting the artists to be the movers and shakers of a fair. Unlike the other fairs, here artists from all over India and elsewhere decide what could be the nature of this fair.
Though we do not want to do away with the role of galleries from the art scene (you must be remembering the way Damien Hirst made some attempts to over step the gallery mediations and put his works directly into the auction houses), through United Art Fair what we want to do is to redeem the lost glory of the artists. Let galleries and other players in the art scene consider United Art Fair as a platform from where they could pick up the young and emerging talents from all over India. As Annurag Sharma, the founder Director of the United Art Fair puts it succinctly, “United Art Fair is a display of choicest scholars from India and elsewhere. Galleries and other players could do the role of universities. UAF is a bridge and a pathway between the young and emerging scholars and the universities. But remember, we are no coaching centre.”
Let us be very realistic. In our country with a vast population of more and 1.25 billion, even if a meagre fraction of this number is comprised of artists that would be quite a huge number. But do we have enough galleries to display all their works? In India, the number of galleries that could live up to its name is less than five hundred. And out of that there would be a hundred galleries that do a decent business. Out of this hundred there will be twenty galleries determining the trade and tendencies of the art scene by monopolizing art production, dissemination and consumption. That means majority from this five hundred galleries must be aspiring to become this twenty galleries in their mode of functioning. This causes a huge polarization of taste and tendencies. When all the galleries in India want similar kind of aesthetics and visibility, either they would run after the same set of artists or they would produce those artists who could be easily passed off as the clones of the established twenty odd artists. This has been the curse of our art scene for the last twenty years. This curse became more apparent during the first decade of the new millennium.
From this reality check what we understand is that a vast majority of Indian artists are not represented by any galleries at all. That means in this country, a contemporary artist’s position is no better than a tribal or a folk artist who, we generally believe that lack in promotion and recognition. Recently while meeting artists in Mumbai as a part of the United Art Fair’s road show, a few of them told me that they had been working for the last twenty years and nobody has helped them to showcase their works. According to them even hiring a public exhibition space like Jehangir Art Gallery or Lalit Kala Akademy galleries is a very tedious job. “There is even a gender issue in this,” says one of the woman artists I met Mumbai. “Woman artists lose their prime years in home making and when they are out of it and get back to studio practice, they are often looked down upon as Sunday painters or amateurs. No feminist scholars have addressed this issue.”
United Art Fair addresses this issue along with many other issues faced by the artists primarily by showcasing their works in well designed booths/walls, providing them with catalogues, attracting buyers, collectors, dealers and galleries for them. This is an open forum with a device to control the quality of it. There is a fee of Rs.35000/- (Rupees Thirty Five Thousand only) for a twenty five feet of booth/wall space. We have offered options to negotiate with us if any artist finds it difficult to join us with that kind of money. Quality control of the displayed works is done through a selection committee comprising of a group of well established artists and curators and the panel would be headed by myself. Trust me, I have been in the scene for the last twenty five years as budding writer to a struggler critic to an established polemicist curator. My judgment cannot go wrong always.
At the same time United Art Fair is not just a fair with young and budding artists only. We have invited established artists to take up stalls for themselves after convincing their galleries or representatives so that the young and emerging talents would get a moral boost up as they get an opportunity to present their works along with the established artists. To ensure the participation of our dear established mid career artists, I will be curating a special project within the United Art Fair. Big sculptures will be there at the sculpture park. And as the project director of the United Art Fair, I will be showcasing the best videos produced by the young and established artists in our video lounge. There will be a special section for short films and documentaries. Also the seminars will be driven by young and fresh thinkers. This is going to be an art fair that everyone in the art scene would like to grow up with.
This is a preamble to a series of blog postings that I am intending to do in the coming days as I have been travelling with the Founder Director, Annurag Sharma and my team of colleagues all over India to promote and create awareness about the United Art Fair amongst the artists’ communities. The response that we have received so far is tremendous. Someone has recently put it in this way: “This is poor artists’ fair.” I would like to look at this comment in a different way. Poverty is a situation created out of the imbalanced distribution of wealth. If one section of artists (call it a majority) is poor, then the responsibility of making them poor lies on the rich artists. Is it like that? Do we have an imbalanced approach here in our art scene? If there is, would United Art Fair not be a platform to discuss it?
I request all my artist friends to participate in this art fair. Money is not an issue. We can create money. Come and talk to us. Young, established, emerging, emerged, arrogant, humble, decent, deceitful, cunning, covert, Spartan, flamboyant and everyone is welcomed here. United Art Fair is a carnival of styles and ideas. And let me tell you, if I am dreamer and the founder Director of UAF, Annurag Sharma is a dreamer and all my team members are dreamers, we welcome you into our dream world. WE are going to make it a reality. We are going to make it the first artist driven quality art fair in the world. We are going to make it. Now it is up to you. Would you like to remain as a permanently complaining artist-viewer or an artist with his/his voice and style? United Art Fair is an answer. We are sure that we are going to project at least twenty artists from the young and upcoming artists every year. Imagine a situation each gallery takes care of ten artists from this fair? Don’t you want to be a part of this exercise? Come on join us.
(Next: In Baroda- In the Reversed Courtyard of the Indian Art Home)