How fared the Art Fair?

Art curator Myna Mukherjee shares her insight into the recently concluded India Art Fair that was held in the Capital.
T Venkanna’s ‘D-Anniversary, 2022
T Venkanna’s ‘D-Anniversary, 2022

Art fairs can often be reduced to a superficial function of art—exchange value—but the less cynical understand what the fair can offer to all inhabitants of the art world. Money might be their motive but the community is their medium.

For many, there is a sense of frenzied kinship that builds up over the several weeks of parallel events leading up to and during the fair. Hosted by galleries and institutions across Delhi, these events go beyond the glitz. The India Art Fair (IAF) 2023 kickstarted the capital’s cultural calendar on February 9, with 85 Indian and international galleries showing the length and breadth of contemporary art practices across the world.

Two years post-COVID, the fair was more ambitious and better attended than ever. As I navigated the labyrinth of booths, galleries, and faces reflecting the exhaustion of being held captive for days on end, I realised that the fair still remains the most urgent way to get acquainted with art, artists, and, of course, the distinct styles of galleries that sell it.

Here are my top five encounters across this year’s fair: 

T Venkanna’s works at Gallery Maskara
The Baroda-based artist’s visual vocabulary comprises surreal landscapes, densely-embroidered canvases, watercolours, etchings and drypoint that explode with radical expressionist nudes and entwined bodies amid deep flora and fauna. Gorgeously layered and complex manifestations of gender, Venkanna’s works are those where terminology never quite sits right. Deep traces of humanity floating in the pale of a lonely night, the artist’s dark green and pink, red and black explosions of physicality pummel fleshly existence in your face. This year, the IAF announced a queer marginalised voices section, which honestly felt a few decades behind the times (if not slightly pinkwash-y). Instead, this was art that was certainly not marginalised, defied oversimplifications, refused to be categorised, being, at the same time, truly assertive of life, longing, and a deep queerness.

Jayshree Chakraborty’s installation by Akar Prakar gallery
The dimorphous olfactory installation An Alien Sphere at the artist’s solo presentation effectively weaves in fragrant ittar distillates of flowers, herbs, spices, and other natural materials such as baked soil over sandalwood oil/liquid paraffins into large material sheets and layers of her characteristic textural timbres and fractional botanic hues. These sheets are then sculpted into an igloo-like cave that viewers can walk into, and experience the work from the inside out. The Kolkata-based visual artist’s handling and fine detailing transport us into a kind of memory portal, triggering a sensory reverie around aesthetics, time, and a visual evocation of scent. 
 
Anish Kapoor’s sculpture at Shanghai-based Galleria Continua
Definitive of British-Indian artist Kapoor’s shift from pigment and stone to the molten gloss of mirror, his enigmatic sculpture Garnet to Apple Red mix 2 to Pagan Gold/Spanish Gold is a hypnotic play of colour, depth, tone, transparency, and opacity. A highly-reflective disk in a chromatic variation of dark to light red, and of illusively unlimited depth, emulate an infinite void that inverses the external surrounding space onto the sculpture’s perimetric landscape. The viewer's chances upon the work, is instantly arrested by its surface, and the boundary between the subject and object is blurred. The work is emblematic of Kapoor’s longstanding research into the idea of precarity.  
  
Raghava KK’s solo exhibition presented by The Gujral Foundation in association with Volte Art Projects  
This IAF parallel event titled The Cyborg Dreams of Love

The Impossible Bouquet by multidisciplinary artist Raghava KK is a decadent deep dive into the artist’s pioneering and ongoing encounter with Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the years. Imaginatively curated and produced, the exhibition is at once a provocative and intimate encounter between human and machine, nestled in a rambling house, across different floors, nooks and crannies of an anti-white cube temporal space. The image of the bouquet—a gift, a vulnerable arrangement—unifies the show, which manifests in paintings of striking bouquets that bring together impossible combinations: substances, arrangements, and geometries. By investigating his own vulnerability as ‘wetware’ by allowing AI to play its own tricks on him and his art, the artist explores the space of play between concealing and revealing, shame and arousal.

Saskia Fernando Gallery, the only Sri Lankan gallery present at IAF 
The works ranging from textile, embroidery, digital collages, drawings, paintings and book art reflect the dialogues and developments in a visual language on the island, both past and ongoing.
Notable among them were the shocking yellow abstract work, and the painstakingly detailed link chain works of Chandraguptha Thenuwara. These draw from the artist’s interdisciplinary practice and repository of leitmotifs he has used over four decades, which are intertwined with the sociopolitical developments in Sri Lanka. The works of his contemporary, Jagath Weerasinghe confront ideas of nationhood and identity.

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