Barefoot in the Alps

The Swiss have learnt to pronounce Paresh Maity's name almost as well as in his native Bengal. At Art Masters in St Moritz, Switzerland, his Mystic Abode installation of 8,000 temple bells has been placed outside the very snooty and old-world Badrutt's Hotel and commands attention. Jayasri Burman's sculpture of a goddess-like Dharitri with swans has been snapped up by an Italian collector. We've been to the Engadin Museum to view Nalini Malani's video installations, glimpsed Jitish Kallat's 14 Lives, been charmed by Mathias Brunner's film installation based on Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar, appropriately titled The Music Room. I've seen Subodh Gupta's School earlier in New Delhi, but am sorry to miss some of the other Indian artists' works, notably a collective ode to Maximum City.
 Art Masters is celebrating India Week - last year China was featured - and Indian artists are getting a viewing throughout the spread of St Moritz. I am here for the launch of a book on M F Husain, commissioned by the Switzerland-based Stellar International Art Foundation, which has a selection of some of his most iconic series not previously aired, and some of which have been displayed for the first time, whether privately or publicly. Even though Art Masters tends to signify the contemporary, Husain's work is regarded by many as being "fresh". The barefoot artist would have been charmed.
 India aside, there's lots to see even casually across St Moritz. Such as the massive shopping bag installations by different artists consisting of digital prints over aluminium, Loris Hersberger's Dystopia Stalker that resembles a smashed bus shelter, Joel Shapiro's sculpture, Hubert Kiecol's Reise Nach that briefly diverts our attention about the future of art, and another installation at the Kempinski Hotel by Arne Quinze literally worth its weight in 45 kg of gold.
 Art Masters isn't an art fair. Now in its seventh edition, it is a hothouse property simply because it addresses an exclusive community of billionaires and millionaires. Its location makes it easy for the Italians to drive over for casual viewings. For now, it is being viewed simply as another activity on St Moritz's already crowded calendar of programmes. Sponsors bring in the money, even though it is all very discreet in the finest Swiss tradition. There's Mercedes-Benz, for instance, or Leica, Mont Blanc and Cartier, and there's no loss in their target audience simply because of an absence of the hoi-polloi in St Moritz.
 This very exclusivity has stirred interest in the boutique event, made interesting for being small and manageable where art fairs are large and chaotic. Artists and their galleries view this as a prestigious platform, though it's difficult to get in because there are no pavilions to buy, so you have to appeal to its organisers and curators. Groups of visitors such as those brought in by Maserati come for viewings as they might any other attraction, and can turn into spontaneous buyers in an instant. Necessarily, though, much of the art is in the nature of public installations, not something that might easily fit into a city flat.
 How might India feature at Art Masters in future? If this year was any indication, last year's China exposition did little for its presence in 2014. India, then, might not find much place in 2015 but for the presence of the Stellar International Art Foundation which might want to review its gains for Indian art and its own activities from its support this year. If interest in this year's Art Masters was anything to go by, tastes in St Moritz can be eclectic and not defined by provincial nationalism. Could it become the sounding board for the second coming of Indian contemporary art? Don't hold your breath on that one yet.

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi   August 30, 2014 Last Updated at 00:07 IST
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