Aesthetics or emerging technology? Which way is the future of Indian art headed

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Updated: January 30, 2020 1:50 AM

Cattelan’s banana artwork, for instance, is a brilliant example of how the meaning and importance of objects can change depending on the context.

Cattelan’s banana artwork, for instance, is a brilliant example of how the meaning and importance of objects can change depending on the context.  (Image: Artwork by artist Olafur Eliasson represented by gallery neugerriemschneider)

The year 2019 was a monumental one for art. While VS Gaitonde’s abstract sold for a whopping Rs 25.24 crore at Saffronart’s auction in March, Bhupen Khakhar’s Two Men in Benares (1982) fetched £2.54 million (around Rs 22.5 crore) at Sotheby’s auction in June.

Be it the fabulous show of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings in London or the much talked about banana duct-taped to a wall by Maurizio Cattelan which sold for $120,000 (about Rs 85.35 lakh) at Art Basel in Miami Beach, Florida, art has and will always continue to create new possibilities—both complex and brilliant. Cattelan’s banana artwork, for instance, is a brilliant example of how the meaning and importance of objects can change depending on the context.

What artists create also prompts a debate on what constitutes art and what it’s worth. Through renditions big and small—installations, paintings, sculptures and even multimedia—they have been instrumental in changing the social and economic landscapes of the art world. With sales shifting to online platforms where it’s easier to discover and invest in emerging artists, this change is especially palpable.

So what’s next for Indian art? Is it aesthetics or emerging technology? Leading names from the industry share their thoughts…

Alka Pande

Art historian, curator and author

“The future of art will see a judicious mix of both aesthetics and technology. Technology can’t be ignored or become a handmaiden of aesthetics. From virtual to augmented realities, lens-based work is getting a bigger momentum. While the human lens can never be replaced by the lens of the camera, digital is very much a part of the language of a fine art practice. The basic language of aesthetics includes beauty, line, form, colour, balance, harmony, emotions and rasa developed in a parallel space. Within the language of art, aesthetics can never be compromised upon. However, art has always had an extremely synergetic relationship with the market. When the financial market is buoyant, the art market is bouncing, too, and then the market is in the hands of the artists. When the financial market is depressed, as it is at the moment, then it’s in the hands of art buyers… Within the Indian context, with a reduction in economic growth, people are holding on to money… It’s also the time when art and cultural institutions can build upon their intangible resources and creativity finds new avenues for creative businesses… 2020 will probably be a double-edged sword, dynamic and challenging.”

James Green

Director, David Zwirner gallery,
New York, London

“The future of art is bright. The exposure of Indian artists to audiences outside the subcontinent is increasing and a growing number of international artists are now choosing to exhibit in India (India Art Fair is an important forum). This cultural exchange is having and will continue to have exciting consequences for both Indian art and art in India. With the art world becoming increasingly globalised, art engagement is driven by local collectors through regional and international events, and also through open access to art via digital platforms.”

Rahaab Allana

Curator, The Alkazi

“Subcontinental art and media exchanges and exposures—with a renewed image discourse—will surely manifest in the future with greater focus on regional imperatives, as well as more humanist concerns being revealed… which will include issues surrounding migration, community and the environment. With the changing political scenario internationally, we imagine that the Global South will draw greater patronage—especially through online fora— not only from the intrepid collector, but the new independent buyer as well, giving confidence to new artists who speak a bold new language of solidarity, and will also give the market more competitiveness.”

Jitish Kallat


“Technology or aesthetics are not binary opposites. The pencil and the pixel are both valid and valuable instruments to manifest an artistic impulse. Art is always a combination of serious inquiry and play, the studio is at once a laboratory, a silent sanctuary and a fun house.”

Roshini Vadehra

 Director, Vadehra Art Gallery

“Aesthetics, thematics and great quality will always remain of utmost importance in India and globally. Collectors in India have progressed to engage with and acquire works that are not necessarily of the traditional medium of painting. However, even while considering works which may be photography or video art, aesthetics and thematics are key.

For instance, Shilpa Gupta’s video works and neon installations are very popular among young collectors as they are able to resonate with the idea and concept of her works. While the Indian art market is opening up to international art, the past few years have seen Indian art being shown internationally in important museums and biennales, and collectors abroad acquiring it.

India is now reciprocating by galleries showing international artists, and Indian collectors showing interest in acquiring international art. The participation of international galleries like David Zwirner and Neugerriemschneider at India Art Fair has facilitated this movement. The exposure to international art is also happening through forums like Kochi Biennale where great works by international artists are being shown.”

Mortimer Chatterjee & Tara Lal

Gallery directors, Chatterjee & Lal

“The Indian art ecosystem will continue to grow as more and more young people become exposed to art. We expect there to be a proliferation of platforms for exhibiting art in the country. The success of events such as the Kochi Biennial and India Art Fair proves that there is a ready audience for contemporary art. The prevalence of digital in almost every sphere of the art market has increased transparency, improved the functioning of galleries and allowed for greater reach on the part of galleries. For small to mid-scale galleries, this means that they are able to compete with some parity with large players.”

Yamini Mehta  

Deputy chairman, Indian & south Asian art, Sotheby’s

“In the art world, both technology and aesthetics go hand in hand. Indian contemporary artists are creating works that rival the very best produced by their contemporaries across the world. Whereas the art of too many of their forefathers was overlooked by international audiences, today’s contemporary artists can benefit from the technological revolution and a world that is ‘flatter’ than ever before. We have already begun to see the impact of this—there’s raised awareness and accessibility of Indian art globally, and greater sharing, appreciation and buying across borders.

However, it feels like we are still only on the cusp of realising all the potential that technology can offer. Like online bidding is now the most popular way to participate in Sotheby’s sales, with over half of all bidders choosing this method. At the same time, artists from the Progressive Group have long dominated news headlines and commanded the highest prices at auction, but in the coming decade, we can expect a host of new artists to come to the fore and become household names.

Many important Indian painters or sculptors of the 20th century have too long been overlooked or forgotten, but are now undergoing somewhat of a resurgence. A new generation of gallerists and collectors have brought with them a new perspective and fresh eyes. We can look forward to an increasingly diverse and rich art market in the future. This has started to happen with the celebration of artists as varied as Mrinalini Mukherjee, Somnath Hore, Zarina Hashmi and Nasreen Mohamedi, and also with younger artists such as Bharti Kher, Salman Toor, Jitish Kallat and Rina Banerjee who have received curatorial and institutional support.”

Aparajita Jain

Co-owner & director, Nature Morte

“We need to think of new provenance and authentication methods by using better means of technology. We will also see newer media art coming like blockchain-based art, artificial intelligence-based art, etc. So I think we will see an influx of technology and aesthetics as the future of Indian art.”

Kiran Nadar

Founder & chairperson, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

“At every level, art is at a transformational moment. The creation of work relies increasingly on contemporary technologies and new media. The fact is that there are not a lot of seasoned Indian collectors. China has a lot of collectors who have been responsible for growth in the Chinese art industry. In India, individuals collecting Indian art are very few. That has to increase… We need to grow the collectors’ base. The government, too, should provide opportunities to learn art at all ages, offer public spaces for display of works, provide tax breaks and create workforce development opportunities. While galleries have been pushing for contemporary works in their exhibitions, fewer such works have featured in their sales records or at auctions.

This is a period of transformation. One sees fewer investors, more serious collectors and a growing interest in antiquities. The good news, though, is that these are signs of a maturing space that could only go upwards. Initiatives such as the India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, India Art Fair, Dubai Art Fair, Kochi-Muziris Biennale and new emerging private initiatives have created a wonderful ecosystem, invigorating and reshaping the art scene in India.
As KNMA completes a decade this year, we will continue to foster a museum-going culture among people and work towards sensitisation of art. We have always explored the vivacity of culture through various dynamic programmes in the public space, which include curatorial walk-throughs, retrospectives, workshops, education, exhibitions, etc. I feel there is a need for art education in India. We are working with schools to get more children to the museum, involving them in activities. The #chalomuseum campaign is focused on encouraging the public to visit local museums. Contemporary artwork needs more focus and we need to educate ourselves in terms of appreciating both modern and contemporary art. The need to replenish the slumbering cognizance of the layperson and bring about a renewed awareness of art should be our primary objective. Lastly, what I look forward to is the nurturing of more art appreciators, art collectors and government support in terms of promoting
art on various international platforms.”

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