This year, many art fairs were cancelled, and art galleries were closed for a long time. The art market, traditionally, has always operated offline but the pandemic pushed the entire industry to embrace digitisation. Those who challenged their creative and business acumen to pivot, largely benefitted, changing the way the industry functions forever.
Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG), a 33-year-old gallery and one of India’s most respected art spaces wasted no time in fortifying their presence in the virtual world. Parul Vadehra, Director of the gallery says that they have been selling to clients based outside Delhi for years. “Sales over email or WhatsApp happen quite often with our regular clients. If they see a work of a familiar artist, they usually know what it looks like physically, so they are more comfortable buying virtually,” informs Vadehra.
In the lockdown, as the world delved deeper into the world wide web, even first-time buyers are viewing and buying works online, even of artists whose works they may not be familiar with. “In addition to images and PDFs, we show people art works on video calls, helping them get a three-dimensional sense of the work. If someone is unsure how the work will look in their home, we ask them to send us a photograph of their space. We then digitally render that piece of art in the photographed space for a client to get a better idea,” says the gallerist who manages VAG with her sister-in-law Roshni.
Parul Vadehra’s father-in-law Arun Vadehra started the gallery in 1987. The gallery’s roster has works of modern masters like MF Husain, Ram Kumar, SH Raza, Tyeb Mehta and Akbar Padamsee, Arpita Singh, A Ramachandran, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Paramjit Singh, Ganesh Pyne, Jogen Chowdhury and Mrinalini Mukherjee and even the biggest contemporary names like Shilpa Gupta, Jagannath Panda, NS Harsha, Anju and Atul Dodiya and Nalini Malani.
Power of collaboration
In April 2020, the Vadehras got together with 9 other galleries from India and Dubai to launch In Touch, an online platform, to host curated exhibitions for people locked in their homes.
The first edition was jointly hosted by Chemould Prescott Road, Experimenter, Gallery Espace, Galleryske, Green Art Gallery, Grey Noise, Nature Morte, Photoink, The Third Line and Vadehra Art Gallery. The fifth edition, with a few galleries plus and minus, started on December 15.
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“We have been able to widen the audience reach for contemporary art through online engagement and collaborate with others in the art world in innovative ways,” says Vadehra. The virtual viewing space was well received. Consumers appreciated a common platform for viewing art presented by different galleries, which also translated into sales. In Vadehra’s words, “VAG did quite well”.
Going forward, the galleries behind In Touch will keep the platform alive. “The galleries have worked really well together. I think it works both ways. Every gallery will have their own programme, but a platform like this is very beneficial in challenging times like these. We were desperately trying to reach out to as many people as possible. Collating groups of viewers helps everybody. It creates a buzz in the market. When 10 different galleries are sending out information about a particular thing, one tends to notice,” Vadehra explains.
Since the beginning of the lockdown, VAG intensified their social media presence. VAG changed their quarterly newsletter to weekly. They also started a series called Thoughts from The Studio, in which the galley artists share their views, one at a time. They speak about the effects of lockdown on their practice and the art they created then. This spilled over to Instagram and Facebook as well. “It was quite a poignant series and people really appreciated it,” says Vadehra.
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“Digital has to be an important part of anyone’s strategy today. We have seen what a big difference it can make and how quickly people embrace it,” says the gallerist.
For Vadehra’s recent show FRIN/GE is on view at the gallery until January 15, 2021, has a touch of digitisation. The show is also presented as an immersive 3D digital experience online with a multi-dimensional mapping of the show. They tied up with Matterport, a digital company, to create a virtual walkthrough of the space. You can also click on certain areas to learn more about the artwork.
An online store of art-inspired products
Another digital initiative that emerged from the lockdown was an online store for their art-inspired products. VAG diversified into publishing in 1996 and launched their products in 2008. The lockdown propelled the gallery to launch an e-store for these products. They began working on it in April 2020 and went live in July 2020.
The online store sells signed prints of A Ramachandran, Atul Dodiya, BV Doshi, MF Husain, Arpita Singh, Paramjit Singh, Manjit Bawa, SH Raza and Shilpa Gupta; photographs of Akbar Padamsee, Briana Blasko, Vicky Roy and others; books on Indian art and artists and art-inspired products such as cushions and coasters. While may not afford a painting of SH Raza or A Ramachandran, they surely can enjoy their works’ digital renderings printed on home décor accessories.
“It has been very exciting to see people’s response to our digitisation initiatives, in terms of online sales. Buyers are coming from all parts of the country, including remote locations where a gallery wouldn’t typically go to,” says Vadehra. “The market is cautiously optimistic. Over the past few months, we have all tried to reach out to our audiences in innovative ways and our efforts have paid off,” concludes the gallerist.