It was May 2012, when I first took charge as the Project Director of United Art Fair 2012. Now the UAF Management has announced the second edition. Once again I am the Project Director and Chief Curator of the Second Edition, which is slated to take place from 14th to 17th September 2013 at Pragati Maidan, ITPO, New Delhi. Tipped to be the biggest Art Fair in India, the second edition of the UAF is going to be different and the difference will be felt right from the way of approaching artists to the actual installation/execution of the final projects.
For me the first edition was an adrenaline driven affair. I was brought in almost five months before the actual fair and it was a difficult task before me. With the help of efficient team mates and the able leadership of Mr.Annuag Sharma, I could establish the brand name of United Art Fair through a wonderfully curated and organized show. Since I joined, I lost my sleep. I was almost like a man in love. There is a saying that three types of people in the world generally lose their sleep: Lovers, those who seek money (for paying off debts) and those people who seek revenge. I was like the first one. I fell in love with the idea of an artists-driven fair.
(JohnyML at the UAF 2012 Seminar)
When I sit at the same seat this time, I am in a different mood. I cannot behave like a lover who sees the face of his beloved right from moon to dustbin. Now I am more realistic and I need to be so because the first edition has created some realistic financial pictures for the management to think on. Hence, I approach the second edition of the UAF with the romance of a married man who is expecting his first child after the marriage. The sweet-bitter memories of the honeymoon are not yet over. But the lover knows that he cannot enjoy the heavenly pleasures with her because she is pregnant. But still he can admire her beauty, more rounded and full, chubby and brooding than seen during the days of abandonment, frolicking and love making.
I look at the UAF 2013 with a sense of reality, love, care and purpose. United Art Fair is here because it thinks that there are still artists in this country who need a bigger platform to be featured, appreciated and sold. The UAF recognizes the fact that the artists have enjoyed the first ‘free’ edition of the UAF where everything was ‘free’, right from participation to transportation. When you do a first edition of anything there are chances to have glitches. The first love making brings forth blood, they say. War too draws blood. One can spill blood by making someone blush, says Levinas, the philosopher. The first edition of the UAF had spilled blood, the blood of pleasure. But it has not stained anybody’s image. On the contrary, the image of art and artists has been boosted up. That’s why once again the UAF takes the courage to come out and tell the world that we are going to do it again. But this time with a difference; it should be like love making. It cannot be like a routine. It cannot be like the partners going to North and South poles respectively after the love making. They have to move forward together in the ultimate happiness of union. It should be like having an orgasm while talking after love making. UAF second edition is a union of the artists and the grand effort called ‘United Art Fair 2013’.
(A trial poster for the second edition of the UAF)
I would like to explain, when I am holding the curatorial and directorial reigns once again, that it is no longer a free exercise to bolster up anybody’s ego; neither of the artists nor of the organisers. Ask Annurag Sharma, the founder director of the UAF, why one should spend so much of money to have an ego trip? The UAF was a vision-dream or dream-vision. Having materialized that, one cannot remain solipsistic. One has to expand the scope of it. The organization has to expand the scope of the vision into a monetary reality where artists, art workers and the management get benefitted immediately and the art market in general in a larger sense. Let me tell you that’s why the UAF is no longer free.
Now you listen to me carefully, why the UAF 2013 is not free in terms of application, selection and transportation? It is not free because anything given free is often taken for granted. Any price tag attached to it, you start valuing it. It is simple human psychology. When you are in love you fight. You crave for a kiss. She turns her face away. You coax her, cajole her, humour her. But she does not relent. The price of a kiss goes sky high in the process. May be you are so much in love that you might even buy a whole mall for her, just for that one ‘kiss’. Yes, that’s how things get importance in this world. I want to tell you that the UAF second edition is a kiss of fortune that just does not come on to your lips freely. You need to work towards it. You need to sweat towards it.
(from the first edition of the UAF)
Keeping my amorous analogies aside for a moment, let me analyse the situation theoretically. The first edition of the UAF was free because, like my artist-friend Gaman Palem puts it, it was like a free software given as a trial version. Once you know the qualities of it, you are ready to buy. Now, the UAF first edition has created a value based international platform for the young and emerging artists of this country. It was a trial run. Now let us get into business. And let us view it in a larger sense. Many artists, even when they were having a consignment contract with the UAF, tried to undercut the UAF by making private deals from within the UAF Edition One. They offered works to the buyers without commission from their studios. Some buyers were also entertaining this because they thought that reduction of 35% commission was good for them too.
Realistically approaching the whole issue, I could say that it all happened out of desperation of both the artists and the buyers. Many artists who involved in this practice were desperate because they knew that we had been going through a very bad economic climate as far as the art market was concerned. So anything coming on way was welcomed. Buyers also thought that it was a good chance to grab some good works without paying commission to anyone. Both indulged and revelled in a sort of unethical practice. It happens in the art scene or any scene where money is involved. People undercut people for gaining profits. But it is unethical. The UAF is an ethical platform where each and every aspect of consignment and agreement are spelt out. So in the second edition such unethical practices cannot be allowed or entertained.
(The UAF team at the closing press conference)
Now, let us analyse the etymological roots of this unethical practice of buying and selling by undercutting the organiser. By making the UAF first edition a free one, the management was entering a relationship with the artists who had grabbed this opportunity. Here the management became a ‘giver’ of charity and the artists, the ‘takers’ of this charity. When the word ‘free’ connotes the notion of ‘charity’ (which is inevitable), an imbalanced relationship is automatically created between the organizer and the artists. It is an imbalanced relationship because the charity giver feels an imagined authority over the taker the taker feels humiliated for having to accept that charity out of necessity. This causes a contained bitterness that seeks expression at some stage. The actual fair ground is the place where they take it out. By undercutting the UAF in sales, what they feel is a perennial pleasure of revenge. Through this revenge, they balance the relationship between the organizer who had given them charity and themselves.
I understand this complexity perfectly. And I don’t want the artists of this country to be stuck up as the receivers of charity. The UAF also has recognized the fact that it is high time that the UAF being an artists’ platform, the responsibility of this fair should be the responsibility of the artists: right from application to the participation. Hence, we have devised an application plan against a payment. You get your services against a payment. To enter in a contest you need to buy the application form. I call it a contest because several artists are vying for the same platform and same name and fame. So it is a contest where you are supposed to prove your worth. When you pay a small amount, buy an application form and apply, you feel that you deserve it. It is nobody’s charity. It is your right.
(The Hindu highlighting artists from the UAF 2012)
Coming to transportation of works; again it was free. As the parent company of the UAF is an art logistics company, it could handle the works easily. But it has brought in a heavy financial burden to the company. Let us be realistic. When 3000 works are transported without charging, it would cost a lot to the company. It is unimaginably big. And because it was free many artists sent their works in abundance. Where we were expecting a five by five work they sent us ten by tens. Of course we had agreed to have them because we too were enthusiastic in the beginning. This time, when you are asked to send your works and take back your works, you will become more perceptive and reasonable. You will stick to the terms and conditions because it is your work and it is your money and it is your fair. Its success is your success. Its failure is your failure.
Responsibility to the artist is the mantra of the UAF Second Edition. And by applying you are entering in a larger world of art. You are not going to the galleries and showing their CDs so that the gallery owner at some stage would take interest in your work. Here you are coming to the UAF, where a person like me leads a team of friendly experts and executives in this second edition. You will be treated with respect, love and care.
(The promotional posters in fb by artists - a poster featuring artist Priyanka Govil)
In the first edition, the catalogue was heavy both in terms of volume and price. This time it is going to be different. It is going to be voluminous but it is going to be very handy and affordable. There will be more and more interesting features that your four days of spending in Delhi would make memorable. And I will be there to receive you personally. Grab your application forms now.