Private art promoters are playing a big role in pushing Indian contemporary art beyond national frontiers, pitch-forking new artists into international limelight and connecting them to the common man with quality aesthetics.
Rough estimates cite that the country has nearly 100 big and small private art foundations to promote contemporary art and culture – both in the country and abroad that fill a void precipitated by bureaucratic red-tape, legal tangles and official delays in government-sponsored art promotion drives.
In January this year, the Delhi-based Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) helped 70 reputed Indian photographers exhibit a body of heterogeneous visual perspective of South Asia, ‘Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography From India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.
The exhibition curated by photographer Sunil Gupta opened in London to wide critical acclaim – and is now on its way to Zurich.
It was set up in 2006 by Arun Vadehra in an endeavour to make contemporary art accessible, promote Indian art abroad, increase greater ‘interaction among art institutions and generating art philanthrophy.’
FICA sponsors an annual emerging artists’ award, an eight-week residency programme at Montalvo Arts Centre in California, art workshops in schools across the capital, a public art grant, FICA group shows, research fellowships, group exchanges and an arts reading room in Delhi’s Defence Colony.
‘It was our dream to set up an art foundation as a philanthropic project but we wanted to segregate its activity from those of the gallery,’ FICA spokesperson Parul Vadehra told IANS.
Parul Vadehra said FICA was now ‘seeking applications from young artists for its Emerging Artists’ Award 2010′.
The Harmony Art Foundation in Mumbai, founded by Tina Ambani, has been engaged in similar activities to promote contemporary Indian art for the past 15 years.
Every year the foundation awards talented emerging artists from a countrywide list and plays host to an exhibition of contemporary art drawn from the list of submissions.
The Mumbai-based Osian’s Connoisseurs of Art Private Limited led by Neville Tuli has created one of the largest ever codified body of modern, contemporary and kitsch art in the country under one roof.
The Gurgaon-based Devi Art Foundation, set up in 2008, ‘provides a platform to contemporary artists and young curators to bring about a dynamic change in the viewership of art’, co-founder Anupam Poddar said.
The organisation works with schools, colleges and professional institutions and galleries across India by involving students and young art aficionados in curatorial exercises, workshops and exposure to different genres of art.
The Delhi-based Art Mall owned by the Jain family that awarded young artists in April is another private initiative that takes young art to the masses at an affordable price and supports new artists.
The Kolkata-based Emami Chisel Art, one of the biggest private auction houses in eastern India, ‘is currently engaged in a year-long artistic exchange with Sweden’.
‘It began with an Indian fashion show, Contemporary India, that unveiled 21st Indian fashion in smaller Swedish towns that still relate to India as a land of elephants and snake charmers,’ auction house director Vikram Bachhawat told IANS from Kolkata.
‘On Aug 10, 30 Indian artists will exhibit more than 100 art works across eight display spaces throughout Sweden, including museums and pavements. The gesture will be reciprocated by Sweden in December when Swedish artists display their art in Kolkata.’
Bachhawat said private organisations should be awarded incentives by the government to ‘institute new projects to perpetuate Indian artistic heritage.’
Observes Anmol Vellani of the Bangalore-based India Foundation for the Arts, a private art and culture promotion forum, ‘It is very hard to argue that the government’s involvement in the arts has been deleterious. But the shortcomings of government efforts to promote arts are common knowledge.
‘Public cultural institutions quickly become dysfunctional and directionless obstructed by bureaucratic immobility and political caprice.’