Q&A- Niru Ratnam
Director, Start Art Fair
Saatchi Gallery, London
Former art dealer Niru Ratnam has spread his wings to direct the Start fair. Now in its second year, Start is aimed at younger collectors and features an international roster of galleries dealing in lesser-known artists; Cape Town, Colombo and Hanoi are cities rarely represented at larger fairs. This year curated sections are set to make a counterpoint to gallery booths and the atmosphere, if they get it right, will be one of discovery.
Year two for Start – are you doing anything differently this time around?
Yes! For one thing we’ve dedicated a whole floor to curator-led projects, including an immersive installation by TeamLab, a Japanese collective of impressive software designers, artists, architects, graphic designers and other creative types who combine art with digital technology. You’ll enter a dark space filled with computer-generated flowers and butterflies that change their behaviour depending on yours. Elsewhere we’ve kept our emphasis on what we did last year: emerging artists and new art scenes.
You’ve got a very international roster of galleries. How do you find the right mix?
We’re lucky because we’re not a huge fair. We’ve got 56 galleries; that means we get to talk to gallerists on an individual basis and work out how they are going to combine together. For me that’s more important than having a pre-set quota. But we are keen to have a very international mix and we listen to suggestions.
How many galleries offer single artists shows as opposed to a broad sweep of their artists?
There’s a new section called “This Is Tomorrow” dedicated to solo presentations of artists whose work is rooted in the here and now. Being born in Sri Lanka, I’m particularly delighted that Pala Pothupitiya’s work is there; he’s Sri Lanka’s most interesting contemporary artist. I haven’t gone for one overriding theme because that would be reductive but I’ve tried to draw out a couple of themes.
A feeling of discovery is pretty important to a fair – can you engineer that with the layout of the gallery booths?
You can try to engineer it a bit although it’s more about working closely with the galleries featured to ensure the presentations have that feeling of something to be discovered about them. That said, I’ve tried to have something pretty unknown near the beginning of each room and I’ve made plenty of discoveries over the years, which is great.
Who are your collectors? New faces or old friends?
Both! London’s collectors have really developed in the past 10 years. I used to be a gallerist and there was a group of established collectors whom you always called. Now they’ve been joined by a younger generation who are very cosmopolitan. We do lots to invite new collectors in; lots of them are familiar with the Saatchi Gallery so that helps.
Family-run auction house Van Ham Fine Art Auctioneers in Köln is conducting the XXL-Sale in September; it will see 105 lots from the estate of Düsseldorf-based art consultant Helge Achenbach, who was recently convicted of fraud, go under the hammer. This session follows the first Achenbach auction in June, the largest ever sale of contemporary art in Germany.
As the name of September’s auction suggests, this time around collectors can expect bigger pieces and installations. “The works reflect Achenbach’s activities in German and international art markets, as well as his commitment to both renowned and up-and-coming artists,” says Van Ham’s general partner and auctioneer Markus Eisenbeis, whose mother founded the auction house back in 1959.
Among the items up for auction is an installation by Berlin artist Thomas Bayrle called “Galaxy Windscreen Wiper”. It is an audio collage featuring two Andy Warhol-inspired portraits of Chinese leader Mao Zedong mounted behind a windscreen with electric wipers. “The originality of the work is captivating,” says Eisenbeis.
‘Aetas Aurea’, 2012
By Martin Denker
Photograph printed on canvas
Estimate: €4,000 to €6,000
‘Landscape of the Future’, 2009
By Pavel Pepperstein
Pencil and ink on paper installation
Estimate: €100,000 to €150,000
Embracing the contemporary
A French possession until the 1950s, Pondicherry still feels more South of France than south India. The police wear kepis; street names are in French (as well as Tamil); and the bustling street along the seafront is closed every evening to allow for a promenade.
The town (famously the setting for Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi and Ang Lee’s subsequent 2012 movie adaptation) has a relaxed air of creativity. As gallerist Karthik Sugumaran says: “Pondy is a small hub for the art scene. It’s not the mainstream but things are happening. That’s the reason we opened here in the first place.” Sugumaran started gallery and restaurant Artika, tucked away a few streets from the ocean, in 2013. Exhibitions since then have encompassed everything from photography to abstract pieces but repeatedly return to graffiti and stencil art. A recent exhibitor was Hamburg street artist Tona, who stayed for a couple of months to produce work for his show. The result (still visible around the town) was graffiti art infused with India.
Sugumaran often invites artists from abroad to stay, create and exhibit: “They come to Pondicherry and see new things, which shows in their work.” Artika also works with local talent, who will feature in the gallery’s autumn exhibitions. Among them will be Pondicherry resident Manoj Dixit with a return show.