An Audience (economy) for Art

Chenaram Prajapati

Superior Frames

35 years old, and originally from Pali in Rajasthan, Chenaram lives in Colaba Koliwada. He studied till the eighth standard, and is able to communicate in English. He is the owner and founder of Superior Frames, the city's largest wholesaler of frames to artists, using archival paper and museum techniques of protecting the works.   

"For a decade I worked as an apprentice to a framer. And then with the help of a few friends and a gallery, Art Musings, I was able to establish my own shop. MF Hussain and Paresh Maity are my favourite artists. I am able to recognise most works of art from their style, colours, and the signature to me seems unnecessary. Bombay to me is the city where you are well paid for your hard work. If you work hard, you can achieve anything here."

Credit: Photograph by Caecilia Tripp

Mahendrabhai Ishwarlal Chauhan

Ishwarlal Chotalal Tabla Maker

Dadar, next to Antonio D'Silva School

Forty-five year old Mahendrabhai Chauhan is a sixth-generation tabla maker occupying the same shop in Dadar. His family originates from Morvi in Gujarat.

"I have been working here since the last 35 years and cannot count the number of tablas or sitars I have made. But I have worked for around 25 alternative projects, that have involved distorting a musical instrument into an art object. When people come to me with such projects, I am amused but also inquisitive to learn and experience how it may be created. My young sons also help give ideas now. These projects relieve some of the monotony of my regular work. Bombay helps me sustain a craft not many are willing to do today."

Raju Mane

Mane Shoemart

Outside Sir JJ School of Arts

In his forties, Raju Mane, has been working at his family's 75 year old establishment since a very young age. He was born in Cama Hospital, and has spent all his life in and around JJ School of Art. He fabricates custom-made shoes from pure leather.

"Artists often come to me to make their shoes, they ponder over the shoes, and ask for scraps of leather. They bring their own designs, or photographs, and I always entertain their wants. Because my shoes are custom-made and leather, they never ask for discounts. Each is unique. And they understand this. Bombay has given me the opportunity to make shoes for the police commissioner and the dean of the JJ School of Art , who are both my neighbours. I love Bombay."

Vijay Gogavle

Age 35 years

Resident: Thana

Gallery Installation Assistant at Gallery Art & Soul , Worli.

I was introduced to art a decade ago by my uncle who worked at the Jehangir Art Gallery,  since then I have been installing shows and I have been on my present job since the last three years.  My interest is purely professional and over the years I have come to know if an art work is a painting,  or a  work of mixed media or is an etching  and other relevant skills needed to be equipped in being efficient in installing art shows.''

Kamalakar Shankar Gawankar

Age : 45 years,  

Resident : Ghatkopar

Watchman at Samudra Mahal,  Worli.  

Kamalakar has been a watchman at Samudra Mahal for over two decades, he  practices  to draw images of gods from the Hindu Pantheon and erotica with a pencil and a sketchbook since the last 4 years, a habit he renewed after he dropped out of school in the 5th standard.  

' I always had an interest in sketching and would often copy scientific diagrams for my children when they needed help with their homework.  But since the last four years I have been maintaining a sketchbook where I draw images  from memory or of my own conception.  I do so to keep me awake through my night duty,  an activity that is not know to my wife and children and only a few colleagues are aware of. "

The Indian Art Economy is pegged to be at $400 million contributing to less than 0.5 % of the world Art turnover, owners of galleries often lament on its small size even though India is one of the worlds largest economies. These numbers often baffle those with a keen interest in and understanding of economic computation. The turnover of the art market is computed through the aggregation of sales through auctions conducted by Christies and Sothebys, who until now legally do not carry out auctions in India, thus their sales do not form a part of the Indian Art market, and their Indian counterparts Pundoles and Saffronart. Declared sales of galleries and artists might make up the rest of the remainder. But as in most developing nations, art attracts black money and does act as an effective money laundry. Many such sales never get disclosed or reported to be part of an economic aggregation. Thus a few cartels who survive on the rules of monopolistic competition constitute as deciders on the infrastructure that supports art production in India. The art scene occurs over various scene, largest of them all is the government backed scene which exists around regional art school and the Lalit Kala Akademi - national academy of artists that has it main office in Delhi and has numerous regional centres throughout India. Before India's economic liberlisation in the 1990s these institutions formed a large backbone of sustenance for artists through commissions and scholarships. Over time their functioning was palgued by political factioning and inept directors who served as cronies of politicians. But even today their scholarships act as mainstays for young graduating artists and they play an important role in places such as the North-East of India and many other states where the art market based on an organised system of art galleries do not exist. Except for commercial galleries at times renting out their exhibition venues state backed institutions such as the NGMA and the Lalit Kala Akademi do not share objectives with the art market. Art Galleries form regional syndicates in the cities of Bombay and Delhi. These are based on geographical proximity or unwritten agreements that are based practices of taste, exhibition quality, artists supported etc. Calcutta, Chennai , Bangalore and Cochin are home singular operations that form part of this circuit. They determine the art economy and decide on the numbers that contribute on its aggregation. They are able to aggregate and publish numbers due to the sophistication they hold and thus are able to influence the media. The Indian art boom began to surface around the year 2003, it tailed an increase in Foreign direct investment in India's money market and subsequent real estate boom. The commercial gallery came in to provide for a space for contemporary art when the institutions were just awakening to global scene. They claimed to play the role of museums, they sponsored monographs on artists, books that chronicled sections of Indian art history, built infrastructure for art logistics, established the practice of framers, restorers and encouraged budding curators and art writers. A major flaw though undid all their merits, like many other industries in India they fell into the trap of unhindered speculation. By 2008, mid career Indian artists competed on prices with established contemporary masters from Europe. By 2013, the scene seems to fool itself of the existence of a market.

A parallel scene of decorative works exists and seems robust at this moment, while the Jehangir Art Gallery is the most democratic space to sell, view and buy in art in the city of Bombay. Artisits from across India over the last 5 decades have rented slots in the exhibition venue that stands in the centre of the city and have sold or have failed to sell. Their sales do not form part of the $ 400 million that defines the art market. Secondly we fail to make relevant deductions that arise out of market failure of exhibitions and artists or the destruction of capital that accompanies the exhibition making process.

Chenaram Prajapati established his practice during the period of the boom, though a drop out from school he is an essential fixture around most exhibitions in Bombay. He provides archival quality framing at low prices, he also extends long lines of credit to artists and galleries, allowing them to finance their sales in a market where credit and loans are not available for art. Prajapati, Chauhan, Mane, Gogavle and Gavankar do not visit exhibitions, as they assume galleries are reserved for the elite. Many artists, curators, galleriests, are also fooled into believing so, in a nation of more than a billion people if the art scene is relevant to a minute few, why should the the state, private bodies, foreign embassies, and individuals fund biennales, museums, or other art initiatives? The scene believes that a certain education and understanding is needed to engage in art, but having encountered many collectors, who often are crony capitalists having made their money in nefarious land deals , the lay man stands out as a better candidate for an economy and an audience. Bollywood - India's movie industry believes the 'Masses' have no space for good critical art cinema, this claim is not based on market surveys, or box office trials. In reality of recent small budget art cinema has done exceedingly well at the box office. But the claim is an excuse to hide the lack of good directors, scriptwriters and actors, as the industry is plagued with nepotism, dynasties of actors, directors and music composers who are renumerated in amounts that will dwarf the income of many Hollywood stars exist alongside a hardly paid supporting cast, assistant directors and cinematographers.

Thus unless we dont see people like Prajapati and Chauhan as rightful stakeholders in the art scene and aggregate our economy with a real understanding of statistics, the art economy in India is going to flounder and the scene will remain irrelevant. An audience needs to emerge from the billion people we often describe as the mass, people whose concern artists and curators often believe they are voicing.