NFT to Offline Shows: How 2021 marked a turning point for India’s post-COVID art world

If the rediscovery of love and friendship was an art theme influenced by the pandemic, so was the return of physical exhibition and the rise of NFTs … here are the highlights of the art industry for 2021

“The pandemic has been very productive for the reinvention of the artistic space,” says Myna Mukherjee, co-curator of Hub India: Maximum Minimum, an exhibition that featured more than 300 works by gallery owners, institutions and artists contemporary Indian at Artissima 2021 in Turin. , Italy, in November.

According to Myna, developments in 2021 ranged from artists producing more, to the growth of a new art market, to the impact of technology on art, to pandemic-related visualization in works of art. .

NFT to Offline Shows: How 2021 marked a turning point for India's post-COVID art world

“The pandemic has emotionally brought people together around the world; we face a common enemy. People have supported artists in many ways and this is reflected in the art market, ”she said, adding that Sotheby’s recently exceeded its previous auction prices and said sales of NFT (non-fungible token ) had reached $ 100 million in 2021. “This is true for the national art market as well.

India can look forward to the country’s first NFT auction (by an Indian auction house rather than an NFT marketplace) to be conducted by Mumbai-based Prinseps in January 2022. It will not only test the market , but will also allow more collectors to familiarize themselves with the Metaverse. The auction will feature works by Gobardhan Ash from the 1950s; a buyer can purchase either a physical version or an NFT of the same work.

Return of the offline exhibition

Closer to home, Lokame Tharavadu (The World is One) in Alappuzha, Kerala marked a determined determination to return to the physical art exhibition. One of the first and largest exhibitions in the world to take place physically in 2021, it has managed to operate smoothly under COVID-19 protocols.

Read also | How the Indian artist community collaborated offline to empower the industry during the pandemic

Spread over seven locations in the seaside town, it overcame several setbacks such as the sudden change in launch dates due to the imposition of confinement and the delay in the arrival of works of art. It presented 3,000 works by 267 artists from Kerala.

Void Gate, Acrylic on Canvas, by NS Harsha

The only positive that has emerged from the pandemic, according to curator Bose Krishnamachari, is “an awareness of the importance of IRL artistic experiences (in real life). One of the most important elements of visual art is physicality.

He points out that before the advent of digital technology in the last 30 years or so, people experienced art both physically and in person. “Today the public has a range of tools and media with which to access exhibitions and works of art, but there is nothing like being in the physical presence of people. and works of art. This is why the public flocked to ‘Lokame Tharavadu’. I hope this will become a regular feature of the Alappuzha cultural scene.

For artist NS Harsha, such physical exhibitions are a good example of the collective human quest to “face” and respond to a given situation. “Now that the world has experienced the levels of isolation, I hope we begin to value the preciousness of physical interactions even more.”

Iconography influenced by the pandemic

2021 has been a year in which love and friendship have been rediscovered and sought after like never before. This is the underlying theme of “This is Why We Can’t Titrate an Exhibition After Love,” an exhibition by artist and curator Prabhakar Kamble in the Art & Soul gallery in Mumbai. “We have achieved what we have lost during the pandemic and what we desire most in life: love and friendship. It was discovered when people were in trouble, ”says Prabhakar who organized the supply of art materials and goods to artists holed up in their homes in rural Maharashtra and Mumbai.

Last year, Prabhakar evocatively presented the dire condition of migrants in an online show called Broken Foot on “Compared to 2020,” he said, “there is more optimism in 2021.”

Read also | How the Spanish-made Covid Art Museum conveys the emotional consequences of the pandemic

Fears sparked by the spread of the coronavirus rocked Mumbai-based artist Lakshmi Madhavan. His questions: “Will I ever see my grandmother again?” Is it safe to visit him? resulted in “Hanging from a thread” (Ammammayude Mundu Veshti), an installation that invokes her deep connection to the traditional cream and gold Kerala hand-woven fabric worn by her grandmother.

“Lokame Tharavadu” (The World is One) was one of the largest and first offline art exhibitions (April - December 2021) showcasing the works of 267 artists at seven venues in Alappuzha, Kerala, India

‘Lokame Tharavadu’ (The World is One) Was One of the Largest and First Offline Art Exhibitions (April to December 2021) showcasing the works of 267 artists at seven venues in Alappuzha, Kerala, India | Photo credit: Swanoop John

Exhibited at the Port Museum, one of the places of Lokame Tharavadu, installation is a significant indicator of the amount of COVID-19 infiltrated in the expressions of the artist. “We have all experienced the pandemic in one way or another. The stimulus may not have crept in in a very obvious way, but it was certainly present on a subliminal level, ”explains Lakshmi, noting that artists were working on smaller canvases, as many had not been working for long periods. studios.

Harsha believes that the response to a given life situation is subjective. “We can bring in the images offered by our lived experiences or we can consciously turn away to look at a flower. Even the gesture of turning away is an artistic statement, isn’t it? “

The rise of TVN

“Since Christie’s auction earlier this year grabbed the headlines, there has been approximately $ 2.5 billion worth of NFT (non-fungible tokens) bought and sold,” Ameya Dias said. , who runs a Mumbai-based art consultancy firm. “In comparison, current activity is limited and although there are forerunners such as the Still Life gallery and the Prinseps auction house, the global market in India is about to start to familiarize itself with the concept. of NFTs. ”

Read also | How NFT Art Evolved the Role of the “Artist”

'See Saw Seen' by Lakshmi Madhavan at Kashi Art Cafe

‘See Saw Seen’ by Lakshmi Madhavan at Kashi Art Cafe

Lakshmi’s “See, Saw, Seen”, a work on display at the Kashi Art Café in Fort Kochi, was created for Kochi Art Week, organized by the Kochi Biennale Foundation. Six of the 47 images were digital works for the NFT market.

Lakshmi says she switched to digital art because of the hours she spends in front of the screen. “You can experience my work even without coming in front. Now it’s about the Metaverse; technology will allow us to discover snow in a warm climate. Art must adapt.

The Age of Machines by Anantha Nadamel

The Age of Machines by Anantha Nadamel

In the future, she believes, the art world will run on a hybrid model. “NFT is here. We have the economy; the paintings sell, ”says Lakshmi. One positive aspect of NFT, she says, is the democratization of art. “High-end art can have a lot of control, but when it comes to NFT, it’s more transparent and the artist wins with every sale. “

Read also | Want to get started in the art of NFT? Here’s what you need to know, according to the experts

Artist Joseph Chakola, who hit a few NFTs, says the second lockdown saw NFT hotly discussed at the Clubhouse internationally. “A group called NFT Malayali was born. Explaining it as proof of ownership of a digital asset, he adds, “While it’s still just a start, it’s definitely going to be a big part of the art world from here on out.” “

Anantha Nadamel, who founded NFT Malayali in April 2021, says she was trained primarily to educate artists about this new mode of transaction. He sold his first artwork for 0.165 Eth (Ethereum) and now commands a floor price of 1 Eth (around ₹ 3 lakh.)

India hosted its first NFT conference called NFT Kochi on December 18, which was attended by 400 art-related stakeholders. “The tickets sold out within days of its announcement,” Anantha said, adding that it was only a matter of time for it to become mainstream.