India Art Fair director Jagdip Jagpal talks about her vision for the event in the coming years

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New Delhi | Published: February 11, 2018 1:10 AM

For someone who started attending the India Art Fair (IAF) three years back, getting the chance to head the show may have been surprising.

art, india art fair, Jagdip Jagpal, art gallery, galleryBorn in the UK and with a law degree from the London School of Economics, she is also a member of the development board at the Royal College of Art, UK.

For someone who started attending the India Art Fair (IAF) three years back, getting the chance to head the show may have been surprising. But those who know Jagdip Jagpal would vouch for her credentials and maintain that no one could have been better suited for the role, as the capital’s annual art show enters its 10th edition.

When offered the role in August 2017, Jagpal had successfully wrapped up the New North and South programme, an exchange between art organisations of England and south Asia. Switching base from Tate, UK, where she managed international partnerships and programmes to helming India’s most prestigious art show took her less than two weeks’ time. And her prime vision remains making the IAF a one-stop destination to discover the best works by artists from south Asia.

“My vision primarily borders on the lines that it’s an art fair and it will sell art, with artists majorly from India and south Asia,” says Jagpal. Over the last decade, the IAF has become a platform to discover modern and contemporary art from south Asia, showcasing emerging artists’ works. International galleries, too, are invited to present their best collections. Taking the mission forward, Jagpal intends to create more space for “art projects where young visitors can get to know art forms.”

“This year, we are focusing more on Indian voices, presenting more works that haven’t been exhibited earlier. We are also getting more speakers from India,” she says.

Jagpal, who has also served as a senior project coordinator at the Whitworth Art Gallery, UK, has introduced a new section called ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’, where an artist’s artwork of previous year that was exhibited outside India will be showcased at the IAF. “We want to highlight performance art. We are showing a moving imagework by British artist Hetain Patel and also Nikhil Chopra. Indians should get to know what these artists are doing internationally,” she adds.

In September, MCH Group, which runs the Art Basel fair, acquired a 60.3% stake in the IAF, creating quite a stir in the art community. And with a new director in place this year, the expectations from the fair are a notch or two higher than previous editions. With just four-five months of preparation time, Jagpal has put together a fine balancing act, with works of, for instance, Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama sharing space with homegrown Ravinder Reddy. The ratio of national to international galleries is 70:30.

Ask what impact the IAF has had on the Indian art scene, 53-year-old Jagpal says, “We have spotted a lot of Indian artists. We have also played a critical role in the development of the contemporary art market. And it’s not just the IAF, contemporary art biennales try to build an art market from which even a secondary art market will take up. These shows create public awareness… people who can’t travel to various places get to see a variety of artworks under one roof.”

Born in the UK and with a law degree from the London School of Economics, she is also a member of the development board at the Royal College of Art, UK. So how does it feel to work in India after Tate and Whitworth? “The artistic community is far more supportive in India… There is much more diversity in India as compared to Europe,” she says. This is perhaps the reason why Jagpal wants to broaden the horizon of the IAF, getting representations from other avenues such as the Kochi Biennale. “I don’t want to focus on one core set of artists. One of the best things about India is that the gallery system here gives a lot of attention to new artists. They have regular openings for new works. In India, more people from all sections walk into a gallery than in London, where you will only see the artistically-inclined.”

But despite all this, auction houses aren’t a hit in India. International auction house Christie’s, which started its India event in 2013, shut its physical shop after four years of live auctions. Why did it fail? “It’s something of a concern. Auction houses are secondary markets… maybe a combination of things would have led it to not click. For instance, the prices may not be at a level or so,” she suggests.
For now, Jagpal has her hands full. When the IAF draws its curtains this year, she will shift focus to creating a buzzing art scene in the country, with the aim to have art galleries from Chennai to Chandigarh and maybe even Capetown to exhibit at the next season of the IAF.

The India Art Fair is on till February 12 at Okhla, New Delhi

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