Why I don’t understand art, yet visit the India Art Fair each year


Beef or Mutton by Anita Dube

Every year, I make my way to the India Art Fair. Every other month, I’ll go to an art exhibition. I’ll often try and drag one of my many arty friends to most of these dos — mainly because, even though I’m very interested in the arts, I don’t quite understand it. But like a child who’s fixated on this one thing she wants — I really really want to understand it.

It’s not like art doesn’t move me at all. I remember standing in front of Russolo’s Solidity of Fog at the Guggenheim in Venice and crying — but then, if someone asked me why, I wouldn’t really have an answer. I know I love SH Raza and I am fascinated by the way his work evolved over the decades — a timeline I was introduced to only last year at the 2014 edition of the Art Fair.

I have never studied art. I don’t know what makes the classics, classics, and the lines and forms that make an artwork revolutionary. I don’t get Subodh Gupta much, and I get Bharti Kher even less. As the artist at this year’s IAF stood proudly exhibiting his work called the ‘Garbh’ — a red room meant to recreate the womb, I entered and came out thinking: ‘What the hell was that?’ The piece by Puneet Kaushik is evocative, sure… but to imagine him slaving with dyeing cotton and string in shades of red and silver and then pasting them as clots seemed so utterly futile. I’m sure there is a story. I’m sure had I asked him I would have been fascinated by the inspiration for the Garbh, but really — as I slunk past him with a hesitant smile — did I really want to know?

And therein lay the conflict — I want to know about art and its inspiration, but I didn’t want to ask Puneet who was right there. And the reason for that is partly the way artists weave in fantabulous stories of women empowerment and the pain and suffering in the world in a piece of artwork that looks like something a two-year-old could make. And I’m not alone. I remember at least two instances where the cleaning crew thought a modern art installation was junk and threw it in the bin — Rome and Amsterdam, I think. I feel terrible for the artists, whose work valued at thousands of pounds, ended up in the trash. Or maybe that was poetic justice. But then, so many Van goghs and Picassos have been discovered in the trash as well.

This year at the IAF, I felt more out of my element than ever before — occasionally even second-guessing my intelligence and skills of perception. Except for this one tiny series by Pakistani artist Ayesha Jatoi, nothing modern seemed like art really. And I don’t even know if the Jatoi piece — Girl in the Miniature Painting (am assuming it was called this from Google) — even qualifies as ‘art’, per se. It’s this series where Jatoi’s given the basic framework of a miniature painting (much like a story board) with simple pencil-drawn lines and a dash of humour that indicates the subject and object of the painting. It’s supremely funny, intelligent, snarky — but is it art?



A series on Mughal paintings by Ayesha Jatoi

Which brings me to a question that has been posed way too often — what is art? Does it have to be beautiful? Or does it just have to make a statement? Should an artist always define and title his pieces or does ‘untitled’ really work as a title? But then, who’s to say what’s good art, what has depth, what is crap, and what’s a wannabe?

I like classical art, I’ve noticed. My kind of artworks need to be ornate, intricate, make a point, have a story, and if there are mythological references, then I’m totally sold. But then, I liked the ‘graphite on paper’ by Jatoi too — and I’m still debating whether I consider it ‘art’. Once at an exhibition in Barcelona, I loved how data was interpreted as visuals to show land encroachment — but that was my love for numbers (I can’t believe I just said that) that drew me to the piece, but the sound of the evolution of the universe by a Mumbai-based artist at the IAF this time just left me blahed out.


Friendly Fire by Rina Banerjee

I’m sure I’ll continue visiting art fairs and galleries, flipping through pretty pictures and trying to understand the agony and ecstasy of the modern day artists and their art, but I wonder if I’ll ever feel satisfied stepping out of any of these venues with the same satisfaction as I do when I step out — occasionally overwhelmed even — of a Guggenheim, Prado or the NGMA.

Note: This was a bit of a rambling post, but if something here resonates with you, do feel free to share your thoughts as a comment.