New Delhi: Robert Storr, dean of Yale university School of Art, has served both the academic side of the art world (as a curator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a teacher) and the practical side (as director of the 2007 Venice Biennale, and as a painter in his own right). He bridges the gap between high-brow intellectuals and young artists whose cause he champions. Here to attend the India Art Summit, Storr talks about his first impressions of the event, where India can improve, and why a formal education is vital for an artist. Edited excerpts:
This is India’s first art fair. What do you think of it?
I think it’s lively, I think it’s interesting, I came because I thought it would be lively and interesting. It’s a first obviously, and these things grow and require more texture and variety as time passes, but it’s a start and it’s a lovely start.
Word of advice: Robert Storr, dean of the School of Art, Yale University, was in New Delhi on Wednesday for the Art India Summit. He says Indian newspapers need independent critics who speak to a general public. Photograph: Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
India has an underfunded public arts infrastructure, in that there are very few museums, public institutions, etc., that support artists. How important is a fair like this in helping boost a country’s arts sector?
Fairs can be very good as long as there’s no illusion that fairs are anything but what they are. And fairs are commercial enterprises by generally small individual entrepreneurs, and you may have a very good gallerist who has very good choices, but that is no substitute for active public institutions, because only a relatively small percentage of people who are interested and capable of understanding contemporary art see it through galleries. These things have to enter the public domain through public institutions or big comprehensive exhibitions like biennales.
How important is a formal education in art?
I think it’s essential, actually. I think there are very few cases in the modern era (that) have actually done it without training and dialogue. What goes on in art schools is not so much that the old teach the young, but that the young talk to each other and that generational interest is synthesized in the context of a programme. So it’s very important. And I think it’s also a strengthening factor because as a generation comes out of an art school, it stays in touch with its members, they egg each other on, they’re competitive and so on.
A lot of people here are starting to see art just as an investment. Can that have harmful effects?
This idea of art as (an) investment is very very old. It’s not necessary a good judge of what will be the most important art. In the English art world, people spent millions of pounds on (Edwin Henry) Landseer, who was a painter of animals. Nobody looks at Landseer anymore. Art history is not written by the market, it is a factor, but it is not the author of art history.
How important is international recognition for an Indian artist?
Good art communicates without endorsement of markets or fame. I mean, people who look at art will find the good stuff, sooner or later. Attention in the media and attention to the market can speed that process up. It can spread the news to a wider world than just to people who have a knack for this. It can also create huge problems for the artist because good art is not necessarily made on the same schedules that business is done on. And a good artist can be destroyed with too great a demand for one body of their work, and no time to develop the next body.
Are there any areas where Indian art can improve?
Again, I don’t know the situation that well, but the strongest issue now probably would be support for independent criticism in the newspapers. The magazines will take care of themselves, but the newspapers need to have independent critics who speak to a general public. There needs to be very strong support for the national museums, and the regional museums. But there also has to be strong pressure on them not to play it safe, and to show a wide variety and to show controversial art. And then, I would say, the last piece of the puzzle is you have to get private support as well as maybe some public support for selfstarting art institutions, like Khoj here in Delhi.