Making art affordable
While Indian fine art till the 19th century was primarily patronised by the ruling class and the wealthy upper echelons of society, 20th century secular art was supported essentially by the middle class intelligentsia.
Hundred years ago Tagore initiated the Nandan mela in Santiniketan and allowed middle class residents belonging to the student community, teaching staff and ordinary residents of the university town, to acquire art at reasonable prices. The venture nurtured love for the arts which in turn helped to sustain artists. This held true throughout the 20th century when large number of professionals (such as doctors, professors, lawyers, executives from private sector companies and government bureaucrats) from across India became principal benefactors of fine art.
Things started changing in the late 1990s. Prices of artworks gradually escalated and soon the middle class was completely wiped out from the domain of art acquisition. Compounding this shift was the dearth of art institutions, museums and lack of general promotion of visual arts. By 2007-8 art got restricted to limited drawing rooms and started vanishing from the larger public domain.
We at CIMA along with several senior artists of India found this trend extremely disturbing. Cima Art Mela was born out of this concern. The project endeavored to reconnect art with the emerging young intelligentsia. Hundreds of veteran and young artists came forward to offer artworks at reasonable prices allowing art to percolate among average art lovers. This in turn, also helped to strengthen the interest and appreciation of visual arts.
The project aimed to break the barrier between so called high and low art and made art approachable and affordable.
Large exhibitions and its formal presentation often intimidate audiences. Art is placed on a pedestal which is far away from the realm of an ordinary non-initiated viewer. While formal presentation of art within the context of art history is absolutely necessary, we also need informal means of presenting art in order to bring it closer to the average viewer without overwhelming and affronting him with high ‘funda’. During art mela we shed the formal guise of presentation. Art is displayed in a salon style without framing. Buyers can touch, feel and get closer to the art work, (of course every care being taken to avoid damage) and become a partner in the entire art process.
The art mela idea also unites the rural and the urban. Traditional art sells alongside more complex urban renderings bridging the gap between artists of the two territories. It gives the urban cognoscenti an opportunity to appreciate the magnificent splendour of our traditional arts, the likes of which we do not get to observe commonly in cities. The upshot being, after a period of over 12 years the project has helped to build a new art clientele in urban India. Art mela is supported by hundreds of struggling students, young professionals, very simple and ordinary lovers of art, particularly the young and first time collectors. Provident funds, first time salaries and precious domestic savings have all contributed to the cause. It has taken art to the people and fostered appreciation and love for beauty; it has helped to sustain emerging talents and has successfully connected young India to its arts. As our bard once remarked , culture is like the sparkle of a precious jewel. Art and culture is necessary to make life beautiful and meaningful. Artists provide the means to view and critique our existence. They portray truth; sometimes the idyllic beauty and at other times the harsh reality of life itself. Arts provide a powerful means of communication which is vital to safeguarding individual and collective freedom. A society bereft of arts is therefore a dangerous proposition. Hence, the imperative need to promote, nurture and sustain art and culture.
By providing genuine and quality art at affordable prices, the art mela has connected hundreds of first time collectors with the intellectual movement of this country. Instead of saving money for a flashy car, jewelry or a wedding, hundreds of art lovers are buying and supporting arts. This is a paradigm shift! CIMA is deeply fortunate and grateful for being part of this phenomenal experience!
The author is director of Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), one of India's premier art galleries that aims to make art available at affordable prices. The CIMA Art Mela is on at the Nehru Centre Art Gallery in Worli, Mumbai from 23-26 January, 2020