With the art market in New Delhi booming now, it’s no wonder the actual dates for art show receptions are kept out of circulation with private invitations extended from the gallery or the artist. It’s unfortunate because seeing the art at a reception surrounded by an eclectic group of attendees adds an aura around the work and allows one to ask questions about what they’re seeing. It beats being tailed by a guard or summed up by a smug, silent desk person and no one else around during a gallery’s normal operating hours.
Seeing how the work in many of the shows in New Delhi is sold by or even before the opening night, I guess there is no case to make things more accessible to the average Dilliwala, but as an artist, I am sometimes as keen on getting the point of view of the man on the street as I am of the “in the know” critic. I wonder if the galleries feel the same way.
Of course, some people do manage to make it to these openings. If I were to generalize and give you a breakdown of the more heterogeneous mix of the art-opening crowd, you might see a few actual artists, not looking like they’re going to a party, various prospective buyers—the nouveau riche investment collector, couples looking for something they simply like, art students picking up on current trends, and, of course, those hungry for free drinks and snacks. In fact, I would say some of the openings here are better stocked than many weddings I’ve attended.
New Delhi could use something like New York City’s Chelsea neighbourhood, a cluster of streets lined with galleries. In Chelsea, on a specific evening, usually once a month, hundreds of galleries keep their doors open till late and openings are timed accordingly. It’s not hard to find out when this happens, and on that night, those streets are crawling with art aficionados moving from gallery to gallery. It gives you a nice glimpse into the New York scene—with all the aforementioned benefits of the opening.
Of course, New Delhi doesn’t have a gallery neighbourhood, and it does have militant zoning laws which were conveniently ignored for years only to recently resurface and force some of the biggest names in the Indian art market to relocate or operate in shady places, creating an even more inaccessible underground scene. Those who have moved to legitimate commercial spaces are in the industrial neighbourhood of Okhla (the paint fumes you smell won’t be from the canvas before your eyes) or shopping malls in Gurgaon (appreciate a sculpture between squeezing into Shoppers’ Stop jeans and letting your kid ride a mechanical bull). This pretty much ensures that the lay person is not going to be seeing the latest contemporary art. The relocated galleries in the shopping malls keep a low profile, which is understandable—some of this stuff isn’t meant for uncle, aunty or their kids anyway, not to mention the “extra- sensitive” types. As of now, New Delhi has no Chelsea in the offing.
Perhaps, the answer lies in a mass of galleries setting up shop in a place such as Okhla. We could then have a “gallery neighbourhood” of our own, and in the process, embrace a sense of responsibility to make sure the art scene doesn’t become sterile, luring people who define “art appreciation” differently than the investors. It’s a great time to be an artist, an art fan or a collector here. Those who coordinate receptions, who fear rowdy art crowds and lay people after opening-night goodies, should realize that the next great artist is probably milling about, enjoying a drink and trying to get a foot in the door.
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