A couple of years ago, the mention of installation art in public spaces would have been met with quizzical looks and maybe not that much enthusiasm. However, as the 2000s rolled in, the art scene in the city underwent a big change, both in terms of artistically inclined spaces and in encouraging contemporary and new media artworks.
The shift was quite a departure from the traditional, classical styles the city had gotten used to seeing in the works of Laxma Goud, Thota Vaikuntham, Surya Prakash and Laxman Aelay. Gallerist Avani Rao Gandra, a contemporary artist herself, opines that art is at a very exciting stage right now in the city and is close to catching up with international trends. “Earlier for a long time, other metros like Delhi, Mumbai were into contemporary art in tune with international trends, while Hyderabad was still into traditional forms of art. Laxma Goud, Vaikuntham are classical modernists who are to be treasured and valued. However, their works don’t reflect the current times,” says Avani. From the very beginning, Hyderabad has been a figurative school. It was only when a few galleries started showing works of contemporary artists from 2002 onwards that it took off in a big way. Contemporary or modern art is concept-based and incredibly diverse, which is why it is complex, often confusing and open-ended.
At present, contemporary art is buzzing with activity like never before and going beyond mediums.
“In the last couple of years, there has been a surge in art involving interactive new media like video, photography, music, which are not exactly your typical painting or sculpture. The line is blurred between performance and visual art now. The trend is to use a variety of materials,” opines Priti Samyukta, HOD, painting, College of Fine Arts, Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University (JNAFAU). Taking up new mediums is happening right at the college level. Music, dance, literature are now coming together in a wonderful confluence leading to a sort of holistic art.
“Students are looking at contemporary art seriously and thinking beyond decorative art, specifically installation art even though it is temporary. When it becomes permanent, it becomes a sculpture,” explains Priti. Often, installation or new media art involves separate items coming together and being arranged in keeping with the larger idea, making it more evocative. “The beauty of installation art is absolutely any kind of material can be used for artistic expression; it can be brittle, hard, woolen, hanging material from a wall, etc. We had a student who in his final work cut off a dried chunk of a tree and placed helmets on the tree branches. He placed it in the parking lot to create awareness about road safety,” says Priti.
A couple of shows Avani Gandra curated revolved around installation art, and she admits that they tend to have a better connect with the viewer, compared to contemporary art. There was one show she did which had photographic works of five artists relating to the city. “We have seen young artists picking up new challenges, not only in galleries, but in public spaces also. The show we did was placing huge blowups in the lanes of Laad Bazaar and people had to follow a map to see them. It was introducing and valuing the old time Hyderabad. We took art to the public, creating a whole new value system,” adds Avani.
In another show around women’s march, she got five women artists do installations in places women hesitate to go. “This was done in the one km stretch from Masab Tank to Road No.1, Banjara Hills. So there was one installation at a motor garage, another at an Irani café and at the government water department. Other places were Chacha Nehru Park where women don’t feel comfortable going due to the darkness. Even though it’s a recent trend, general public is able to connect to it much better than modern art and are able to interpret the inherent message. On seeing the chair with nails, people could make out that it was about girls at the café, and some came and asked us if we really felt that way,” recalls Avani.
Boost by galleries
Why the city is opening to different art styles is also because there are far more spaces to showcase them. Kalakriti Art Gallery, IconArt Gallery, Shrishti Art Gallery, Pipal Art Gallery, State Art Gallery, Dhi Artspace, Aalankritha Art Gallery are among the well-known spaces in the city which showcase works of both well-known and upcoming artists. “From the beginning, we have been proactive and encouraged artists from all over the country. It’s not just limited to galleries. In any showcase, we take one painting, while other works are kept by the artist,” says Kishan Rao, special officer, Shilparamam. At spaces like State Art Gallery and Shilparamam, an artist has to pay a nominal charge for stage, furniture, lights and accommodation for a showcase, unlike certain galleries where the works of the artist are screened before they are deemed eligible for showcase.
“Galleries are still quite elitist. Why will a middle class employee drop in on the way home at a gallery like they do in Jehangir art gallery in Mumbai, it doesn’t happen here. It’s very selective. It’s only limited to those who are well exposed to art. Art is meant for everybody, but even now, that hasn’t changed here,” feels G Narsimha, administrative officer at State Art Gallery. “The buyers are mostly interior decorators from across the country who take a commission from their clients. Earlier, there were art collectors like Madhu Reddy who would visit art galleries in the hope of buying another masterpiece. There are no art collectors here anymore, and even if there are, they go to private galleries,” adds Narsimha.
Gallerist Lakshmi Nambiar feels it also has to do with the culture of the city which is more inclined towards theatre, music and dance. “If you look at Baroda, every person and house reflects their knowledge about art. There are actually houses there which rent their space for art. They keep some paintings of the artist as a sort of rent where the agreement is, ‘I take two or three of your paintings.’ Do you see that happening here? No,” says Lakshmi.
Art as an investment
Earlier, buying art was more of a privilege of the elite and collectors, but now it is no longer so. Artists must walk the tightrope between creative and commercial interests, balancing their personal preferences with market demands. “Art has all sides to it, one side is showcasing your work, being accepted by buyers, another side is having your priorities straight. Sale is secondary. Saleable and passion works are two different things. It is all dependent on the gallery, the artist and the need of the hour. The market should inspire, but not influence too much,” thinks Priti Samyukta.
Unlike metros such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata which witness art auctions sporadically, Hyderabad is still very laidback. “It has a lot to do with sensibilities across India, even now we tend to go for more traditional decorative arts. That’s why auctions don’t work here. The money is spent on other luxury products like gold, real estate and items. There are two things at work here, there is more exposure among the elite so they might consider investing a heavy amount on art, the other it is not seen as an investment because no one thinks about the resale value. So a cultural reboot is required beginning at school,” states Lakshmi Nambiar.