This question has been around for quite some time; to be precise since the day I joined as the project director and chief curator of United Art Fair- Is United Art Fair going to topple the existing system of galleries? Though in our road show presentations, we have time and again reiterated the fact that we are not against the existing gallery system, gossips have been doing the rounds towards an adverse effect. Those who have attended our road shows know for sure that in capital and bold letters we have stated that we are not here to topple the system. Of course, in my speeches I have time and again spoken of the monopolization of taste and manufacturing of consent in the field of global aesthetics. Also I have said how this monopolization irons out aesthetic varieties. Hence, United Art Fair is a huge attempt to decentralize our art production-dissemination-consumption system. We cannot be such naive art players who would like to do away with a key link in this system- that is, the Gallery.
(JohnyML with Ashna Singh, Ram Rahman, Abul azad, Anoop Mathews Thomas, Sunil gupta, Alex Fernandes, Vinay Lal, Dr.Deepak John Mathew and Manisha Gera Baswani)
Pablo Helguvera, artist and critic from Spain who currently lives in New York, in his book, ‘Manuel of Contemporary Art Style’ speaks of how the art system functions. He considers the whole art scene as a game of chess. In this game, the museum director is the King, collector is the queen, Curators are the rooks, Dealers/galleries are Knights, Critics are Bishops and artists are the Pawns. Pawns are given freedom to move slowly. And the idea of pawn is to reach the King. But there are several hurdles on the way. Hence the Rooks and Knights help him to move further. Not all the pawns reach the King via queen. However, a few who reach there will not be shaken down by any other force. United Art Fair too understands the art making and marketing as a game of chess, but with a difference. What is that difference?
(JohnyML and G.R.Iranna at Sakshi Gallery with Manjunath Kamat's work)
Here United Art Fair has devised a new game of Chess. What we do here is to bring in too many pawns (dear artists, please do not take offence on this expression as I am just following the analogy of Pablo Helguvera) at once on a large game board. And we do let them move in their own ways. The four hundred plus artists who are going to be featured in the first edition of United Art Fair are not in any manner contracted by the company, United Art Logistics Private Limited. Nor have we made them sign any private contract that would bind them with us for the coming editions. They are free to move further. We do seek the protection of the Knights for them. We need more and more galleries to come in and see the young talents and pick them up for further grooming and promotion.
(JohnyML with Renu Modi of Gallery Espace and Babu Eshwar Prasad)
As an art fair, United Art Fair does not attempt to use artists as a projectile so that it could take the artists directly to the Kings. But of course, Untied Art Fair could attract the queens, that is collectors and the knights, rooks and bishops alike. In several ways, United Art Fair is a liberal platform where the rules of the game are slightly bent. United Art Fair, unlike the common belief works in tandem with the galleries. There are several artists in the first edition of United Art Fair, who are working with the galleries. And whichever galleries we have spoken to are only happy to share their artists with us. Besides, galleries should and I am sure they would, welcome United Art Fair as a new model in the Indian contemporary art scene which would bring qualitative changes eventually.
(JohnyML directing a documentary on Sanjeev Sinha for Religare Arts i)
Practically speaking, let me tell you how United Art Fair would be a one stop shopping centre not only for the collectors but also for the galleries. United Art Fair is instrumental in bringing more than 400 artists from all over India and this number include very fresh artists who work exclusively in digital mediums, installations, videos and photography. At the same time, this number also include several young and unknown artists who have devoted their lives to create painting, sculpture and print making. There are artists with experimental mind set and several others with traditional beliefs. The variety that we see here is fantastic. And there was a time when the market was booming and sky was the only limit for both artists and galleries, many travelled several miles to find out young and upcoming artists. Now with the recession on at least in the art market, none goes around to find young and emerging talents.
(JohnyML and Nidhi Jain of Gallery Ragini)
United Art Fair is a platform with a bunch of people behind it who are driven by wanderlust. This is not a romantic concept. We are realistic about it and our journeys are meant for finding the new artists working in some humble hamlets. Hence, United Art Fair becomes a platform for the galleries to come and see the variety, pick up a few from the bunch, nurture them for the future and take them to the king via queens. United Art Fair welcomes galleries to do so. We have brought our artists for your critical perusal and further appreciation.
(JohnyML and Annurag Sharma)
But United Art Fair wants more and more galleries with more and more differences, differences in aesthetical attitude and promotion. Recently a visiting gallerist and art collector asked me how as the chief curator of the United Art Fair I was going to assure quality. While travelling all over India promoting United Art Fair, someone else asked me what could be the theme of United Art Fair. Somebody asked me recently, is United Art Fair going to be a cutting edge show? My answer to all these queries is this: United Art Fair is going to be a quality show with a cutting edge attitude. It maintains its quality through positive selection process and it assures thematic through curatorial discretion and it maintains its cutting edge verve through experimental mixing of genres and a cosmopolitan approach to the existing galley/market system.
United Art Fair welcomes all the galleries to join us not as booth participants but as active promoters. Galleries could promote this art fair through three different ways: One, by promoting their artists through United Art Fair. We have our declared position on this: United Art Fair is an artists-driven art fair. Hence we will be highlighting the artists than the galleries. Galleries get their mention in the catalogues and tags. But galleries could take equal pride by bringing their audience in a fair context and present their artists. In this world of market economy co-operation offered is profit assured. Two, the galleries could pick up artists from the new bunch of youngsters from United Art Fair platform and promote them further. Three, celebrate United Art Fair as artists fair by creating collateral events, throwing parties for the visiting artists (young artists too deserver parties), engaging them in good conversations, introducing them to your collectors and buyers, and even stocking up something from the United Art Fair for your own inventories.
(Akshay Naik, JohnyML and Anubhav Nath of Ojas Art Gallery at Dharasana)
Before I close let me dispel some more clouds. I have been in the art scene for the last twenty years. And I have been working with different galleries by curating shows, writing catalogues, attending openings, engaging in talks, devising strategies for them and so on. I am not conceiving an art scene without galleries in any part of the world because galleries have a well defined role in our socio-cultural and economic system. As a critic I have been talking about the pitfalls in the functioning of our gallery system. And I will remain a critic of the same from within or without the United Art Fair. I want to employ a different approach and I want to include a new bunch of people in the whole production of the United Art Fair. And I assure you, you will enjoy it.
(at Dandi, trying a Gandhi posture)
In the case of Annurag Sharma, the founder director of United Art Fair, he cannot be against the gallery system at all mainly because as the Managing Director of the United Art Logistics Private Limited he has been instrumental in transporting the high end works of art created by the Indian artists to the international venues. Annurag’s relationship with the galleries is strong and is based on trust and love. Many do not know that Annurag Sharma has been the biggest sponsor of India Art Summit (now India Art Fair) not only as a Logistics Support Partner but also a ‘real’ sponsor of the event. When that is the reality, how can United Art Fair be against the galleries and the existing models?
(Annurag Sharma speaking to media in Mumbai)
So let’s say United Art Fair is here to congregate the artists and the galleries who do not believe in monopolization of power and money in a few hands. I welcome all the galleries in India to join hands with United Art Fair and create a difference in the scene because tomorrow belongs to us. Tomorrow belongs to all those who make a difference.