Frieze London 2013

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart looks at the 2013 edition of Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters.

London: With the onset of the British winter, as the trees of Regent’s Park shed their foliage to assume a structural minimalism, another edition of Frieze draws to a close. Running in its eleventh year, Frieze Art Fair is a conglomerate of art, artists, curators, galleries, collectors, dealers and critics who have a common affinity for art of the contemporary sort. Its younger sister fair, Frieze Masters, now in its second year is just as grand and deals with ancient to modern art.

Frieze Art Fair exterior, 2013. Image Credit: http://www.londonbb.com/frieze-art-fair-london/

Frieze Art Fair exterior, 2013. Image Credit: http://www.londonbb.com/frieze-art-fair-london/

I was fortunate enough to attend Frieze both in 2012 as well as in 2013 and the change within the two years was quite apparent. This year Frieze Art Fair condensed their number of exhibitors from 175 to 150, a move that reinforces Frieze’s emphasis on quality over quantity. Additionally the architectural design was also opened up to reveal a new entrance, floor, a revised gallery grid and a mezzanine café area, rather than the claustrophobic labyrinth of corridors from previous years.

This year the participation of South Asian galleries was lesser than last year, even though South Asian artists were well represented by international galleries. Project 88, the only Indian gallery to participate, has been at the helm of promoting cutting edge contemporary art in Bombay, India. This year Project 88 featured the works of Neha Choksi, Raqs Media Collective, Rohini Devasher, Sarnath Banerjee, Somnath Hore and The Otolith Group.

Houseplant and Sun Quotation, 2013, Neha Choksi. Image Credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/arts/international/indian-artist-explores-absence-through-presence.html?_r=1&

Houseplant and Sun Quotation, 2013, Neha Choksi. Image Credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/arts/international/indian-artist-explores-absence-through-presence.html?_r=1&

Choksi, now a regular name in the Frieze line up, concerns herself with the search for various forms of absences. She approaches and represents this absence by appealing to the presence of forms. In Houseplant and Sun Quotation, Choksi correlated the mechanized process of photography to the living process of the plant, both processes necessitated by the presence of light. She placed plants near paper that has been photo chemically treated with palladium salts, so as to expose the non-shadow part of the paper. The resultant effect was that the absence of the plant on the palladium paper was represented through a negative presence of the shadow form. The Burst series featured two ceramic sculptural forms or anti forms, if you will, that adopted absence and suspension in order to initiate her ideas of solitariness and expiry.

Forthcoming Titles, 2012, Raqs Media Collective. Image Credit: http://www.project88.in/individual-work.php?artfair=ARFR0020&workid=9

Forthcoming Titles, 2012, Raqs Media Collective. Image Credit: http://www.project88.in/individual-work.php?artfair=ARFR0020&workid=9

In Forthcoming Titles through referential comparison between influential authors in the canon of Marxism, Raqs Media Collective’s carefully displayed wall mounted library managed to resonate a faux seriousness only to be broken by the anagrammed names of the authors. Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist revolutionary and a figure who has actively influenced Raqs own collective consciousness, became Luxme Sorabgur.

Sarnath Banerjee’s new series of drawings was replete with the caricatural humour that Banerjee is synonymous with. He made light of contemporary Indian society through symbolic representations and diagrammatic visual depictions.

Trotskyites Anonymous, 2013, Sarnath Banerjee. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5393/3942

Trotskyites Anonymous, 2013, Sarnath Banerjee. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5393/3942

Rohini Devasher’s paper work involved prints of satellite images of the Indian Astronomical Observatory and the surrounding landscape at Hanle, Ladakh, superimposed with drawings. Her project was an investigation of these mythic terrains where fiction blurs the boundaries of what is real and imagined. It was a process of converting the familiarity of geography into one of strange hybridization. The other artists on display at Project 88 were Somnath Hore and the Otolith Group with their newest video essay People to be Resembling.

Dubai based Grey Noise featured the works of Pakistani artist Mehreen Murtaza. Murtaza’s stylistic visual narrative consists of an amalgam of Sufi cultural imagery along with the futurism of science fiction. This odd juxtaposition enables science to question and reexamine religion, myth and superstition. While adopting the critical point of view of Western rationalism, Murtaza does not stray away from the Islamic historical heritage and thus her work operates in a realm where mystical ideas of spirituality synchronize with scientific theories.

Solstice, 2013, Mehreen Murtaza. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5498/3637

Solstice, 2013, Mehreen Murtaza. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5498/3637

In Transmission From A Missing Satellite, Murtaza payed homage to Dr Abdus Salam, a Pakistani theoretical physicist, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979. Though Salam’s contribution to the field of science was remarkable, the memory of the man is tainted by prejudice due to his minority Ahmadi background. The work presented an assemblage of clues such as loose letters, telegrams and even a floating stone reminiscent of the Floating Stone of Jerusalem at the Dome of Rock. Through these artifacts Murtaza used artistic approaches to visualize the adventures in quantum immortality.

I was you, 2013, Aisha Khalid. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5424/4225

I was you, 2013, Aisha Khalid. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5424/4225

The other South Asian artists on display were Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid at the London based gallery Corvi Mora. Dayanita Singh also displayed her work at Frith Street Gallery. Singh also has a solo show Go Away Closer on display at the Haywards Gallery, Southbank Center till the 15th of December 2013.

In the other side of the park at Frieze Masters, the environment was quieter and less frenetic than it is in Frieze Art Fair. Whilst the older contemporary fair attracted a fair share of curious onlookers who come to marvel at the trends in contemporary art, Frieze Masters took on a more discerning vibe. The lighting was softer, public area was carpeted and the artworks were more traditional.

Untitled (Landscape), 1965, F. N. Souza. Image Credit: http://grosvenorgallery.com/art-fairs/current-art-fairs/frieze-masters/

Untitled (Landscape), 1965, F. N. Souza. Image Credit: http://grosvenorgallery.com/art-fairs/current-art-fairs/frieze-masters/

Grosvenor Gallery’s debut at the Frieze Masters featured a selection of Black on Black Paintings by Francis Newton Souza. This appearance at Frieze coincided with their current exhibition, F.N Souza: Black on Black Paintings on view till 28th October. The exhibition follow the legacy of Souza’s 1966 show Black Art and Other Paintings at Grosvenor Gallery where he presented a series of monochromatic works rendered in thick black impasto oil. Even though the inspiration for Souza’s stylistic turn toward such a dark somber palette is disputed, these works bear reflection to Souza’s state of mind in the 60s.

Difficult and demanding, Souza’s black series is not easy on the eye, but of course that was exactly Souza’s intention. As Toby Treves pointed out, Souza claimed that the visual intensity of his paintings was meant to be a jarring reminder about the visceral consciousness of life. In order for the work to reveal itself, a few moments are required in front of each work. The interplay between the light and the textured brushstrokes, caught by the eye only at a certain angle uncovers a world of forms, textures and worlds inside each canvas.

Lovers, 1965, F. N. Souza. Image Credit: http://grosvenorgallery.com/art-fairs/current-art-fairs/frieze-masters/

Lovers, 1965, F. N. Souza. Image Credit: http://grosvenorgallery.com/art-fairs/current-art-fairs/frieze-masters/

From the somber monochromes of Souza to the resplendent gleam of the Indian miniature works at Francesca Galloway, Frieze was a complete affair in itself. In conjunction with the fair itself, a host of galleries, museums and artistic institutions opened their doors to patrons by organizing lectures, panel discussions, performances and art projects.

A Scene in a Heaven, Anonymous. Image Credit: http://friezemasters.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5608/4287

A Scene in a Heaven,
Anonymous. Image Credit: http://friezemasters.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5608/4287

My favourite part of Frieze London was actually the Sculpture Park. While most of the public and media attention goes onto the two sister fairs, the Sculpture Park is often the portion of the fair, which has so much to offer. It also provides a nice escape to the bustling fanfare of the tented Frieze Art Fair.  Amidst the rolling greens of Regent’s park’s sculpture half of the fair was Amar Kanwar’s Listening Bench #4 (2013), a part of his The Sovereign Forest exhibition, currently on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The benches offered visitors a place of quietude and contemplation after the influx of so much sensory stimuli.

Snapshots from the Škoda Art Prize 2012 Ceremony

Manjari Sihare shares some snapshots from the Škoda Prize 2012 Ceremony held in New Delhi recently

New Delhi: We recently blogged about the Škoda Art Prize 2012 Show at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. This year, LN Tallur was selected winner of this coveted award. Here are some snapshots from the award ceremony, courtesy of the organizers of the Prize. This ceremony also saw the felicitation of Delhi based artist, Rohini Devasher, with the Art India Breakthrough Artist Award. Read this interview to learn more about Devasher.

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Indian Art at SH Contemporary 2012

Manjari Sihare speaks with Diana Campbell about the India Focus projects at SH Contemporary, the premier Asia Pacific Contemporary Art Fair in Shanghai, China

SH Contemporary is one of the most successful art fairs in China, as it captures the dynamism of the Chinese art market as well as the spirit of Shanghai, a truly creative city that bridges business, culture and innovation. The 6th edition of the fair took place in the spectacular Shanghai Exhibition Center, one of the city’s landmarks, from 7–9 September 2012. SH Contemporary was organized into two main sections: The Art Show with over 100 selected exhibitors, and SH Contemporary Projects. The latter included an exhibition oncontemporary ink and calligraphy-related multimedia works titled Now Ink, and Hot Spots consisting of large scale and site specific projects by various artists. The Indian component of Hot Spots was presented by the Creative India Foundation and curated by Diana Campbell, the founding director and chief curator of the foundation. Campbell shared details of this project with me:

Q: Give us an overview of SH Contemporary’s India Focus?

A: For this rendition of SH Contemporary, the director Massimo Torrigiani wanted to complement the fair by supporting large scale curatorial projects. There are curated exhibitions, such as Now Ink (artists reflecting on the traditional Chinese medium of Ink and calligraphy), Hot Spots (monumental new commissions), and First Issue (curated solo projects by young artists). I was invited to add to the fair’s curatorial programming by contributing my knowledge of Indian art to the fair’s programming. What is great is this is not an ‘India’ show per se, the artists are integrated into the overall exhibition for the quality of the work. The artists included in the India Focus projects do not have galleries with booths at the fair, which shows the commitment of the organizers to showing good works and creating quality exhibitions, not just highlighting the works of their exhibitors’ artists.

Q: How did this project take fruition? Please highlight Creative India Foundation’s role in Focus and the SH Contemporary Fair in general?

A: I met Davide Quadrio, the director of ArtHub Asia, who was in charge of the special projects, because we were both speaking at a public art conference in London. He was interested in the work I have been doing, and he and Massimo Torrigiani invited me to come to China to do a site visit. I was taken with the space and the potential to present Indian creativity to such a wide audience. I also studied Chinese in school, so personally I was interested in revisiting the art of this region. The Creative India Foundation supported new commissions and my curatorial work for the fair. The Foundation is presenting the work of Indian artists, and this way the work that is displayed is not tied to a particular gallery or region. 

Q: Could you talk a little about the significance of India being the inaugural country for SH Contemporary: Focus? With the Indian Highway exhibition at the Ullens Center in Beijing and now the SH Contemporary: Focus, could we say that finally this is the start of a cultural exchange between the two countries which have so far had their buzzing contemporary art scenes restricted to their own fortresses?

A. I certainly hope so! There are many challenges navigating between the ‘fortresses’, but I hope that the growing interest in India will create new opportunities for Indian and Chinese cross-cultural exchange. There is already another exhibition with Indian artists right around the corner. I am co-curating the Mumbai City Pavilion for the Shanghai Biennale (which is exploring city rather than national pavilions) and there will be 9 artists in that exhibition – it opens in a month.

Q: China is known for its censorship rules as we saw in the recent episode at the Ullens Center (removal of Tejal Shah’s work at the behest of the Indian government). Did you encounter problems of this kind with your curation? Were the proposals and final projects vetted by the Chinese authorities before, during and after the works were installed?

A: Everything must be vetted by the censorship board months in advance. None of my works were particularly controversial, so I was fine. However, there were some works that were pulled by the censorship bureau at the opening – and since one was in the catalogue – the catalogue is now banned. Sometimes censorship can create more interest (like Ai Wei Wei). Tejal Shah’s piece ironically was an Indian Embassy instigated censorship situation, they pressured Beijing to pull the video, otherwise it would have been fine. 

Gyan Panchal, pelom 2, 2012
Now Ink
Courtesy: Jhaveri contemporary, Mumbai

Q: You have also co-curated the theme-based exhibition, Now Ink. Please elaborate on the works of artists featured herein: Gyan Panchal, Manish Nai and Rohini Devasher?

 A: Gyan Panchal, Rohini Devasher, and Manish Nai join a group of East Asian artists who explore the very traditional use of ink in new ways. In Gyan Panchal’s work Pelom 2, he transforms a found piece of marble which had been artificially painted green. He subtly removes the green ink trying to get back to the stone’s original color, and the result is quite beautiful. 

Rohini Devasher’s beguiling video Arboreal uses video feedback to produce beautiful tree like forms which resemble ink drawings, but actually do not use ink at all. Manish Nai uses watercolor to transform photographs of cracked walls by adding further dimension to them. This exhibition has been incredibly well received and has been invited to show in Venice during the Biennale as a satellite exhibition. 

Rohini Devasher, Arboreal, 2011
Now Ink
Courtesy: The artist and Project 88, Mumbai

Q: Please tell us about the new projects by Shilpa Gupta, Aaditi Joshi and Raqs Media Collective commissioned by the Creative India Foundation? 

A: Shilpa Gupta was an ArtHub Asia collaboration, and their team searched the country to find a calligrapher who could write the Chinese Arabic script called Xiao er Jing. The piece says “I Live Under Your Sky Too” in English, Chinese, and Xiao er Jing, and with ArtHub’s support will travel to a public place in Shanghai soon. Shilpa is also in the biennale – so she is having quite a China moment. She also designed the costumes for the Paris Opera having to do with China earlier this year. 

Aaditi Joshi, Untitled, 2012 (front and side views)
Commissioned by the Creative India Foundation

Aaditi Joshi, Untitled, 2012
Commissioned by the Creative India Foundation

Aaditi Joshi created and completed works in China. It was her first time out of India, and she had a production based residency and collaborated with Chinese workers. She created a beautiful mountain like sculpture which graces the west wing entrance, and the plastic form is reminiscent of Chinese scholar rocks. Her work has been invited to show in a UNESCO Heritage building called Bund18, so the project will take a longer life. 

Raqs Media Collective, Whenever the heart skips a beat, 2012
Commissioned by the Creative India Foundation
Courtesy: The artists, Project 88, Mumbai and Creative India Foundation
Image courtesy: Diana Campbell

Raqs’ work, Whenever the Heart Skips a Beat, is a work I have a long involvement with since I commissioned the original video for the India Art Fair projects I curated last year. They created stills of the clock work and translated them into Chinese – and these projections were displayed in monumental size in the main hall.

Q: This is actually the second time that SH Contemporary has prioritized India, the first being in 2008 to showcase the Best Discoveries project by Delhi based curator, Deeksha Nath. Would you have any insights from the Fair organizers about the perception and reception towards Indian art in 2008 and now?

A: The fair has had many changes in leadership (which is one of its criticisms) so no one has been discussing the past projects.

Q: SH Contemporary is considered to be the most important art fair in China having preceded ART HK in its inception. How are the two different, if at all? Do the tax free import and English language environment give ART HK an edge over SH Contemporary?

A: I would think the user friendly logistics of Hong Kong would make it a much more internationally friendly for exhibitors. However, for the Chinese market, SH Contemporary brings the best of Asian art domestically and serves this market beautifully, and there are real tax benefits to buying overseas. I was at dinner with directors of Art HK and Art Stage Singapore last night, and I think all three can co-exist and thrive together as they don’t necessarily have the same client base. SH Contemporary’s curatorial projects were a strong addition to navigating the chaos of an art fair. I was intrigued by Pablo Rudolf’s (Lorenzo Rudolf’s son) plans for Art Stage Singapore with an Indonesia Pavilion with completely new commissions. I sponsored a project for Art HK in the past and I think the way the booths were organized wasn’t that friendly to the smaller Asian gallery exhibitors – I think this is going to change now that the leadership is Art Basel, though. I think the India Art Fair is definitely at risk when it comes to Art HK, at least with having international exhibitors.

Q: What has the response been like? China is known to represent the new breed of international art collectors. Have these collectors expressed any interest in Indian art?

A: The response has been great, and there’s been good interest in Indian art, especially Manish Nai. There are many new museums opening in China and they are beginning to have a more pan Asian focus. 

Manish Nai, Untitled works, 2012
Now Ink
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke

Read more about SH Contemporary 2012

Diana Campbell is Founding Director and Chief Curator, Creative India Foundation, Hyderabad, a private foundation which advances Indian contemporary art globally and is developing India’s first international sculpture park. She is a guest contributor on our blog. To read her previous posts, please click here and stay tuned for more. 

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