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Big Apple smitten by Indian art

April 06, 2005 11:39 IST

Twice a year, the Indian art world descends on New York to get their dose of auction-induced adrenalin. Not surprisingly, last week, both Sotheby's and Christie's held their usual record-breaking sales.

Christie's fared better than its rivals, selling mostly Progressives, raking in $3.7 million, the highest auction total for an Indian sale so far.

Over the years, Indian art has steadily made a little larger presence in the West with shows in both Europe and America. Thus far the activity was mainly restricted to shows of Indian artists exhibiting at non-resident Indian galleries.

But New York is beginning to offer more and more Indian works during the auction season, and we're probably seeing the first signs of Indian art moving out of its purely ethnic environs trying to quietly find its place in a foreign land.

Almost all the major dealers and die-hard collectors show up at these sales. Local galleries like Bose Pacia and Arts India plan some of their star shows to coincide with the sales together with collector bashes to meet new, enthusiastic entrants.

This past week, Bose Pacia was showing the new suite of canvases and drainpipes by Atul Dodiya, and Arts India had a show of the Indian masters.

Talwar Art Gallery, on the other hand, put together a rather beautiful exhibition of some of the more interesting artists they show regularly, like Zarina Bhimji and A Balasubramaniam, with new promising artists like Ranjani Shettar.

Not too far away, at the Asia Society, was the much-awaited exhibition Edge of Desire curated by Chaitanya Sambrani, which had moved from Australia.

The show was essentially a survey of contemporary art done in India in the last decade. Works by artists like Nalini Malani, Neelima Sheikh, Surendran Nair, Natraj Sharma, to name a few, together with folk and tribal art mixed with photography and other popular culture installations, provided a fair overview of what was being done in India recently.

The most talked about exhibition though was Delhi based-Subodh Gupta's show at Jack Shamen Gallery in Chelsea. It consisted of sculpture, video and photographic works that were shown last year at the Showroom in London. Gupta is probably one of the very few Indian artists being shown in a non-Indian gallery abroad.

For those who wished to take a short detour, photographer Dayanita Singh showed her beautiful pictures from the Empty Spaces series as well as a new body of work done on photographing chairs at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Not only did the Indian art world have a lot to see, there was also a lot of conversation centred around Art and Auction magazine's article on Indian contemporary art that finally appeared after months of interviews in India and abroad.

Dealers tell me that the article should generate more interest in Indian art among foreign buyers. And so, before we know it, Christie's would probably have broken some more records.
Nitin Bhayana in New Delhi