Neha Kirpal, Founder and Fair Director, India Art Fair in an exclusive interview with artBahrain
There are many types of women entrepreneurs but only a few have ventured in an art enterprise for the love and pride of her country. artBahrain had the pleasure to interview Neha Kirpal, UK educated Indian dynamo behind India Art Fair.
artBahrain: For those who would like to know, what are the basic ideologies of India Art Fair, and your ideology?
Neha Kirpal: The India Art Fair brings home grown and international artists and galleries under one roof for collectors, museums and the general public alike. I set up the India Art Fair to make art accessible to people here, to provide a transparent platform that would support exchange and dialogue, and of course, the trade of art in India, a country in which there is a huge pool of talent and enterprise, but where the infrastructure, awareness, and access to the arts are still limited.
ab: You founded India Art Fair at the age of 28; did you have any mentors who helped you in the organisation?
NK: I was always drawn to creative industries, and fascinated by what Indian culture has to offer. Before I set up the fair I had worked in the advertising industry and in PR and events, and there were many people along the way from whom I learnt valuable lessons. In terms of events, or brands there were a few international names which were benchmarks for me, for instance, what Frieze is to the London art scene, or the role that fairs like Basel play. Through India Art Fair I wanted to build a platform which would be relevant to India, and also create access to Indian art.
I don’t know if there is any one specific person I would call a mentor, but I have met, and continue to meet, and work with colleagues who inspire me. India Art Fair is a team effort, and I’m grateful for having such a great group of dedicated people working with me on it.
ab: The fair is entering its fifth year. How would characterise its growth, not just in terms of the number of galleries participating, but also its reputation outside the country?
NK: We are very proud of the success the India Art Fair has had, both as an Indian event and as a global art event. Out of the 104 galleries we have coming for the 5th edition of the India Art Fair, 40 are international, coming from 24 countries.
The India Art Fair is also becoming part of the Indian cultural calendar, attracting tourists from around the world. It is held in January/February every year, which is a great time to come to India. Foreign visitors often combine tourism, the India Art Fair and the Jaipur Literary Festival on their trip.
Part of the reason for this is the wide-spread awareness building programme, as well as the publicity which is built around the fair. We reach out to the media, and to diverse audiences including collectors, high net worth individuals and corporate audiences, luxury brands, as well as youth, students, and the general public in India, and of course the global art community.
ab: How has the fair changed over the years? And, what kind of new and exciting things might one expect to see?
NK: The scale of the event has grown and this has a significant impact – it has grown almost 3 fold over the last few years. We now have more galleries and more artists than ever before, and an exciting variety of works. India Art Fair has tremendous good will and support from the Indian art community, and a great response from the public, which is fantastic. It is much more widely known than it was in 2008-9, in terms of the numbers and diversity of visitors, as well as interest from the media.
The Speakers Forum this year has a very strong line-up of art experts from around the world and specifically from emerging economies, so it will offer some interesting insights into the development of art scenes in Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America. In terms of galleries, there are some very well-known international galleries (Lelong, Continua, Krinzinger, Jack Shainman) who are known for the cutting edge contemporary artists they support. Also showing this year we have exciting art from several new regions such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Israel, Korea, Latvia, Turkey, Pakistan and Russia.
The Indian gallery presentations will be exciting to see. The best galleries in the country participate in the India Art Fair every year, and every year they put up something better. There are a handful of Indian contemporary galleries who are gaining a reputation with the global art community for the contemporary Indian art they are supporting. There will also be a few first timers, and artists from around the country who have had little, if any exposure to the international, or even the Indian market till date – and the fair is an opportunity for collectors to see their work in the same platform as that of as leading artists.
ab: What have been the most successful stories from the time you launched the fair and what are you hoping to achieve in the next one?
NK: We are constantly working hard to grow and improve the India Art Fair. It has already seen unprecedented growth and support, and helped put art into the focus of mainstream society/press in India which is a big achievement for us. I would like to see it grow into an unmissable event on the Indian cultural calendar, for art enthusiasts and a wider public. An event where young artists can launch their careers and where collectors go to expand their collections, and a place where people can learn more about art in India.
ab: Are you reinventing India Art Fair every year or are you rather widening the audience and space to attract new eyes?
NK: The gallery presentations and the seminar programmes, and several aspects of the fair vary each year. However, our focus remains the same – to bring together a programme that is of interest to the art community and the general public, and to Indian and international visitors. The format of the fair has grown organically, and expanded, but the main tenets remain the same, for instance, while the majority of the space is taken up by commercial galleries, every year we have spaces for non-profit art projects, and educational aspects such as the Speakers Forum and curated walks, the book store and video lounge. Every year we also have a VIP Programme of exclusive events, and a city wide collateral events calendar around the fair. The themes and events differ every year, because the idea is also to attract new audiences who wouldn’t necessarily invest time in visiting an art event – there is a large prospective ‘cross-over audience’ for art in India too – people who are potentially interested in art, but feel galleries are too exclusive or simply don’t know enough about what is happening in the art space or where to find out.
As the India Art Fair grows in its prominence, so do the visitors in numbers. Our focus is on putting together a high quality and unique event, rather than simply chasing audience numbers.
ab: What are your expectations this year?
NK: We have approximately 105 exhibitors from India and around the world, a first class rota of speakers and great curated walks around the exhibits. We have been working on making the India Art Fair “THE” art event of the year and a focal point of the Indian cultural calendar, and for visitors it is a great way to experience the breadth and diversity of Indian art, and see art from around the world.
ab: What does the New Delhi market have to offer exhibitors?
NK: India is a country with a growing population of millionaires and a burgeoning middle class; it is an attractive market for art, as it is for luxury products. A key focus of the India Art Fair is bringing together collectors, and potential collectors, from all over the country and not just Delhi. We had visitors from 67 cities (from India and beyond) for the last edition. Through the year, we meet collectors, corporates, and a cross section of people around the country to raise awareness about the fair. This year for instance, we have collectors coming from Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad etc – so not just big metros but smaller cities as well. We also have groups of younger/prospective collectors visiting from places like Bangalore, or New York, to visit the fair as part of exclusive or customized tours to north India.
ab: In terms of the collectors you attract to the fair, do you think it is more important to generate local or regional audience then establishing India Art Fair as an added stop on the world art fair circuit?
NK: Both are equally important and neither should be ignored. While we do need to continue to raise access and visibility for Indian art abroad, the Indian market is still in its infancy and we need to focus on creating sustainable growth here rather than an imbalance. It’s also not just about the market, there has to be a wider audience interested in art, and more support for artists here in order to help the art scene develop its potential.
ab: How would you describe India Art Fair collectors, do they buy in a certain price point, follow certain trends, artists, galleries?
NK: There are very different types of collectors who buy at the fair, so it’s difficult to generalize. Art collecting is very subjective, and it is still very new to India. What I can say is that a range of people buy at the fair, they come from all over India and the world. They include individual collectors, as well as museums and other institutional collectors, as well as corporates. There is a small pool of seasoned collectors who have an interest in Indian artists, as well as international names, and the budgets to buy the works of European masters, and leading international artists. There is a wider group of younger, new and prospective collectors in India, with increasing spending power. Amongst them, there will be those who are interested in buying works of emerging artists, or artworks at lower price points, but there will also be those who are interested in buying from blue chip galleries, and works of famous artists.
ab: Have you invited art-world personalities for this year’s event? Who?
NK: We have a number of art heavy hitters from India and around the world participating in the India Art Fair. Here are some:
Sumant Jayakrishnan has once again designed the space for the event. The speakers at our forum also include prominent experts like Adriano Pedrosa (Curator & Director, PIESP-Programa Independente da Escola São Paulo, Brazil), Chus Martinez (Chief Curator, El Museo del Barrio, New York City), Akiko Miki (Senior curator, Palais de Tokyo, Paris), Amin Jaffer (International Director of Asian Art, Christie’s), Sandhini Poddar (Independent Curator and Art Historian, Mumbai, and Adjunct Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). Barbara London (Curator, Video & Performance Art, MoMA, New York), Liu Yingjiu (Deputy Director, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai), Dr. Boris Groys (Global Distinguished Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies, NYU and Senior Research Fellow, Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, Germany), Hameed Haroon (CEO, Dawn media Group, Pakistan), Robert Storr (Dean, Yale School of Art), Jeebesh Bagchi (Member, RAQS Media Collective), Geeta Kapur (Critic and Curator), Tapati Guha-Thakurta (Director and Professor in History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata).
ab: Are you considering expanding to any other cities?
NK: Not presently. The India Art Fair offers a consolidated platform to the Indian art scene every year. The leading galleries from major metros and smaller towns across India participate every year. Delhi as the capital has a very rich cultural offering, particularly during the winter months. India Art Fair is increasingly on the cultural map for domestic and international visitors, and so there are a lot of advantages in having it in Delhi. We work through the year to visit, and reach out to collectors, and galleries across the country, whose presence is seen at the fair every year.
ab: Describe the spirit of India Art Fair in three words.
NK: Dynamic (the Indian art scene certainly is; and the environment during the fair is too)
Global (because it is a rare opportunity to view Indian and international art in a world class showcase)
Inspiring (despite commercial aspects, art is unlike any other industry and luxury good in that it is highly subjective, emotive, and has the potential to be revolutionary – which are some of the forces driving new and seasoned collectors alike to continue buying it, and the public engaging with it)
ab: Finally, what would you like to say to possible first time attendees to India Art fair?
NK: The India Art Fair opens up a world that was (and still is) often closed to a wider public, so come, enjoy and learn about it in a friendly and democratic environment. I have always been fascinated by art, but found art galleries to be really intimidating places, so didn’t think that art was accessible to many people in India. This is one of the reasons why I set up the India Art Fair.
I encourage all visitors to have a look at our website and familiarize themselves with the exhibiting galleries, Speakers Forum and our collateral events. There will be plenty of choice for what to see and do, so I would recommend that you do a little bit of planning not to miss an event you might be particularly interested in.
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