India's global art advent

Who are the movers and shakers of the art world? The powerbroker lists — and goalposts — keep changing depending on who is drawing them. Is the Japanese buyer of the most expensive Basquiat painting a force to reckon with as an influencer? Is a curator only as good as his latest outing? Does someone with a legacy but no current relevance form part of the annual club? Should a museum head make it over the achievements of his predecessors? Why should a gallerist even be on the list?

However relevant — or odious — these lists, what they most achieve is drawing attention to the diversity, richness, incubation and infrastructure of the art world, something that is otherwise missed. A gallerist is no mere retailer, he can shape artists’ careers, inform important collectors, and help pass the baton from one generation to the next. Art fair directors have the capability to draw talent through careful selection, curation and audience appeal that includes the elite of the museum and of art events and biennales. However arguable their selection or inclusion might be, their relevance lies in building the foundation blocks for the art community, an interstice between the creative and the intellectual world via a commercial link. It goes without saying that gallerists are also, often, collectors. And on the eve of the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi (pictured, it is being formally inaugurated on March 11), it is interesting to wonder who within its power structure will make it to the next art list.


For now, however, the ArtReview Asia, monitor of 100 art powerbrokers, just out, does not take that into account. To begin with, there are only three Indians on it, the Raqs Collective’s Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta at number 39 whose outing at the Shanghai Biennale probably earned them that spot; Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari, founders and directors of the Kochi Muziris Biennale at number 84, and collector Kiran Nadar at number 99. Their presence is significant, but it is unfortunate that no Indian artist has made the cut (Komu and Krishnamachari are both artists, but their inclusion is not on that account), especially as those right on top of it constitute artists from diverse mediums: Hito Steyerl and Pierre Huyghe, while, at number three, Donna Haraway is an eminent professor emerita and writer.

At number four is the artistic director of Documenta 14, Adam Szymczyk, whose decision to split the event between Kassel, its traditional stronghold in Germany, and Athens in Greece, thereby vastly overshooting its budget, has raised a controversy, the dust on which is still to settle. At number five is gallerist Davis Zwirner, whose eponymously named galleries are highly regarded. Other, familiar gallery names include Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of Serpentine Galleries, Iwan and Manuela Wirth of the influential Hauser & Wirth, and Larry Gagosian of Gagosian Galleries. Making it to the list also are Adam Weinberg, director, Whitney Museum of American Art, Chinese artist and activist Aie Weiwei, Art Basel director Marc Spiegler, who now has an Indian connection via the India Art Fair, Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani from neighbouring Dhaka who have single-mindedly persued the making of an art scene in Bangladesh with the Dhaka Art Summit, and Bernard Arnault, collector, patron and founder of Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. 

India can play a much larger role on such laundry lists. Indian curators are being sought internationally, and not just for experimenting with Indian art. The collector portfolio is beginning to diversify. But as yet, we have not seen the influence of artists, writers, teachers, gallerists, or government, on a global scale: vital elements who, along with curators, can change the perception of India as a global player in the art world. But that might still happen sooner than we imagine.

/> Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic. These views are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation with which he is associated.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel