How virtual galleries kept Indian art alive amid Covid

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What Jagdip Jagpal, director of the coveted India Art Fair, said about Indian art in December 2018 sounded like the worst irony for the country’s art scene a year and a half later. “Thanks to biennials, residencies, sponsored initiatives, philanthropy and a growing awareness of Indian modernism, Indian contemporary art is on the verge of a turning point.”

That high level of optimism simply vanished into thin air, the buoyancy giving way to dejection when the Covid-19 pandemic whipped the country and the government announced a nationwide lockdown in March 2020. The Indian art market, valued at $ 14.6 million in 2017, showed signs of shrinking nearly seven percent in a matter of weeks.

Devastation and chaos were palpable in the industry. Almost all auction houses in the country, which accounted for 37% of art sales last year, closed their shutters.

Also read: USA returns antiques to India in an investigation into stolen art

The global art market, valued at $ 64.1 billion in 2019, fell over 5% in months of the pandemic spreading around the world. China, the third largest art and antiques market in the world, saw a 10% decline between March and June 2020, and art sales in India plummeted by over 30%.

A report by Art Basel and UBS, prepared by Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics, quantified the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on art sales. In the first half of 2020, gallery sales plummeted 36%, while auction house sales plummeted 49% over the same period. Bloodshed in the art industry was everywhere in India and beyond.

An art exhibition at the Kiran Nadar Museum, which was supposed to show paintings by more than 60 contemporary Indian artists in Moscow last year, was soon postponed. Across India, hundreds of small, medium and large exhibitions have either been canceled or postponed indefinitely, which has also brought unprecedented uncertainty into the future of Indian art and artists. Art Basel in Hong Kong, Frieze New York and Art Dubai have also been canceled.

Biraaj Dodiya must have been terribly frustrated when his first solo exhibition at Kolkata’s Experimenter Gallery had to be canceled prematurely due to the lockdown and the Covid pandemic. Roshini Vadehra from the Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi clearly announced her decision not to hold the planned exhibitions in May 2000.

Delhi-based galleries like Latitude 28 and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art have postponed their scheduled celebrations indefinitely. Both galleries completed their tenth year of existence and dealt with art.

The body blow that the Indian art industry suffered was disorienting indeed. The slowdown it forced on art was not foreseeable and caused some line and paint splatters on the artist’s canvases to go crazy. The crisis came all of a sudden without any warning.

“Covid came as a tsunami. The industry was caught completely off guard, ”Tushar Singh, an emerging artist based in Delhi, told the UNB. Three of his solo shows have been canceled – twice in 2020 and one in 2021 as the second wave of the pandemic swept across the nation. Today he faces a dark future.

Also read: The solo exhibition of the Bangladeshi artist Rokeya Sultana in India has been postponed

The dent that the pandemic and the resulting lockdown made despite Indian art found inspiration in what John Milton wrote in ‘Paradise Lost’: “What if the field is lost? All is not lost; the invincible will, … and the courage to never submit or give in. “

At the end of the dark tunnel, however, the Indian art industry found itself again, there was light. The Indian art industry and business, desperately looking for a way out of the crisis, saw opportunities in Sotheby’s innovations.

Resiliently weathered the economic collapse in 2008 and demonetization attacks in 2016, the industry quickly switched to the digital format, hosting virtual exhibitions and offering online viewing rooms to potential buyers and collectors. Last April, 10 Indian and Dubai galleries jointly organized an online art exhibition – In Touch. It showed works by many Indian artists, including Arpita Singh, Bharti Kher, Abir Karmakar and Aditi Singh.

Switching to digital platforms, organizing online exhibitions and auctions, offering virtual viewing rooms and moving away from traditional boozy auctions helped the Indian art market to grow by at least 5% even during last year’s lockdown.

And on September 3, 2020, the Indian art world set a record. An untitled oil by VS Gaitonde, painted in 1974, was sold by Pundole’s in Mumbai for a whopping 32 crore Indian rupees. This 60×40 inch painting was purchased over the phone from a foreign buyer.

“The sale of Gaitonde’s oil was cause for celebration, but concerns in the Indian art market are still palpable. Despite all the technical innovations, the market has not really expanded in mid-2021, ”said Shekhar Chaubey. another artist based in the state capital.


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