Sustaining a market in non-Western art in the West, through coronavirus and beyond…

By Harry Hutchison, Director, Aicon Gallery, New York, USA

At Aicon Art we specialize in modern and contemporary non-Western art with a special focus on South Asia. In the past we were highly focused on Indian and Pakistani artists, but over the past five years have broadened our horizons to encompass artists from Africa, the Middle East and Europe to have a more global outlook, to a certain extent reflecting what is taking place in museums around the world. Before coronavirus borders were melting, art historical narratives re-written and forgotten masters found; I hope this trend continues post virus and we don’t take a step backwards. Only time will tell, the future is far from certain as I write this in the middle of May 2020.
There are few galleries in New York, one could name them on the fingers of one hand, who represent the kind of artists on our roster. The gallery, near Jean-Michel Basquiat’s old studio on Great Jones street, provides a vital platform for our global artists to be shown in the art capital of the world, making sure their works are seen not only by private clients but also the top flight trend setting museums. Of course, like most commercial galleries, Aicon Art is involved in the busy international art fair circuit but there can be no replacement from being a fifteen minute taxi ride from the most prestigious museums in the world.
In recent times we have placed (3+4) SR, 1969, by Rasheed Araeen (b. Pakistan) into the permanent collection of the MOMA, where he hangs next to Donald Judd in the newly renovated fourth floor gallery in The David Geffen Wing (image #1). The Guggenheim, MET and Albright-Knox Museum to have also recently acquired works by Rasheed Araeen. In 2016 The MET Breuer’s inaugural exhibition was a solo of Nasreen Mohamedi, which originated from the Kiran Nadar Museum (Delhi). This was an extraordinary feat from the KNMA, as it is commonly referred to, and the exhibition also travelled to the Reina Sofía in Madrid to conclude a three city blockbuster tour.
Image 1: Rasheed Araeen & Donald Judd showing at the MOMA New York
V.S. Gaitonde now hangs next to Mark Rothko in the MOMA, and in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, S.H. Raza is hanging next to a Mark Rothko (image #2 and #3). To think of such museum placements and exhibitions ten years ago would have been unthinkable.
Image 2: V.S. Gaitonde and Mark Rothko at the MOMA New York
Image 3: S.H. Raza and Mark Rothko at the Louvre Abu Dhabi
It is important not to take this inclusion for granted, or squander it. The doors have been opened, this doesn’t mean our job as gallerists have been done and we can sit back and relax. Quite the opposite. We have to keep driving and making sure the voices are heard long into the future. For one, the art market is far from equal, and until the exhibition spaces and wall hangings across institutions are more evenly balanced the markets will remain unbalanced.
Let’s take V.S. Gaitonde and Mark Rothko for example, since they are hanging next to each other in various institutions and are illustrated in this article. The top price for a V.S.Gaitonde is $4.3m and Mark Rothko is $86.9m. I’m not necessarily arguing they should be equal, but there is a long way to go before they are, in my humble opinion, correctly positioned within the market place. Until that equilibrium is reached our work is not complete.
For all the aforementioned reasons we believe the gallery in New York is even more important to make sure the voices of our artists from all corners of the world are heard. The future looked bright before Coronavirus hit. Peju Alatisse had an ambitious project for the Venice Biennale, Mequitta Ahuja has plans to show at Baltimore Museum of Art in December. We have exhibitions by Anjolie Ela Menon, Natvar Bhavsar, Victor Ekpuk and Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim all in the pipeline. However, we are not 100% sure if these exhibitions will be virtual (image #4) or in the physical space. An artist might not be willing to exhibit if he / she believes the works must be seen in the flesh so there are potentially a few hard conversations to be had in the pipeline.
Image 4: Rasheed Araeen virtual exhibition
Aicon Art were in Delhi, at Bikaner House showcasing a mid career retrospective by Pooja Iranna and a recent works by Nataraj Sharma (Images #5 & #6) when it became clear the landscape was changing extremely fast, both from a business point of view but also from a personal one. Airports were closing and art fairs started sending cancellation emails (along with disappearing deposits and pre-payments), we of course had to adapt fast. Employees had to decide where they would ‘like’ to spend the lockdown, so our team is currently split between India and New York, where we remain today. We will continue to promote and fight tooth and nail for all our artists, the virus may have thrown a curve ball but our mission is far from complete.
Image 5: Pooja Iranna at Bikaner House
Image 6: Nataraj Sharma and Bikaner House

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