Between 2008 and 2012, there was a well-known touring exhibition of contemporary art called Indian Highway which travelled to London, Oslo, Herning, Rome, Beijing, and Lyon. In a review, journalist Charles Darwent had the following to say: “To edit the entirety of India’s contemporary art down to 20 or so practitioners is to fall into the trap of imposing order on a thing that will just not have order imposed on it. The result is that we come away from [the venue] with the idea that Indian art is a pallid form of Western art, albeit with a mild curry flavor.”
The American and European art world had turned its gaze toward India, introducing a demand for a cosmopolitan, yet “authentic” form of creative expression. In my senior year thesis, I have explored the Indian art world’s participation in the global contemporary art scene, evaluating how institutions evolved in the 2000s to accommodate new forms of practice. Through the Digital Humanities Fellowship, I amassed information about auction house sales, exhibition participants, biennales and museums to understand the relationship between these various institutions. I then made linear regressions such as these:
I then used these regressions to make a network graph indicating whether artists engaging in one institution helps their inclusion in another institution. A green arrow indicates positive effects whereas a red arrow indicates negative effects.
This process was the most time-intensive portion of the project, because it involved scraping data from a variety of sources. I consulted librarians, art history professors and my friends at UMass so that I could gather the right catalogues and archival websites to collect information from. Then, with the help of some statistics professors at Amherst, I used R and Python to scrape and clean data from those websites. Standardizing the names of the artists was an unexpected challenge, because there were so many variants. Syed Haider Raza, for example, has been alternately spelled as Sayed Haider Raza, Syed Haidar Raza, Syed H. Raza, Sayed H. Raza, SH Raza, S H Raza, S.H. Raza and S. H. Raza. I had to use multiple fuzzy matching algorithms, alternating between calculating the generalized Levenshtein edit distance and using the Jaro-Winckler Algorithm. Sometimes, I just had to manually edit the cells of a 12000+ row database.
As a further step that was not part of the thesis, I made network diagrams of the artists’ participation in biennales and exhibitions, and looked at how their position in the network had changed over time. To do this, I looked at the difference in eigenvector centrality between 2000 and 2015 for each artist, and plotted the difference against the number of exhibitions these artists had participated in. An example of that graph is the one attached below:
Making the network graphs and doing calculations on the graph involved consulting with statistics professors to gain a robust understanding of graph theory. It was also because of the DH Fellowship that I got the idea of looking at change over time, because I was mostly interested in getting one snapshot of a 15 year timeframe, which is not nearly as revealing.