The focus of the international art world shifts to Europe in the coming week, with two major events—the 53rd Venice Biennale and the Art Basel fair—opening within days of each other. Galleries from the world over will show modern and contemporary art in the Swiss town of Basel from 10-14 June, vying to attract buyers. And the Italian city of Venice will come alive on 7 June with what is billed as the world’s most prestigious exhibition of contemporary art, held once every two years since 1893. The exhibition will be on till November.
“The crowds are huge; it is the biggest venue for art,” says Riyas Komu, whose oil on canvas series Designated March by a “Petrol Angel”, was much admired at the 52nd biennale in 2007. “It gives you a larger exposure to a bigger audience. And it is devoid of commercial interest, so it gives you a pure feeling.”
Now showing: Seasons, by Anju Dodiya, will be on display in Venice.
Naturally, an invitation to show at Venice is exciting news for an artist. Sunil Gawde likens it to being nominated for the Oscars. “It is the most important platform on earth for an art lover,” he declares. Gawde will be showing his “kinetic” or mechanical sculptural work, weighing a tonne and a half, at Making Worlds, the international art exhibition at the biennale, which will feature works by 90 artists from around the world and has been curated by the festival director, Daniel Birnbaum.
There is a keen sense of anticipation among the artists, both participating and visiting. “The atmosphere is charged,” says Anju Dodiya who’ll be showing her multimedia triptych Seasons, and has been to the biennale earlier as a visitor. “You are watched and criticized and discussed. There will be a whole new audience that I am not familiar with.”
“I am looking at it as a surprise, a Pandora’s box,” says Gawde who, like Dodiya and the two other artists from India (Nikhil Chopra and Sheela Gowda), will be showing at the international exhibition in Venice for the first time.
Artist Bose Krishnamachari, who is opening his own gallery in Mumbai in September, will be going to Venice and Basel to see great works of contemporary art, both old and new, as well as to pick up tips on how to run a gallery. Whether it’s works by the likes of Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, or the presence of well-known galleries such as New York’s Gagosian and London’s White Cube—he says the best of the art world congregates at these venues.
Getting noticed: (left) Riyas Komu; and Sunil Gawde with his sculptural work Alliteration.
The opportunity for an exchange of ideas and perspectives is invaluable. “You go out and get a fresh approach,” says Dodiya. She is looking forward to seeing works by other artists, among them Michelangelo Pistoletto, known for using glass fragments and mirrors in his works, something Dodiya also does. She recalls that seeing the video installation by the artist Pipilotti Rist at the historic Church of San Stae in Venice at the 51st biennale inspired her to show her own installation at the Lakshmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara in 2007.
“People noticed my work; it is a large platform to get more shows,” says Komu, who considers showing at Venice an invaluable professional break. He is not happy with India’s meagre presence there—countries such as Pakistan and Monaco are officially represented but India is not, he points out, holding the ministry of culture responsible. Instead of the curator at Venice picking out and inviting a couple of Indian artists, Komu says India should be taking the best works and artists from here.