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March 5, 2008

Peter Nagy

A co-founder of avant-garde New York gallery Nature Morte and an active artist in the '80s, Peter Nagy moved to New Delhi in 1993. In 1997, he reopened Nature Morte as an experimental space for new Indian art. In 2003, he expanded the gallery by partnering with Bose Pacia — just in time for the burgeoning of the Indian contemporary art scene. Artkrush editor Paul Laster recently chatted with Nagy about his arrival and work in India.

AK:  What first brought you to India?

PN:  I first visited India in 1990 as a tourist, for three weeks. I then returned in 1993 and stayed for a year, with an apartment in New Delhi, two one-month artist residencies at art colleges in Baroda and Ahmedabad, and plans to see more of the country with and without friends from New York. After that year, I decided to stay for good, with extended visits back to New York in the summers.

AK:  Was it difficult to integrate yourself into the local art world?

PN:  Luckily, the art world of India is conducted entirely in English, so it was relatively easy to access, and there were many galleries already in Bombay [renamed Mumbai in 1995] and a few in Delhi.

AK:  How has the Indian contemporary art scene evolved since your arrival?

PN:  It's grown tremendously and become more sophisticated and international. Of course, those changes are mirrored throughout the societies of urban India.

AK:  In New York's East Village, Nature Morte was widely known for presenting multimedia conceptual art. Are you still interested in this kind of work, and are there Indian artists who share similar experimental concerns?

PN:  I started Nature Morte again in New Delhi because I was finding a lot of interesting work that paralleled the concerns of the New York scene in the '80s: representational and identity politics, new-media strategies, the discourses of appropriation and criticality. Indian artists working within these ideas include Anita Dube, Sheba Chhachhi, Vivan Sundaram, Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher, Subodh Gupta, Nataraj Sharma, and on and on.

AK:  Can you draw any comparisons between the New York art world of the '80s and contemporary Indian art now?

PN:  There's a bit of déjà vu, actually. I'm involved in a scene that's both fueled by a booming internal economy and the attention of the international art world.

AK:  Can you tell us about your partnership with New York's Bose Pacia Gallery?

PN:  After a few years of getting to know each other, Nature Morte and Bose Pacia formally teamed up in 2003. Bose Pacia provided the capital to open the large space we still have in central-south Delhi and made it possible for us to participate in international art fairs. They needed the curatorial and logistical support Nature Morte could supply from India, while we needed the financial and logistical support they offered to go global.

AK:  Is there a big interest in new art within India, or are serious collectors mainly foreign?

PN:  The interest from India itself and from abroad is growing so quickly that it's overwhelming to keep up with it all. Certainly, the interest for the more radical and experimental types of art comes more from outside of India, but there are many wealthy people living in India who are willing to pay higher prices for works by new art stars making their mark internationally.

AK:  How has the blossoming of international interest affected Indian artists and galleries?

PN:  Increased professionalism, increased competition, increased expectations.

AK:  We've written about a number of artists that you've shown or represent, including Subodh Gupta, who was on the cover of our first issue; Thukral and Tagra, who were on the cover of Issue 60; and, amongst others, Raqs Media Collective, Ranbir Kaleka, and Anita Dube, whom we discussed in an interview with Gordon Knox, your co-organizer for the Indian Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale. What are your thoughts about these artists now?

PN:  They're all very talented artists with years of good work ahead of them.

AK:  For years, you came back to Bridgehampton, New York, for the summer and wrote reviews for Time Out New York during your stay. Do you continue to summer in New York and write about art?

PN:  I still try to take a couple of weeks in Bridgehampton every summer, though I've missed a few summers in a row. Luckily, one of my best friends was able to hold on to a cottage there that I can share with her. My career in India began as a writer, and I wrote a lot of magazine articles and catalog essays about contemporary Indian art. I now write very little — besides the hundreds of emails daily.

AK:  Before moving to India, you were a very much in-demand artist, with sold-out shows at major galleries. Since then, you've only occasionally shown your own work, and once the boom for contemporary Indian art started building, we stopped seeing anything. Does running a successful gallery allow any time for you to make art?

PN:  When I came to live in India in the early '90s, pre-email and Internet, I was still very much cut off from the rest of the world, and so I lost the support of most of my dealers. I've shown my work a bit in India, with a solo show of paintings at the Chemould Gallery in Mumbai in April 2004, and I mounted a show of very Indian-inspired works with Nicole Klagsbrun in New York in June 1997. I always have some things in progress in the studio, but these days, I have no time to think about them. Remember, I was a gallerist before becoming an exhibiting artist, and my role here is extremely creative and fulfilling. Someday, perhaps, I'll have more time for art-making again.

Nature Morte is exhibiting at the Armory Show in New York from March 27 to 30.

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