Organisers of the United Art Fair bypass galleries to hold an artist-only event in India’s New Delhi.

The artist-centred United Art Fair, which aims to move away from the “monopolisation of aesthetics” by mainstream art, will feature 520 emerging and established Indian artists selected from 1,850 entries. The inaugural event will be held in Pragati Maidan, Delhi from 27 to 30 September 2012.

Harisadhan Dey, 'Mission Lalgarh -I', 2010, 30 x 36 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy United Art Fair.

Away from a monopolised aesthetic

United Art Fair is the brainchild of Annurag Sharma, an expert in art logistics. After founding UPEX, a courier and cargo service provider, in 2004, he started a dedicated art handling company, United Artlogistics Pvt. Ltd., whose clients include auction houses, museums and Indian and international galleries. Sharma was also instrumental in managing the logistics for India Art Fair, arguably the most established fair in the Indian art scene.

Sharma explained his reasons behind starting United Art Fair in a written response to Art Radar,

I have been instrumental in the handling of the India Art Fair. Each time I saw an art fair I realised that some form of monopolisation of aesthetics was happening in each of them. This is not the case in India alone. It happens in most major art fairs. My travels across our country made me realise how varied the works of art produced by different artists living in the different nooks and corners of India are. This made me think about having a fair for the young and upcoming people who are not really represented by India and are out of the monopolised aesthetics of art fairs.

In an interview with The Times of India, Sharma also touched upon the concept of monopolising aesthetics. “We wanted to ensure the survival of emerging artists by offering them a platform to sell their work free of cost,” he says. “A handful of forty to fifty respected artists keep coming to the galleries; the young artists remain out of the loop.”

Archana Khurana, 'A Night drive', acrylic and pastels on canvas. Image courtesy United Art Fair.

Participant artists were chosen by Sharma and the project director of the fair, critic Johny ML (Johny Mulluvilakom Lakshmanan). They travelled to fifteen cities and met 3,800 artists during the selection process. Sharma explains,

When I started off with the idea of having an artists’ driven art fair where artists would rent out booths, I faced a sort of resistance from some the young artists who told me that they did not have enough funds to hire booths. This put me into a different mode of thought and I made the fair completely free for artists.

While the fair will not take any upfront payment from the artists, it will receive a 35 percent commission on all sold art works.

Support from established artists

Sixty established artists have come forward to support the fair. They will be represented in a section titled “Mind the Gap Now”. A “Sculpture Park” devoted to fourteen large-scale sculptures will exhibit, among many contemporary staples, K.S. Radhakrishnan’s new monumental work, Time, Tide and Growth and Subodh Kerkar’s Bread Route. A section on photography will feature work by artists like Sunil Gupta, Pablo Bartholomew and Deepak John Mathew.

Indu Tripathy, 'We want to dance and fly', 2012, oil on canvas. Image courtesy United Art Fair.

According to Sharma,

It was not that difficult to convince the senior artists. As we all know, there are always different types of artists in both the senior and junior categories. Some always move with their galleries and some … exercise their free will. But we were a lucky lot as most of the senior artists whom we approached appreciated the idea and got ready to participate. Our idea is to get their names involved so that the youngsters’ names and works get endorsed in the larger market. And we are thankful to all those senior artists who have decided to participate in the UAF.

Young art collectors, gallery owners targeted

Like other fairs internationally, United Art Fair is also attempting to catch the collectors young. While the galleries have been kept out, organisers are hopeful that gallery owners will utilise the opportunity to spot talent and sign up new artists. As Sharma clarifies,

Our primary target audience is the art collecting community, both from India and abroad. I am talking from a business point of view, which is good for the young and emerging artists. And if I talk about the aesthetic part of the fair, we are targeting the new and emerging art lovers of this country. We want to tell them that India is a democratic country with a variety of cultures and expressions, and it is time to find and appreciate the contemporary side of it.

Besides, our target audience is going to be the new and upcoming art collectors who could start off with the low-end but high-quality works. We intend for this new buying community in our country to evolve with the artists whom they buy. And finally, I want the galleries in this country to have a look at the artists who are featured in this fair and pick them up for further promotion. I am sure that this exercise is going to be beneficial to most of the players in the art scene.

Aadhi Vishal, 'Homage to Lady Gaga', 2011, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy United Art Fair.

A niche in the art scene? 

The organisers are aware that they will be compared with the successful India Art Fair (IAF). However, they feel that UAF has found a niche, and one that is very different from the premier Indian art fair. Sharma explains,

India Art Fair, by the fourth edition earlier this year had established its name through consistent efforts and a professional showcasing of galleries. It has created its own niche, but we are not going to replicate that model or step into the path that has already been chartered by it. Our aim to create a different niche for artists who are not represented by galleries.

But this does not mean that these artists need to be kept outside of the gallery circuit forever. We want them to be promoted by the galleries. United Art Fair is going to be a 360 degree platform for everyone in the art scene. It is open to the new talents: artists, critics, curators, buyers, collectors, gallerists and so on.

Will UAF succeed?

The Times of India report highlighted that a similar fair, Art Trade Fair, a two-day-long event that allowed artists to sell their work directly to collectors, was cancelled after its début in Delhi in 2007. The Times article also quoted a leading Delhi gallerist (who wished to remain anonymous) who expressed scepticism on the format of affordable art.

However, it is too early to predict how UAF will fare. India Art Festival received a good response to its 2011 début event in Mumbai and is racing ahead with its second-year preparations. The artist-lead format has also made in-roads in other Asian countries such as Indonesia where Art Jog successfully concluded its 2012 edition in July. And even in mature markets like the UK, artist lead fairs like The Other Art Fair, New Artist Fair and Urban Art are making a mark.

How do you think this new Indian fair will fare? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


Related Topics: Indian artists, fairs, New Delhi art happenings

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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