We must show our commitment to the art ecology of the region: Jagdip Jagpal

The new director of the India Art Fair, talks about her plans for the event, having a year-round programme and making art culture accessible

g_103065_jagdip_jagpal_280x210.jpgNew director Jagdip Jagpal brings with her experience in the UK’s art sector
Image: Courtesy India Art Fair


The 10th edition of the India Art Fair (IAF), from February 9 to 12, will be the first one after MCH—which runs Art Basel, the world’s premier annual modern and contemporary art fair in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong—acquired a 60.3 percent stake in it last year. It will also be the first with Jagdip Jagpal as director, who took over from founder and former director Neha Kirpal six months prior to the fair.

The event is expected to be a testing ground for new ideas, with an expanded programme and increased participation from Indian and South Asian galleries and artistes. Jagpal, 53, a British national who has relocated to India, brings with her experience in the UK’s art sector, as well as in publishing, radio and television. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q. There are two new elements in the IAF: MCH as a new shareholder, and you as its new director. How will the IAF this year be different from the ones in the past?

What Neha [Kirpal] managed to achieve was remarkable. In quite a new market, particularly for contemporary art, she was able to attract exhibitors to sell the art, and visitors. What it created was the foundation on which we are now building. So, the headlines remain the same: It’s an art fair, it sells art, with artists from India and the region, and some international galleries.

What is different is that sometimes things just need to be refined, it should reflect market trends and what the audience wants. This year, the priority will be Indian and South Asian galleries. We are also clear that if international galleries get preference, then it is not the India Art Fair anymore. So we have set up criteria, such as bringing work that has not been put at other art fairs; we are also limiting the number of international galleries. Also, while creating the [fair] space and navigation, we are making it clearer about where Indian galleries and international art are.

And although this is a commercial activity, we play a role in the development of the art sector, and the contemporary art market in particular. So we must demonstrate our commitment to the development of the art ecology in the region.

In terms of the talks programme, instead of flying in lots of international speakers and those who have been heard a lot before, we are focusing more on speakers from India, and those who have not been heard as much before.

Q. You say there will be a focus on Indian modernist. Why have you selected this category?
This is a modern and contemporary art fair, so we need to bring clarity for visitors. Among the things we have got this year is the Delhi Art Gallery exhibition on Navratna—Nine Gems, which will pay tribute to India’s national treasures like Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, and Jamini Roy. There are some fantastic stories there that have not been told. So it’s about getting these stories out to the broader audience.

g_103067_sunil_gawade_art_280x210.jpgSunil Gawde’s Still Alive III, (2016-2017, painted FRP and steel) is one of the highlights of this year’s India Art Fair
Image: Courtesy India Art Fair

Q. You have visited the IAF for the past few years. How have you seen the audience evolve?
For contemporary art in particular, the audience has to engage with, or understand, the art. It’s also about developing new collectors, who are much younger. New collectors can be of any age. The same goes for artistes.

For me, it’s about making art and the art culture accessible; the price points should be such that visitors can buy something for themselves. I have seen that people are thinking of art as an investment, but the first expectation is that they should like it.     

Q. You have worked with international partnerships at Tate in the UK, and with New North + South (a network of 11 art organisations in North England and South Asia). What are the most important learnings that you are bringing to the IAF?
A lot of my past experience has been about understanding who your audience is, and the different groups within that audience. It’s not just about pandering to them. Audiences also evolve, and we must know how they feel about things that change.

The great advantage of working with something that is public sector-funded is that there are many great people working on the projects. And, along with my commercial background, I am able to see things as a whole. Also my production work in organising talks, from my radio days [Jagpal has worked with BBC Radio 4 in the UK], has taught me that communication is a key part, as well as knowledge. But being part of the New North + South project really put me in the centre of what was going on in South Asian art.

Q. What is the unfamiliar ground you now see yourself treading? 

It would be to do with an in-depth learning of the art ecosystem here. Also, I want to focus on the work that we will be doing throughout the year, and not just on the four days of the fair. It would be important to look at the sector in different parts of the country.  

Q. What is the work that you are planning around the year?

We will be developing a summer internship programme and residencies for developing quality in education, and also to develop opportunities, so that people can understand that you can work with art and culture and make a living; even if you are not an artiste, there are other elements, like foundations and biennales, which are opportunities.

I would also like to build a greater connect with public institutions—such as the National Gallery of Modern Art, from whom we have received a great response—and with local art communities. We would like to build relationships with patrons and collectors too.   

Q. Christie’s started with a bang in India in 2013, and have now withdrawn their India event. Is that significant to the art market in South Asia?

Auction houses are a secondary market. What has happened over the last decade, like in any boom-and-bust scenario, there is no one single factor; it’s always a combination of things. What is happening now is that there’s a steady stream of people developing the art sector here. So, of course, there is an impact when one commercial activity or investment moves away. But let’s look at the solid base that has been built with not-for-profit organisations, biennales, the new residencies coming up, the corporate sponsors, the individuals and foundations… I would say that a commercial entity coming in and then leaving should not kill off what we have got here.

(This story appears in the 16 February, 2018 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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