Is Art the New Fashion?


Is Art the New Fashion?

A new movement in urban India sees art events imitating fashion,with party hostesses,stylish guest lists,liquor sponsors and celebrities. As fashion strains to become artistic,art wants to become fashionable

Some months back,a young female artist,with her Indian father and French mother,met a PR consultant to handle her debut exhibition in Delhi. The mother wanted glamourous,high society guests; the father was worried if a turnout of branded bags and shoes would tag his daughter’s debut as a Page 3 event. The PR executive drew up a settlement: a guest list with just the right mix of Page 3 and the art fraternity.

Creative movements in Europe and the US have always seen art and fashion as two equable aspects of popular culture. And,as Parul Vadhera,director of Vadhera Art Gallery,Delhi,points out,fashion-art collaborations dot contemporary art movements. The house of Louis Vuitton,which brought the two streams together with futuristic art and architecture exhibitions as well as fashion associations,is a prime example.

In India,the trend is not only new,but peculiar. It emanates from the creation of a new social class that hankers for visibility through media,conspicuous consumption and display of wealth. There are commercial reasons too. Apart from art becoming desirable and accessible,a cultural movement is whirring along,that includes India at international art Biennales as well as global art showings in India. Designer Rohit Gandhi,who owns Palette Art Gallery,Delhi,agrees and points out,“Art events do have a mixed crowd,comprising people who are genuinely interested in art,and others,for whom art is a status symbol,associated with luxury.”

Today,art has emerged as the new fashion. Some of India’s top artists now share caviar and champagne with Bollywood and society celebrities; art events are sponsored by liquor companies and fashion designers sell fine art. A socialite hosts a fashion party one day and on the next is photographed hosting an art event. The attendees are a champagne-happy crowd — some are there purely for art’s sake,others for visibility. Events held in Mumbai and Delhi around the visit and shows of sculptor

Anish Kapoor reiterated it: if art is fashionable; then the fashionable want to be seen as arty.

When Chennai-based Sharan Apparao of Apparao Galleries opened her gallery at Delhi’s Aman Hotel two months back,she invited the Capital’s fashion and art enthusiast Feroze Gujral.

Gujral brought the right background: she is associated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for philanthropic work,as well as with Burberry,the fashion label.

Everyone agrees that lines between the two elite groups are blurring. In Mumbai,actor Sushmita Sen promoted I AM,her finishing school for models,with an art event hosted by art hostess Nisha Jamwal. “Art has suddenly become trendy. This year itself,I’ve hosted a show with Sushmita Sen with a mixed bag of artists,one for artist Niladri Paul,and a live art performance by Vrindavan Solanki,with a sit-down dinner and wine tasting. All of them were a huge success,with people calling to ask if they could be invited,” says Jamwal.

Unlike events which only have fashion as the main course,art events rake in the label of ‘intelligent indulgence’. They get a nod from the glitterati,causerati,even the litterati. The recent launch of Creative Services Support Group (CSSG) in Delhi,for instance,saw the art cognoscenti rubbing shoulders with MP Kumari Selja and the British High Commissioner to

India,Sir Richard Stagg,apart from the members of the fashion and film fraternity. “Art events were always glamourous the world over and India is following suit. The presentation and packaging is becoming more professional,” says Apparao,emphasising that glamour is just 10 per cent of art. “Business is the vital part,” she says.

Which is why,even a non-commercial organisation like Khoj now showcases art events in malls. Pooja Sood of Khoj recently got curator

Gitanjali Dang to hold an exhibition at Delhi’s Select City Walk Mall. Art collector Kiran Nadir too shifted a majority of her collection from her Noida-based Kiran Nadir Museum of Art to a mall. “The art-fashion overlap is the result of the growing art market. Galleries,young impresarios and event managers position art as fashionable because of the money that is pumped into it,” explains Sood.

If fashion needs art to add worth to its bonfire of vanities; art too needs the fashion fraternity to gain social and media visibility. Many think that it is media’s partiality towards celebrities for coverage that has forced art into a fashionable makeover. “With the art boom,it has become fashionable to have soirees and if you don’t mention wine,cheese and cocktails,people actually don’t show up,” says Kalyani Saha,who runs Montage Arts with her mother Alaknanda Saha . “Art openings have become an opportunity for being photographed and having some wine; sometimes the whole purpose of art is lost. Having said that,gallery owners have to make sure that some familiar faces and celebrities turn up at the opening. This ensures good media coverage,” she adds. Saha herself,as vice-president,communications,Christian Dior Couture India,is a combination of the art and fashion label,and like Gujral or Jamwal,symbolic of the trend.

“It amazes me how even established artists feel the need to have Bollywood celebrities inaugurate their shows. Many artists,like designers,expend more energy in hiring PR consultants,compiling Page 3 guest lists,schmoozing high profile clients and strategising media coverage,than in creating anything of consequence,” says Mumbai-based documentary filmmaker Fahad Samar. However,Mumbai-based artist Jitish Kallat doesn’t feel this is a matter of discussion as art events with a social gathering are purely an appendage.

In all likelihood,the debate will thrive like art and fashion in India,both on an upward curve. But as Sood points out,the commitment to art should not be lost in the partying daze. “No attention is bad news,but all the partying must be underpinned by a serious commitment to art,” she says.

(With inputs from Vandana Kalra and Zaira Arslan)