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2023: New art spaces opened up, old masters ruled

New galleries and planned expansions widened the canvas for young artists, but the masters continued to reign at auctions

Detail from Amrita Sher-Gil's ‘The Story Teller’ (1937). Courtesy: Saffronart
Detail from Amrita Sher-Gil's ‘The Story Teller’ (1937). Courtesy: Saffronart

In 2023, the Indian arts ecosystem regained its vitality after the slow pandemic years. A fresh energy seemed to enter the art space with new fairs, cultural centres and gallery spaces. Some trends from the previous years spilled into 2023 with modern masters maintaining their stronghold at auctions. It was also a year of loss with the death of much-loved personalities such as Professor B.N. Goswamy, Kavita Singh and Gieve Patel, who played a key role in shaping post-independence art and culture discourse in India. One ends 2023 with a deep sense of reflection about the legacies of the past and emerging trends, which will shape art in the country in the years to come.

New spaces, new ideas

New-age and veteran galleries co-existed beautifully in the contemporary art space this year. Some of the older galleries celebrated key milestones through landmark exhibitions, while the younger ones added fresh chapters to their journey in the form of new spaces. Each of these infused the contemporary arts ecosystem with unique perspectives, ideas and energy. Different mediums and styles were celebrated. While some galleries brought urban muralists to the fore, others presented shows that revealed a different facet of a senior artist, while a few looked at a different exhibition design language.

Chemould, one of the oldest contemporary art galleries, co-founded by Kekoo Gandhy, turned 60 and told its story through a series of exhibitions. Each reflected on the gallery’s public institutional role in the ever-evolving context of Indian contemporary art. As the Chemould team delved into boxes of old invitation cards, stamps and objects belonging to Gandhy, the members realised the critical importance of the archive in a gallery’s existence.

“The future of contemporary art programming is dependent on archives in some way or the other. You could see it in our show, CheMoulding: Framing Future Archives, and also in Experimenter’s Shadow Circus: A Personal Archive Of Tibetan Resistance, held at their Colaba gallery. The coming time will focus on archives in a big way,” says Shireen Gandhy, director, Chemould Prescott Road.

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S.H. Raza retrospective at Centre Pompidou. Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery
S.H. Raza retrospective at Centre Pompidou. Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery

Some contemporary spaces such as the Delhi-based Vadehra Art Gallery participated in seminal international exhibitions. Its director Roshini Vadehra says the S.H. Raza retrospective at Centre Pompidou (February-May) in Paris, which the gallery supported, was a very special moment. With nearly 100 pieces, this was the first monographic presentation of Raza’s work in France, where he lived and worked from 1950-2011.

“Another momentous occasion was the launch of our new publication on the fine art practice of Balkrishna Doshi, which happened at the acclaimed Serpentine Gallery during Frieze Week in London,” says Vadehra. “Arpita Singh’s first solo exhibition in London by the gallery in the summer was also incredibly special as we were able to gather some of the finest minds from the art world to celebrate the artist’s brilliant body of recent work.”

Younger galleries such as Tarq and Akara Art expanded to new spaces. The former, a laboratory-incubator for young artists since 2014, moved to the 100-year-old KK (Navsari) Chambers in Fort, Mumbai. Designed by Mumbai-based Japanese architect Katsushi Goto, the new space continues to focus on meaningful contemporary art, while pushing the possibilities of medium, concept and exhibition design. “Moving to a road-facing space has significantly increased our public engagement, as we continue to see more visitors with each passing month,” says Hena Kapadia, founder-director, Tarq.

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Akara, led by Puneet and Meghna Shah, also opened a dedicated space for contemporary art in a 100-year-old heritage structure, the Amar Chand Mansion on Madam Cama Road, Mumbai. While the original gallery in Colaba, Akara Modern, is dedicated to intergenerational exhibitions by modern Indian artists, the newly inaugurated space aims to be a platform for the current and next generation of artists from South Asia and elsewhere.

As we stand at the cusp of a fresh year, two new galleries have opened doors. One is by art consultant Anupa Mehta. Earlier located in Lower Parel, the new Anupa Mehta Contemporary Art Gallery has opened in Colaba with an exhibition of works by four prominent artists: Akbar Padamsee, Jogen Chowdhury, Ravinder Reddy and Sudhir Patwardhan.

Mumbai-based street art space, Gallery XXL, too has found a permanent home in the same neighbourhood, and will open to the public in January. In the past, the gallery has hosted its shows at temporary spaces and has been pivotal in giving a platform to urban mural artists such as Osheen Shiva, who focuses on Tamil-Dalit identity, and the Aravani Art Project, a collective of trans and cis-women. This new permanent space will be a first for a gallery dedicated to street art in India.

Institutions step forward

With a brand new fair, opening of cultural centres, and strengthening of existing festival programming, institutions too added to the art ecosystem. This trend coincided with the emergence of a new set of young collectors and patrons, explains Saloni Doshi, art collector and founder of Space118, which provides studios and residencies to emerging art practitioners.

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“The arrival of the new-age patron has resulted in newer fairs such as Artix, the first hotel art fair held in Delhi, Amdavad Art Summit in Ahmedabad, Art Mumbai in Mumbai, and more. Seasoned collectors are making their contemporary art collections and journeys accessible to emerging patrons as well and not necessarily showing the moderns. For instance, Sunil Kant Munjal (founder and patron, Serendipity Arts Foundation) is planning an arts and cultural centre, The Brij, in the National Capital Region,” she adds. There was also a huge interest in textile based art, which was always considered a craft form. Now with the West leading the path, where textile based has become attractive, India is not far behind to follow the same trend.

The key word of the art world in 2023 was “interdisciplinary”, with space being made for dialogue between art forms. The Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai, launched with much fanfare in March, has The Cube for intimate immersive performances, Art House as a dedicated visual arts space, a grand theatre for large-scale spectacles and more. It recently hosted the first-ever museum exhibition of American pop art featuring works by artists such as Andy Warhol.

‘Sixteen Jackies’ (1964) by Andy Warhol, from the show, ‘Pop: Fame, Love and Power’ at the NMACC
‘Sixteen Jackies’ (1964) by Andy Warhol, from the show, ‘Pop: Fame, Love and Power’ at the NMACC

In May, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art announced plans for a new museum and cultural centre to be opened in the Capital by 2026. To be spread across 100,000 sq. m and located off the national highway near the Indira Gandhi International Airport, the centre is currently planned with six galleries, studios and two auditoriums to seat 700 and 200 people each. The plan is to host seminars, talks, art courses, workshops, opera and craft shows, making different aspects of art and culture accessible.

In November, after decades of being a key centre of art and culture, Mumbai finally got its own art fair. Titled Art Mumbai, the event was organised by Minal and Dinesh Vazirani of Saffronart, Conor Macklin, director, Grosvenor Gallery, London, and Nakul Dev Chawla of the Chawla Art Gallery, Delhi. The four-day event had a variety of genres and styles, from works by modern masters to installations. The fair is all set to be an annual affair.

“The opening of the NMACC and the launch of Art Mumbai have been some of the most defining moments of 2023. There appears to be a healthy sustainable growth in art viewership,” says Ranjana Steinruecke of Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai.

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Auction records

This was a milestone year for Amrita Sher-Gil, with The Story Teller (1937) setting a new record. Selling at 61.80 crore (double its lower estimate) at Saffronart’s Evening Sale in September, the work set the record for the highest value for a work of Indian art sold at an auction worldwide. Minal Vazirani, co-founder, Saffronart, says the exceptional sale unequivocally establishes Sher-Gil’s legacy, which continues to thrive even 80 years after her death. “It is especially significant since Sher-Gil now not only has the distinction of being the only woman among India’s declared nine national treasure artists, but also the one with the highest value across the Indian art market,” she says.

This has been a buoyant year for the Indian art market overall. According to art intelligence firm Indian Art Investor the market clocked a turnover of 1,235.8 crore with the sale of 3,372 artworks (till November 2023). The masters have continued their reign at auctions through the year—S.H. Raza’s Gestation (1989) sold for 51.7 crore at Pundole’s in August; at the very same auction F.N. Souza’s Hunger (early 1960s) was sold for 34.5 crore; and V.S. Gaitonde’s Untitled oil on canvas (1980) fetched 47.5 crore at a Saffronart sale in March.

“With a few big-ticket auctions, the Indian art market is continuing to be inclusive and offering works suitable for all budgets,” notes Arvind Vijay Mohan, founder, Indian Art Investor, in a report about the Indian art market’s performance in 2023.

With inputs from Jahnabee Borah

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