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Published on: April 5, 2021, 7:25 a.m.
Art comes alive at DCAW, again
  • A Visitor to the Court - 7 low (Latitude 28)

By Suman Tarafdar

In an extended year of ‘physical un-meeting’, unprecedented in our lifetime, it is no surprise that artists have dug deep to explore new stimulants. As galleries have been forced to go online, new ways of reaching out emerged, new associations and digital partnerships were formed, and studies indicated that online sales of art have risen manifold (there was little option for buyers!). Well, happily, art is returning to its rightful place – up close to its admirers.

Among the first major annual events to return to its physical form is the Delhi Contemporary Art Week (DCAW). A curated forum that was formed by seven like-minded galleries in Delhi, this edition of DCAW will present an impactful curation of artworks by the seven participating galleries, along with a line-up of curated events, talks and workshops from 8-15 April.

“This is the fourth edition of DCAW and over the years the event has grown in stature to become one of the premiere art events in the city’s calendar,” says Renu Modi, founder-director, Gallery Espace. “After a year with sparse physical programming in the arts, there is a lot of excitement around catching artworks by such a diverse range of artists from leading galleries in the city,” adds Anahita Taneja, co-director, Shrine Empire Gallery.

Contrary to the downward spiral for the economy in general, which has seen cutbacks in numerous spheres, DCAW has expanded. “Though we have passed through considerably tough times, this year promises to be the best edition of them all,” points out Aparajita Jain of Nature Morte. “DCAW is taking place at a new venue, Bikaner House, renowned for its grand main ballroom and heritage architecture,” says Bhavna Kakar, director, Latitude 28. “We will utilise all the spacious interiors and beautiful outdoor areas.”

“This year there will also be a host of special events organised – talks and conversations by artists and curators, walkthroughs, etc,” elaborates Modi. “We will also have special dinners during the exhibition, where gallerists will take connoisseurs through the displays, showing and talking about the art and artists.” Kakar points to artist-led workshops for all age ranges and a series of pecha-kucha style artist talks and panel discussions with eminent figures of the Indian art scene.

“With each year, our collaboration has become stronger and we have been able to collectively brainstorm ways to overcome challenges that we were perhaps unaware of during the first edition,” Taneja says optimistically.

Impact on art market

“Over the last one year, we’ve witnessed a drastic decrease in physical visitation at galleries, as we all expected after the dawn of the pandemic”, points out Kakar. “With our lives revolving around the home, the need to visually uplift the living space became paramount for a great many and thus, the value of owning art has surpassed it being just an asset class; it is also something that people want to live alongside.”

“The art market was not affected deeply by the pandemic, especially because various stakeholders realised that it was important to support artists through this difficult time,” says Taneja. “In fact, several collectors were able to use the time to understand and explore individual artists' practices better and make more educated acquisitions.”

Roshini Vadehra, director, Vadehra Art Gallery, says the art world adapted quickly to the online model. “And while the first few months of lockdown saw various virtual exhibitions, online viewing rooms and other digital collaborations, the last couple of months have seen physical exhibitions open again, and we are fortunate to have people enthusiastically return to our physical spaces. We have a seen a new crop of collectors come up during the pandemic.”

“We have seen surprising trends of people going back to traditional mediums of painting, but we have done well overall with all mediums,” adds Jain. “We saw a lot of smaller format works, given most studios were shut; we saw a lot of our artists moving to paper as a medium or smaller canvas.” Kakar points out that the art market is beginning to change. “These days there is a new wave of millennial buyers who are looking for more than just run-of-the-mill oil paintings – they’re not afraid to take risks with the mediums and artists whose works they invest in.”

Newer, younger and more affordable – that seems to be a sought-after formula, say gallerists. “People are inclined towards young, contemporary, experimental artists and we at Blueprint 12 are highlighting that this year,” affirm Mandira Lamba and Ridhi Bhalla, directors, Blueprint 12.

“The pandemic has forced people to live in the confines of their homes now more than ever,” says Rasika Kajaria of Exhibit 320. “This has encouraged people to beautify their living spaces and more and more collectors are buying art. People are now more confident of buying art just by seeing an image on the internet or on their phones.”

Digital future?

Irrespective of how soon this pandemic is behind us and life is more ‘offline’, some changes look to be irreversible, such as a greater acceptance of digital art. “A digital trend has set a new way of viewing art and I feel that introduction is something that will stay on,” points out Taneja.

A new trend sweeping the international art world is the non-fungible token (NFT), and Indian galleries seem to be catching up. The current buzzword is NFTs, agrees Jain, who will soon launch on her blockchain-powered platform. “We’re seeing a boom in the sales of NFTs, supported by blockchain, which is expanding the notions of what we consider to be ‘art’ outside of its physicality,” adds Kakar. “Although digital and internet art have been around for decades, the recent boom in the sales of digitised artworks is bringing these art forms into mainstream consciousness and sparking an evolution in fine art collecting as buyers are realising that NFTs can work just like any other speculative asset.”

Digital or otherwise, most in the space are hoping for a recovery in rates as well, as they have taken a pretty precipitous fall, according to insiders. “DCAW 2021 is the first collective, large scale art venture to physically take place post-pandemic and is a celebration of the unity, zeal and determination of artists and art institutions across South Asia as they overcome the many challenges presented by the global pandemic,” says Kakar. Gallerists and artists are keeping their fingers crossed that seeing art once again in person will act as a catalyst to get more patrons excited about the Indian art world.

Highlights of DCAW 2021

*  This year, DCAW is taking place at a new venue, Bikaner House, which will bring in new energy and vigour to the event. With its grand colonial era architecture and spacious exhibition spaces, it will be open to the public every day. 

*  In addition to the showcase at Bikaner House, the seven partner galleries will also be holding exhibitions with a focus on contemporary art at each of their individual galleries, creating a citywide fervour around contemporary art. 

*  Additionally, there will be a specially curated group exhibition of interdisciplinary practices by accomplished young curator Reha Sodhi titled Residues in the Main Ballroom’s side wing. 

*  Curated programme of events for collectors, connoisseurs and art lovers, which will include Talks, Workshops, Walkthroughs, Wine Tastings and more. 

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