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New tempo for art

George Joseph & Indulekha Aravind  |  Kochi/New Delhi 

Despite its non-commercial aim, the Kochi-Muziris biennale might help boost the local art market.

Come 2012, and Kochi will be the venue for what might well be the biggest art event in the country. The city beside the Arabian Sea will play host to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, a three-month fiesta of visual contemporary art, which will see exhibitions by Indian and foreign artists at various venues, workshops and seminars. The announcement for the biennale, to be held every two years, was made last week by Kerala’s minister for education and culture, MA Baby, to the beats of a panchari melam by Peruvanam Kuttan Marar and 150 other percussionists, and Malayalam rock band Aviyal.

The biennale was conceptualised by high-profile artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, both Malayalis but now based in Mumbai. It cannot be compared to the India Art Summit in Delhi, says Komu, who along with Krishnamachari will be the artistic directors of the inaugural edition. “The India Art Summit is a four-day event while the biennale will be on for approximately three months. More importantly, the biennale is a non-commercial event and should be seen in that light, unlike the art summit.”

The choice of Kochi as the venue is also more of a nod to its cultural landscape and the laidback feel of the Fort Kochi area than to its position as an art market, Komu explains. While it is considered to be the hub of art in Kerala, a state that has produced several renowned contemporary artists, the city has not developed a market that can be compared to the major metros. The galleries here, numbering around 10, were also hit by the downturn in prices of art, though there has been an improvement of late, says contemporary artist T Kaladharan who owns the Nanappa Art Gallery. More collectors have been visiting and buying works and several people employed in the various infotech companies around the city are also buying art, which Kaladharan attributes to an increased awareness in the younger generation about the value of art.

There is a gradual shift to Fort Kochi and Mattancherry areas as the preferred destination for galleries, away from the main Ernakulam area. “Tourists from all corners of the world visit this part, you get more viewers here,” says Anoop Skaria who set up the well-known Kashi Art Gallery and Café in Fort Kochi in 1997. Kashi, which conducts five to six exhibitions a year, sells a lot of works online.

More people also seem to be buying works for their new homes. The number of professionals and business houses who can spend Rs 2-7 lakh on art is on the increase now, says Mohamed Ashraf, a Kochi-based builder. A leading industrialist says he had spent Rs 9 lakh for paintings for his new villa in Kochi. However, Skaria says people in Kerala still prefer gold and land as investments to art, and buyers are usually those who love art for art’s sake.

Despite its stated non-commercial objective, the biennale just might be the shot in the arm Kochi’s art market needs.

First Published: Sun, February 27 2011. 00:33 IST
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