Hindustan Times Off To The Art Olympics
June 6, 2010
Hindustan Times

Mini Pant Zachariah
■ mini.zachariah@hindustantimes.com

Sunitha Kumar Emmart, owner of Bangalore’s GallerySKE, meets leading art personalities everyday. Astrong-willed 33-year-old, she is articulate, one could even say a bit garrulous. But in February 2009, during a PowerPoint presentation to the Art Basel advisory committee visiting her gallery, Emmart lost her tongue. “I fumbled so much that I finally had to admit my nervousness,” she says. “We stopped for a brief coffee break, but clearly they liked what they saw because we were selected to show at Art41 Basel.” Every year, more than 1,000 leading galleries from North America, Latin American, Europe, Asia and Africa jostle for space at Art Basel, variously called the Olympics and the Mecca of international art shows. Only about 300 are selected. This year’s edition, the 41st, will be held in Basel, Switzerland, from June 16 to 20. And five Indian art galleries — Chemould Prescott Road, Sakshi, Chatterjee & Lal (all in Mumbai), GallerySKE (Bangalore) and Nature Morte (New Delhi) — are among the final 308. Shireen Gandhy of Chemould Prescott Road likens getting a booth at the show to passing the IAS exam. “This was our fourth try,” she says, laughing. Until now, the only Indian gallery to have ever had a presence at Basel was Delhi’s Gallery Nature Morte, owned by American artist Peter Nagy. So does such a large presence this year mean Indian art is gaining in respect? Not really, says cultural theorist and curator Ranjit Hoskote. “Art Basel is like any other trade fair. The artist is a player here, an important one, but in the end it is the curators, the galleries, the critics who impact the art world.” Nagy, though, says India’s presence at Basel will help build confidence in the Indian art market. “Indian art had become very expensive in the five years leading up to the global financial crisis, so many European collectors backed away,” he says. “Participation and a continued presence at Art Basel are important to build confidence in this market.” At the very least, the five Indian galleries showing at Art 41 Basel will help change the Euro-centric reputation of the festival. “Although we should not take such inclusions as a measure of the status of Indian contemporary art, I guess it does stand for acceptance within the global art circuit,” says artist Baiju Parthan. Meanwhile, in the catalogue for the Indian galleries are veteran artists like Atul Dodiya (Chemould and Nature Morte), Nikhil Chopra (Chatterjee & Lal), Sreshta Premnath (GallerySKE), Aditya Pande, Seher Shah and Suhasini Kejriwal (Nature Morte) and Chen Chieh-Jen (Sakshi). In the Art Statements sector, a ‘discovery site’ for those seeking emerging artists, Nikhil Chopra and Sreshta Premnath will be among 26 artists from around the world vying for attention. “I believe there is very interesting work going on in this part of the art world and that needs to be brought into the global arena,” says Geetha Mehra of Sakshi, who is showing Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-Jen. “For us, Art Basel will be that arena.”

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