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Sunny Side Up
Text by Nicholas Forrest and Mamta Badkar
Published: Volume 16, Issue 10, October, 2008

Indian art is reaching all parts of the world and it is interesting to know who buys the works of our local artists abroad. Sydney-based art market analyst, art critic and journalist, Nicholas Forrest writes from down under, reporting on the recently conducted Sydney Biennale and the importance of Indian art

You may be surprised to know that an Austra-lian gallery was partly responsible for one of the first major touring shows of contemporary Indian art in 2004. The exhibition, titled Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India, was a joint initiative of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Asia Society in New York that, according to the exhibition catalogue, aimed to capture “the breadth and depth of practice in India and demonstrated why Indian art today plays such a vital role in the current international art scene”. Since that landmark exhibition, Australians have continued to embrace contemporary Indian art with commercial galleries all over the country keeping a close eye on the Indian art market in an effort to be the first to bring the next emerging Indian art star.

Because of the interest in revolutionary and alternative approaches to art in Australia, Indian artists that utilise less traditional mediums such as video, installation, sound and new media technologies appear to be far more likely to find success in the Australian art market. Testament to this is the 2008 Sydney Biennale art festival which took place at various venues throughout Sydney from June 18 to September 7. Indian artist Vivan Sundaram was one of the 180 artists that took part for which Sundaram exhibited photographs from his new project Trash and the video Turning, both of which were extremely well received. According to the Biennale of Sydney website, “Vivan Sundaram responds to contemporary politics with radical art works.” Another Indian artist whose work was included in the art festival is the Mumbai-born artist Sharmila Samant who presented a work titled Against the Grain which involved a series of snake sculptures made from rice husks that were auctioned off after the Biennale with proceeds going to the afflicted communities. In total, the Biennale of Sydney saw the selected presence of five Indian artists namely Sharmila Samant, Vivan Sundaram, Nalini Malani, Ranbir Kaleka and Bari Kumar.

So who is buying Indian art in Australia and what is their motivation for doing so? One person who knows the answer to this question is Barry Keldoulis of the Sydney-based Gallery Barry Keldoulis (GBK). Keldoulis has been particularly pro-active in the promotion of Indian artists and other South-East Asian artists in Australia, having exhibited work by Jitish Kallat, Mala Iqbal, Seher Shah, Prajakta Pallav, Yamini Nayar, Aditi Singh, Thukral and Tagra and others. Keldoulis states that he has been exhibiting contemporary art from India since 1999, and the work has always generated intense interest from the entire viewing public. Although there were some small purchases early on by private collectors (and major interest and purchases by some institutions, particularly the very forward-thinking Queensland Art Gallery), it’s only in the last year or so that major works have stayed in private Australian hands. “A couple of years ago, big collectors were hovering around, interested, but I think a little stunned by the large prices,” explains Keldoulis. “Now, watching the Indian economy and art market both soar, the hesitation has evaporated. More of the Indian diaspora come now to the exhibitions, but they are not the buyers yet. The collectors are mainly Aussies of Anglo heritage, both early collecters and the more established ones. The fascination for art from the new media savvy economic powerhouse and fellow sufferer of British colonialism and hippy hangout will continue to grow!”

Ghost of Souza

Aicon Gallery’s new space in New York’s Lower East Side sheds more light on Asian art

Getting to Aicon Gallery was always more an act of design than coincidence. Sheltered in New York City’s Flatiron District, the quiet loft – with parquet flooring and a petite skylight – wasn’t particularly conspicuous to gallery goers. Conceived as an online venture by brothers Prajit and Projjal Dutta to make Indian art available to collectors abroad, Aicon Gallery was initially more for buyers than art enthusiasts. And even though its stellar repute more than made up for its physically diminutive stature Aicon Gallery has grown in a manner that has mirrored the increasing demand for South Asian art overseas. From September 18, the gallery shifted base to New York City’s trendy Lower East Side gallery district to occupy a sprawling 8,000 square feet duplex space envisaged by Nobu Arai, giving South Asian art the much needed breathing space it now commands.

Resurrecting one of India’s finest avant-garde artists for its inaugural exhibition, the gallery is showcasing The Ghost of Souza till October 17. Organised by Alexander Keefe, it seems fitting that this exhibit picks the late Francis Newton Souza, one of the subcontinent’s most illustrious ‘progressive’ painters to launch their new gallery. Given Souza’s uneasy struggle to have his work recognised in America during his lifetime despite his success in Mumbai and London it is an intriguing display that showcases his oeuvre alongside works created by his natural successors in response to his opus that drew on artistic modes like expressionism and art brut. The show includes Pakistani and Indian luminaries like Tazeen Qayyum, Bose Krishnamachari, Riyas Komu, Debnath Basu and Chintan Upadhyay among others and gives the audience on the outside an opportunity to look into the wide range of Asian art much like Souza’s works did.

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