Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jitish Kallat's 'Public Notice 3'

Opening on September 11, Jitish Kallat's ‘Public Notice 3’ explores the possibility to revisit the historical speech as ‘a site of contemplation’. It is an endeavor to symbolically refract it with threat codes devised by a government for dealing with this terror-infected time of religious factionalism and fanaticism.

In the first ever major presentation in an American museum, the celebrated contemporary Indian artist has opted to design a site-specific installation. It connects two key historical moments – first, the First World Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893, and the terrorist attacks that destroyed World Trade Center and the Pentagon on that very date, exactly 108 years later. The work creates a commentary on the evolution, or devolution, of religious (in)tolerance. A curatorial note elaborates:
“The basis for this installation is a landmark speech delivered by Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament, which was held in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in what is now the museum’s Fullerton Hall. The Parliament was the earliest attempt to create a global dialogue of religious faiths, and Vivekananda, eloquently addressing its 7,000 attendees, argued for an end of fanaticism and a respectful recognition of all traditions of belief through universal tolerance.”
With 'Public Notice 3', he converts Swami Vivekananda’s text to LED displays on the 118 risers of the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase of the institute, adjacent to the site of Swami’s original address. Drawing our attention to the great chasm between this proclamation of tolerance and the September 11, 2001 events, the text of the speech will be shown in the colors of the US Department of Homeland Security alert system. Curators of the show are Madhuvanti Ghose and Marilynn Alsdorf.

The Art Institute of Chicago collects and interprets works of the highest quality, representing the diverse artistic traditions, for the education of the public.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Nilima Sheikh repays her emotional debt to Kashmir with a new show

The highlight of a new show by Nilima Sheikh, dedicated to a continuing exploration of the historical fates of Kashmir through the past decade, is a set of scrolls. The solo at New Delhi’s Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) features some large scroll paintings from her critically applauded series, ‘Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams’.

The series is presented works courtesy Gallery Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai. An accompanying note mentions: “It has the reverie-informed palimpsest presentation of material that we associate with her work showing all of Kashmir's contradictory and multicultural histories erupting through the artist's reverie about the land as Paradise.

The magical and the marvelous, the mythic and the fabulous and ritual and fantasy pass through the photographic, the performative, the textual, the uttered and the art historical as well as through the artisanal habitual and the ecological.

Multiple cultural sensibilities from all over the world from various strata of history make up today's Kashmir. Textual references from Kalhan rub shoulder with the poetry of Lal Dedh, folktales jostle with the poetry of Aga Shahid Ali or the prose of Rushdie and the work of historian Chitralekha Zutshi while visual references range from pre-Renaissance Italian art to Bihzad to the magnificent demonography of the Siyah Qalam and Thangka art amongst others.

As we watch Sheikh's work it is not a simple lament for the destruction of Paradise by political violence that we see. Instead what we get from the artist is an unraveling in various directions of the multiple layers of forces of history at play in Kashmir today, the outcome of which is yet to be seen.

The artist has been quoted as saying on the eve of her show (The Indian Express interview): “As a child and as a young woman, I spent many formative years walking and trekking around the valley. I owe the formation of my visual world to this time. As a painter, I owe it an emotional debt.”

‘Treacherous Path’ followed by a group of artists

Nature Morte presents a group show, entitled ‘Treacherous Path’, at its Berlin premises. The exhibit featuring a new site-specific project by Julia Staszak as well as installations by Radhika Khimji and Raqs Media Collective. Drawing its name from Julia Staszak's central work, it opts to focus on the various artistic methods of collage, layering and appropriation.

The core of an installation work by Julia Staszak is a structure that is derived from the facades of religious sites in South India. Looking to blur the fine lines between conceptual art, décor, collage, painting, and curating, the trained painter often deftly integrates her own painted works, other artists' paintings and curious found objects into unfamiliar and original configurations.

Her appropriations destabilize set hierarchies in the world of art and beyond. The artist's penchant for toying with the idea of political correctness gets particularly poignant since it complicates the cultural expectations comprised in such an invitation. Two other recent works that tread a similar path are also be showcased.

The Raqs Media Collective is an art initiative by Jeebesh Bagchi, Shuddhabratta Sengupta and Monica Narula. Informing about their sculptural work ‘The Reserve Army’, an accompanying note states that it appropriates the Modernist sculptures by Ram Kinker Baij to stand in front of the RBI's headquarters in Delhi. The press releases adds:
“The sculptor appropriated Yaksha and Yakshi, two mythological Indian figures, to grant legitimacy to the newly independent nation, while Raqs' re-presentation of these figures speaks of India's convoluted entry into the world of advanced, multi-national capital. With the addition of accessories for the figures, a digitized, futuristic backdrop and dramatic lighting, Raqs employs a theatrical mise-en-scene to manipulate meaning, similar to Julia Staszak’s program.”
The other artist whose works are on view, namely Radhika Khimji synthesizes painting, sculpture, and collage to create installations, which reflect upon the presentation and display of artworks, even while touching upon the hybridized identity of the artist.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An artist studio within gallery premises

New Delhi based Gallery Espace had had a special project of ‘setting up’ an artist studio within its premises. For a week, talented artist Manjunath Kamath drew on the walls of the gallery, thus converting it into a teeming temporary studio.

Depending on when a visitor would drop in, he or she would get to see the white walls taken over by his drawing. The artist had not prepared any rough sketches, or had had a grid to work from. His aim was simply to enjoy the whole wide-open space that large white walls offered him within the gallery. His work unfolded into something new every day. Revealing the beauty of this experience from a visitor’s perspective, Bharati Chaturvedi noted in an essay:
“The studio environment reveals the underlying processes of art making. As a visitor, you are encouraged to ask questions, talk to the artist and take your time to make sense of what you see. You can also use the occasion to learn about Manjunath Kamath’s other works. These include dramatic humanscapes, or poignant, quirky sculptures, for example, which have been exhibited in important fairs and exhibitions around the world. Everything that you see here is temporary, but your own memory of this show."
After a week’s viewing of the completed work, the gallery opted to whitewash the walls, in a way, holding up a mirror to its commercial side. This action replicated the artist’s creative process in a studio, where a work of art is frequently painted over, or perhaps deleted, not necessarily available to the audience.Going beyond the market mechanics, this was an attempt to unravel the real crux of creativity sans any pressure of sales figures and red dots.

The exhibition was essentially an exercise to let the artist work sans any pressure and let the viewers enjoy the painterly processes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A show that addresses the theme of derivation in today's art

‘Spiral Jetty’, a group show at New Delhi based gallery Nature Morte features works by Anita Dube, Abhishek Hazra, Josh P.S., Pushpamala N., Jeffrey Schiff, Seher Shah, and Mithu Sen. It refers to American sculptor Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork. Constructed in 1970, it comprised countless boulders arranged in the Great Salt Lake’s shallow waters.

The title also denotes the form of the spiral, which turns inward, reflecting upon itself. The exhibition addresses the theme of derivation implicit in contemporary art. In fact, usually employed in a pejorative sense, ‘derivative’ is a condition of all human endeavors, as all aspects of science and culture tend to build on available historical data.

For today’s aware and progressive artist, derivation represents a condition that needs to be acknowledged as well as confronted, certainly not disregarded or denied. The exhibit brings together works of seven renowned artists who handle a wide variety of mediums, such as painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, video and installation. Elaborating on the core theme and the works, a press release states:
“Much contemporary art today is both highly self-conscious of its antecedents and refers directly to its own patrimony or influences in its making. The artists refer to pre-existing forms or images, recycling these into new creations. In some cases, the source materials that have been recycled are obvious, as in Josh P.S. paintings that re-create in an epic scale small sepia-toned photos from the colonial era, and Seher Shah's prints, combining found architectural photos with her reconfigured drawings.

“They consciously evoke the whole art movements or schools of thought in a more abstracted mode like the sculptures of Anita Dube and Jeffrey Schiff. Abhishek Hazra and Mithu Sen, directly appropriate images from works by Yves Klein and Egon Schiele to create entirely new pieces that decipher the relationship between these historical artists and our current context.”
Pushpamala N. in her ‘travelogue’ photographs dons traditional costumes from different cultures. Her portraits are shot in studios around the world. By combining her travel experiences with our reconceived vestiges of international travel, the artist makes a statement on the continuing aspiration for ‘authenticity’ despite a rapidly globalizing mass-culture.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A spotlight on graffiti as an art form

Graffiti as an art form is in spotlight courtesy a new art project, entitled ‘I think therefore graffiti’ at the Guild Art Gallery. It has artists from across the country to locate the socially relevant thoughts that revisit the spirit of Graffiti. Rakhi Peswani in her introductory note mentions: “Perhaps, as a project that is sprouting from the mainstream, the aim is to break the glass as well as hold a mirror...for it is through these domains of the public that a private life is shaped, which in turn produces the public sphere ahead...

“The domains of exclusion, of a constructed ‘mainstream’, the domain of anti aesthetic, the domain of fast, transient, street culture, of politics of private property, of art and its objectification, of homelessness, art and site specificity, the spoken and the visual, the spontaneous expression, the strengths of the vulnerable, reactionary visual activism on the urban streets, mobility of the ‘common man’, deprivation, isolation, commercialization are some of the tropes that seemed to be opened through this project.”

Here are few interesting sidelights on the art form:

1. Graffiti evolved in the west, from the grassroots; voicing these differences. The voices were from those that felt excluded or from those who felt a need for something that the mainstream was unable to address.

2. It became synonymous with the voices that quietly, sometimes anonymously, vehemently roared against private property, homogeneity, and many other forms of exclusions that individuals experienced in the marginalized neighborhoods of developed nations.

3. Ironically, once it started getting institutionalized, like many other forms of art, the art of graffiti also, came to be ‘recognized’ by the system of capitalist art market, and thus got usurped into another paradigm of style, that could be borrowed to replicate radical, reactionary behavior.

4. So, in its formal behavior, if graffiti is a form of painting on the wall, one can immediately hold a strong denial, since there are many more possibilities of wall painting that cannot be termed as graffiti... in its spirit, and formal tones, the art form demands total unification to be termed thus.

'I think therefore graffiti...." at Guild, Mumbai

This interesting group show at Mumbai’s Guild gallery is a unique initiative that involves artists and public. The participating artists including Apnavi Thacker, Atul Dodiya, Baiju Parthan, Balaji Ponna, Bose Krishnamachari, Gigi Scaria, G . Iranna, Justin Ponmany, Kiran Subbaiah, K P Reji, Mithu Sen, Prajakta Potnis, Rakhi Peswani, Riyas Komu, Sathyanand Mohan, Shreyas Karle, Sumedh Rajendran, T V Santhosh, Vishal Dar, Ved Gupta and Vivek Vilasini mostly worked late in the nights for this project.

During the tenure of this show public participation will be sought for graffiti on the gallery wall. The same will be hosted on the site thus disseminating this public participation. Elaborating on the purpose of the show, a press release states:
"Who designs, beautifies, creates our cities, our roads, gullies, pavements, parks, markets, and other public spaces? And who is entitled to use these spaces, maintain them, live in them? Who is responsible towards the safety of these spaces? Who controls them? In the larger matrix of these and many other unanswered questions, remains the public sphere, the street culture, the physical space of day to day living and commuting in large metropolitan cities. These spaces, unofficially, also house enumerable migrants who 'compromisingly' arrive to the cities everyday...holding those dreams that they are unable to realize within the contexts they leave behind."
In the utter chaos of our everyday existence, the physical meets the mental; the city meets the individual, and the public and private merge. A chaotic realm of visual experiences, this ‘everyday’ is a transient mass – of various visual instances, which can become ‘incidents’ for the common imagination.

The artists, through their praxis, have attempted to immortalize, and perhaps, have even essentialized an agency to help us frame these nonchalant instances. It's the ‘voice’ of the street vendors, rickshaw drivers, the drugged beggars, the workers, the prostitutes, and paanwallahs that appear the most inaudible to us. Even while we try to follow each other’s language, the difference of appearances tend to keep the physical distances intact. This is what forms the crux of this interesting artistic venture.

Friday, August 20, 2010

‘The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today’

‘The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today’ at the Museum of Modern Art presents a wide array of odd, fabulous and unfamiliar images that tell a tale of two art forms meet, marry, reproduce and virtually merge. It shows how photography and sculpture become one.

A curator in the photography department, Roxana Marcoci, has organized the show. It takes off where photography officially began, with the debuts of the daguerreotype first in France in 1839 and, later, the paper-print picture in the UK. Of course, sculpture as an art form had already a very ancient history by this time. Yet the two mediums became aligned almost immediately.

Both technology and timing played a role in their meticulous merging. A burgeoning middle class could access art once the preserve of the rich thanks to museums. Members of the new emerging art audience sought a piece of the cultural heritage for themselves. Photographs offered it to them. Among the earliest picture of the show - Alphonse Eugène’s daguerreotype Hubert (1839) is a still life, albeit composed entirely of Classical sculpture’s bits & pieces, comprising a plaster bust of the Venus de Milo.

The liaison between photography and sculpture had both formal and social advantages. With its long exposure time, early photography needed motionless subjects. If an individual seated for a portrait so much as twitched, the image got blurred. On the other hand, sculpture was far easier to photograph; it did not twitch! It also did not travel if it was fixed in place. Daredevil photographers had to go to where it was, as Charles Nègre and Maxime Du Camp did. Early photography served as an art form and as a recording instrument.

Incidentally, the curator devotes considerable space to the relationship of photography and sculpture in the show’s largest gallery. ‘The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture is on view at MoMA, New York.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

‘Three Worlds’ by Owais Husain

Artist Owais Husain probably has the most recognizable surname when it come to Indian art. MF Husain, his father remains the country's most established and the most popular modern painter. He is now in exile after receiving death threats for his offensive paintings as perceived by religious hardliners.

While Husain sr. is in Qatar, perhaps destined not to return to his home country, his youngest son is incidentally keeping the legacy alive on the art scene.Owais Husain is showing a diverse body of work at Tao Art Gallery. It is his first solo in Mumbai for nearly 10 years, drawing rave reviews. Renowned galleriest Dadiba Pundole, has been quoted as saying: "He does not carry the baggage of being an illustrated father's son.” Pundole gallery had shown many of his father’s works in the past.

Comparing the two, the expert notes: “He has a different approach to painting. It’ more intense in a sense, and tends to be autobiographical in nature. This makes it difficult to get into the work to some degree. However, the element of the narrative is strong."Owais Husain's show is entitled ‘Three Worlds’. On view are his works revolving around photography, music, sculptures, poetry, and multi-media installations. Describing how ‘the exiled artist's son is keeping the name alive’, an AFP report states:
“In a room in the basement of the gallery, the walls are scrawled with messages. In the centre, two beds are covered with balls of red wool, as music -- also his own composition -- floats through loud speakers. The influence of his father can be seen, as he admits to being ‘fascinated by the imagery of the (human) figure’. The 94-year-old, once described as "the pioneer of post-Independence Indian modern art", gave up his Indian citizenship earlier this year. Owais Husain seems reluctant to talk about his father, saying only that he advised him against embarking on a career as a painter.”
Owais Husain states he never wants people to follow exactly what he is saying, but he still yearns for a response from them.

‘Figuratives Figure’ at Jamaat Art Gallery

‘Figuratives Figure’ is a group show at Mumbai’s Jamaat Art Gallery that comprises various styles of artists in this genre of work. It is popular even today, albeit with usage of modern technology and moving media. The canvas and paper works are also still very much appreciated.

The show includes figurative paintings by Chaitali Mukherjee, Raja Segar, Gautam Mukherjii, Rini Dhumal, Gazala Chinwala, Sukumar Chatterjee, Laxman Aeley, and Vijay Belgave. It includes some older works by them to follow how some of these artists have evolved over time. A press release states:
“Figurative paintings have been the first kind of paintings done by people. Dating back to the cave paintings of stick figures, evolving to sophisiticated portraits and compostions by the European Masters, Japanese and Chinese stylised figures, Egyptian paintings on papyrus and our own Indian School of Traditional and Folk Art."
Chaitali Mukeherjee from Kolkata paints on paper with acrylic paints. Her figures are westernized in appearance with a curious Eastern touch in their eyes. Highly stylized in nature, they are all surrounded by the serene tranquility of nature. They exude a languid air. Gautam Mukeherjii is entrenched in the Bengali tradition. His work exudes his emotions. The paintings are mostly about families and the bond of affection between them.

The images, be it the kurtas of the Babu-log or the jewels of the Badra-log, are all clad in traditional Bengali attire. The acrylic on paper and canvas works are displayed alongside some older ones, done using pastels on paper. New York based Gazala Chinwala paints in a distinctive style. Bold lines cut across the oil on canvas works, though not quite cubist, have expressive faces and vibrant colors. Her painting of Madonna and Child harks back to an ethereal period.

Hyderabad based Laxman Aeley has a dramatic style of paintings with mixed media on canvas . Strong images executed in black & white shades with a dramatic red background represent exquisite draftsmanship. Baroda based Rini Dhumal is a proponent of the female force in the powerful form of Devi or Shakti. Sukumar Chatterjee paints on handmade rice paper with acrylic paint. Vijay Belgave’s almost Modigliani faces display a purity in expression. Raja Segar from Colombo uses a fractured style. The colors appear to have been refracted from a prism, having bold hues that splash from a startling white.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Art and freedom: what's the corelation?

To explore the theme of ‘art and freedom’, the ET Bureau’s Ashoke Nag speaks to many leading Indian artists. Here’s what they have to say: ‘Freedom of spirit is the ultimate’, renowned artist Jogen Chowdhury is quoted as saying in the ET news report by Ashoke Nag of the ET on the eve of India’s Independence Day.

While it is vital to free a country from a foreign power, it’s equally important to free people from social and economic suppression even after the country attains political freedom. He explains:
“While the country must be freed from the curse of poverty, women also must also be emancipated. Even in a developing country like ours, they will not flower without proper education and economic liberty. We only talk of the country’s independence from an outside power. But, what we need now is an individual’s social, economic and educational freedom.

"The freedom movement was a circumstantial phase in a country’s history. I have done quite a few drawings and paintings, expressing the dire need for the free domfrom injustice and atrocities. In fact, it’s not just India, I also painted on the torture of prisoners by American soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.”
While dwelling on the harsh everyday reality, he talks of attaining a state of freedom wherein man’s spirit must rise above the mundane to communicate with the higher state of spiritual being. Personalities such as Shri Aurobindo and Tagore have spoken about these experiences, he explains and terms it the root of rich Indian tradition and culture as well as the philosophy that underlies our religion.

Figurative artist Ramananda Bandopadhyay emphasizes that even though art is a window for spiritual and emotional release, in some ways, Indian art seems to be losing its very Indianness. He states, “Indians must regain their nationalist spirit to enter the global scene powered by their own strength.”

‘Moving Images from India’ in Berlin

Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin presents ‘Being Singular Plural: Moving Images from India’, a new show that brings together film and video works by today’s media practitioners. While recent international shows of contemporary art from India have displayed finished works as end products, to contextualize them in light of the country’s fast-growing economic, the works here tend to reveal the quieter principles of perception, practice, and process even while exploring the individual nature of life and the moving image.

The exhibition is oriented toward co-producing work, facilitating research, and assembling a unified community of practitioners. Elaborating on its purpose, a curatorial note states:
“ Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of 'being singular plural' imparts it the structural framework. Recognizing the interconnectedness of all beings, the selected films and videos invite the viewer to reassess conventional boundaries between such categories as fact and fiction, art and cinema, and objectivity and subjectivity. By manipulating sound, image, and text in experimental ways, the artists shift viewers’ positions from those of passive spectatorship to ones of active participation—to places where the ‘we’ of ‘being together’ is in the immediate here and now.”
The emptying out of representation that is the resting place of evidence alludes to the moving image as an end in itself than merely as a means to an end outside of the image’s surface. This embodiment of truth that resides in the its very structure and materiality overturns expectations of how the image engages with the world.

The film as well as video installations presented in the show try to stimulate a new kind of viewer base. Their images neither act as windows to the world outside nor underline any transcendental truths; they are presented ‘as they are’, largely distinguished by their evidence.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A group show of significant Indian modernist artists

RL Fine Arts in New York presents a group show of some of India’s most important senior Modernist artists. An accompanying note elaborates:

"Francis Newton Souza, Syed Haider Raza, Maqbool Fida Husain are some of the most famous names in Indian art. These are among the most espected artists of their generation belonged to the Progressive Artist group, which came into existence after independence, but which included The Modernist period of Indian art is most often taken to refer to the artists, who came of age during and after Independence and then throughout the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s."

"There is a magnificent Nude from 1962 by Souza, one of his most famous subjects and one that he never tired of painting.This nude is truly a masterful portrait, with the almost coy and vulnerable figure boldly returning the ogling male gaze of the artist and the male viewer.

"Husain is represented by two works, one of his important series of Mother Teresa, to which he devoted several paintings throughout his career, and the other, a work from the 1960’s, that shows this master artist skillfully combining both Western modernist art ideas and Indian traditional art into a new expression more in tune with a modern India.

"On the other hand, eminent Cubist artist Jehangir Sabavala - also a peer of the more turbulent Progressives - is represented by two of his lyrical and meditative works, ‘Lunar Alchemy’, a lovely moonlit seascape and ‘The Guiding Light II’, the ever-questing figures searching for a deeper truth from the universe. Arpita Singh is considered one of India’s most celebrated female Modernists.

"She is represented by a large luminous Painting that explores the role of women in Indian society. She uses her knowledge of textile design in composing her unique voice in Indian Modern art. All in all, this show revolving around Indian modernist artists presents an interesting mix of works."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Artistic interpretations of both personal and collective histories

‘Malleable Memory’ curated by Nitin Mukul at New York based Aicon Gallery features works by artists Jaishri Abichandani, Eric Ayotte, Shelly Bahl, Ruby Chishti, Mike Estabrook, Chitra Ganesh, Gisela Insuaste, Mala Iqbal, John Jurayj, Jen Liu, Naeem Mohaiemen, Sandeep Mukherjee, Nitin Mukul, Anjali Srinivasan, and Jaret Vadera.

The participating artists ask us to embrace our inherently subjective interpretations of both personal and collective histories through the evolving and illusive device of memory and the complicated ways such informs our understanding of ourselves, our past and our future. A curator's note explains:

”Truth is elusive, motivated by self-preservation. In the film Rashomon (1950) by Akira Kurosawa, various eyewitnesses describe their recollections of a violent crime. The accounts and their outcomes vary, leaving viewers to weigh each version against another. In the process the characters' stories collectively show the nature of truth as unstable and always susceptible to being shaped.

"Indeed, we have built-in survival mechanisms that may lead us to selectively edit or even invent memories to forge 'objectivity.' Besides showing the often self-centered nature of people, the film suggests a multitude of perspectives is necessary, objectivity impossible. In a similar spirit, this show calls upon a diverse range of artists and media. Taken together, they reveal a variety of positions, a multiplicity of voices drawing upon their own memories, expressing their own truths.”

"The artists examine the conceptions and expectations of reality each with their own unique interpretation. They present to us the idea of memory as a continuous and multifaceted representation in a constant state of flux. What emerges is a kind of objectivity that rests less upon tangible reference points, but rather associative recollections.

"Whether appropriated and reconfigured from popular sources, or registered as pigment on a surface, works in this show explore the crafting of reality, and
how memory serves us.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Digital photomontages that address a litany of realities

Born in Pakistan, Rashid Rana now spends his time in Toronto, Lahore and has even become a known name in India. He deviated from his peers and their traditional painting techniques by deploying digital media and photography. With his conceptually driven art practice and a peculiar pixellated attention to formal concerns, he has emerged as an iconic artist on the global stage.

His culturally provocative Veil series or even the more popular Bollywood portraits employ such vast source material to convey the conflicting influences in contemporary culture. The artist is particularly known for his digital photomontages that address a litany of social, political cultural, and economic realities through ironic juxtapositions. His mosaic-like usage of minute pointillist photos pixellated images, which identify and explore these tensions between the whole and its parts, are a hallmark of his practice.

The artist’s deft digital prints weave thousands of tiny portraits and other intriguing images, conglomerating them as pixels within a single unified image, vacillating between the micro and the macro. He manipulates or miniaturized photos from advertisements into digitized re-creations to result in a visual synthesis show his fascination with the history of a ubiqutious photographic ‘moment’. He has stated:
“In this age of uncertainty we’ve probably lost the privilege of having one world view. Now every image, idea and truth encompasses its opposite within itself. Thus we live in a state of duality. This intriguing internal conflict gets translated into my work, on a formal level, as well as having historical, political and geographical connotations.”
Art lovers in France are getting to discover Rashid Rana’s remarkable talent with some of his most exciting works on display at Musée Guimet, a leading museum in Paris. The exhibition appears hand-in-hand with another show, ‘Pakistan: Where Civilizations Meet’. The two shows provide the perfect opportunity to experience ancient heritage alongside contemporary creations of a contemporary artist.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Taj hotel’s art treasure to bask in a new glory

Unlike before the terrorist attack, when much of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel’s art treasure was scattered in guestrooms and hallways, the venue will now be showcasing its proud possessions prominently in three locations: a lounge, a banquet hall and a sea-facing bar off its main lobby.

Writer Vikas Bajaj mentions in an exclusive New York Times report how the valuable works of art at the prestigious hotel have been restored, partly soothing the scars of the three-day siege in Mumbai in 2008, when the city’s landmark was ravaged by fires, gunshots and grenade explosions. Recounting the horrific experience and the ravages of the attack, the news report reveals:
“The roof collapsed, and intricate woodwork was burned. Paintings by modern Indian masters like VS Gaitonde and Jehangir Sabavala were covered in soot and fungus, which thrived in the humid air after air-conditioners gave out, and sprinklers and fire trucks doused the building with water."
Now these artist’s works are being put up on display just before the Palace Wing’s reopening on India’s Independence Day. Of course, the hotel has always been known for its art treasures, but they were not retained and recorded properly. To correct this situation, it hired art specialist Mortimer Chatterjee, a few years ago.

The expert touch was sought for cataloging and preserving the collection. Several noteworthy works, including a large work by SH Raza, thankfully escaped damage since they happened to be in storage, slated for a round of cleaning and restoration, when the venue was attacked by terrorists in 2008.

According to Mr. Mortimer Chatterjee, other pieces on display at the time of the terrorist attack needed significant restoration work because soot particles and fungus became embedded in their fine paint and delicate canvases. One work that was particularly challenging was Laxman Pai’s light-blue abstract work, embellished with deft grooves & ridges, which needed extra care during clean-up.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recounting the glory of Taj and its contribution to Indian art

A special news report, entitled ‘Mumbai Restoration Includes Art’ in the New York Times, recounts the glory of Taj and its contribution to Indian art. Here are the excerpts of the essay:

Sitting on the harbor across the street from the Gateway of India, a monument commissioned under British rule, the Taj has long been a symbol of Mumbai. Built at a time when many hotels prohibited Indians from even entering, the Taj was reportedly built by its founder, Jamsetji N. Tata, as a place where Indians would be welcome and could mingle with the British on something like equal terms.

Though in recent years galleries have sprung up across Mumbai and New Delhi, there was a time when it was a central hub for Indian art. Until the early 1990s its Taj Gallery was one of just a handful of places where admirers and collectors could go to see and buy contemporary art in Mumbai. “A lot of the artists that earned reputations for themselves in the ’70s and ’80s — people like B. Prabha — had a lot of shows there,” said Abhay Sardesai, editor of Art India, a Mumbai magazine. “It was an important space.”

Other divisions of the Tata Group, which started and still owns the Taj, also contributed significantly to India’s modern-art scene by buying works, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, said Gayatri Sinha, an art critic and curator. “The Tatas really stand out for having made the right investments in art at the right time.” Closed during a renovation nearly 10 years ago, the Taj Gallery never reopened, but in recent years the hotel has devoted more attention to its own collection, started by the wife of the hotel’s manager in the 1960s. The management is keen to see that the venue and its status as a hub for quality art gets enhanced again...

The themes of oppression and gluttony in Ved Gupta’s work

Several decisive turns in his life have influenced Ved Gupta’s concepts and methodology. His work is largely grounded in his own stark experiences and subtle observations. The artist’s sculptures and paintings mock India’s social and economic hierarchies.

With his new show, entitled ‘Everybody Says We Are Fine…’ at New Delhi based Gallery Threshold, the artist contextualizes the proposition of ‘size’ in his art practice. The small format show displays miniature-sized works that concentrate on issues he has always been thematically concerned with, albeit exuding distinct quality of rendition as well as execution a smaller pictorial scale provides.

Not aiming for a departure from the theme of corruption, oppression and excesses caused by unchecked power, he looks to extend his narrative by adopting variation in style as well as agency of representation. His oeuvre seems to take a jaunt between various sizes. An explanatory note mentions:
“The miniature sized figures create an illusion of physical magnitude, while their execution remains fine and detailed as in a miniature painting. A four inch sculpture thus assumes the visual testimony of an eighteen inch one. The powerful and the corrupt have been portrayed by Ved Gupta as mutated or dwarfed caricatures, and the oppressed figure of the laborer is naked, elongated and idealized in his sensual beauty.”
His recent figures seem to be deprived of all visible characteristics - their faces rather flattened. Explaining his protagonists’ minimal modeling, the artist states, “However I may render the faces, the emphasis is on exposing the real disposition of my characters! Expression is central to the works and subjectivity is best brought out with minimal modeling. The incisive flat edges of the faces divulge the cunning nature of the characters.”

This ‘Small Format Show’ continues with the subjects holding erstwhile values as the artist plays with the proposition of ‘size’, building small renditions as naturalistically as in the larger works.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Top picks on the contemporary world and Indian art scene

Art entrepreneur Dinesh Vazirani of Saffronart and art auctioneer Maithili Parekh in recent interviews to Riddhi Doshi in The DNA India gave their top picks on the contemporary world and Indian art scene. If Maithili Parekh referred to the major grosser of India, the former spoke of the top 5 cutting-edge artworks globally.

‘The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own’: This work by Bharti Kher sold in London for a record $1.5 million. The life-sized elephant is one of the most talked-about works of art by a contemporary Indian artist. The work took her ten months to create. The sculpture is akin to a beacon of India’s avant garde art scene at the beginning of the 21st century.

‘Garden of Earthly Delights III’: This currently holds the record as the most expensive Indian contemporary work to sell at auction. This Raqib Shaw’s work fetched $5 million at Sotheby’s. Working with metallic industrial paints, he pools his vivid hues and manipulates them with a slender porcupine quill to create a marbling and fluid effect. Every detail is outlined in gold. Abundant with flora, fauna and feathered plumes, he further adorns swords, chains, crowns, and eyes with glitter and gemstones, accentuating his vision of excess and the sublime.

‘Sunday Lunch’: This is an important works by Subodh Gupta in oil and enamel on canvas.‘The Artist is Present’: An unsettling piece, recently performed at the MoMA in New York, from artist Marina Abramovic who has dedicated her career to pushing the boundaries of what we perceive as art.

‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’: A revolutionary painting by Pablo Picasso that changed the course of art and which remains cutting-edge even today, over a century after it was painted.‘20:50’: A provocative site-specific installation, through which artist Richard Wilson engages with the idea of space. It immerses viewers in an alternate world where they can raise questions about their realities.

‘Line of Control’: A sculpture by Subodh Gupta that transforms and elevates India’s ubiquitous stainless steel vessels into harbingers of a new global era of consumption and violence.

Svayambh’: A monumental kinetic installation by Anish Kapoor with several possible interpretations, that marks and changes the space it inhabits and is also marked and changed by it.

Unveiling India’s exotic traditions

Several leading world-famous museums and galleries have recently been focusing on rich Indian art traditions. Presenting ‘the other unknown side of amazing artistic productions from India’, the event culminated with the monographs of two contemporary tribal artists, elevated to the highest rungs of the world art market, namely Jivya Soma Mashe and Jangarh Singh Shyam, whose works chose to widen the field of their expression in order to portray their cultural milieu. France also witnessed an unprecedented presentation of the royal creations from the 'Deepak & Daksha Hutheesing Collection'.

Held jointly by Pierre Berge - Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and Hutheesing Heritage Foundation, ‘Last Maharajas (1911-1947)’ featured the costumes of the Grand Durbar from 1911 to 1914, a time when textiles were the soul of royalty. This was the first time this timeless collection, providing a social and historical context to art history and the aesthetics of textiles and its intangible romance, was unveiled on the global stage. Jerome Neutres stated in a curatorial note:
“For the last kings of India, who had given up their throne for independence, splendor and appearance mattered. Deprived of force, the favored means of expression of these warrior princes, the last Maharajas cultivated luxury and competed based on the grandeur of their image. Clothing was at the heart of the social bond during this courtly period from the Delhi Durbar of 1911.”
While discussing the trend of greater global exposure to Indian art and culture traditions, one name that must be mentioned is the world-renowned Peabody Essex Museum. The institution based in Massachusetts regularly features Indian art - from the 1800s to the present - including the delicate embroideries, fine portraits and devotional images.

A series of exhibitions, performances, films and hands-on demonstrations are regularly held at PEM that look to unveil India’s exotic traditions. For example, its latest show ‘Of Gods and Mortals, Traditional Art from India’ brings to the fore how myriad forms like paintings, sculpture, textiles etc are part of the fabric of daily life in the country and how they are used in religious practices and to express prestige and social position.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dazzling diversity of India's artistic heritage

A series of international events look to unveil dazzling diversity and vibrancy of the amazing artistic heritage, now rightfully occupying its deserved place on the global map. Several exhibitions already held this year in European and the Western countries testify the trend. For example, a significant exhibition ‘Other Masters of India: Contemporary Creations of the Adivasis’, at the musée du quai Branly in Paris unraveled the captivating creations of indigenous populations and folk communities for the very first time.

The idea was to let the art-loving public in France discover an important but still highly unrecognized facet of the contemporary Indian art scene. This was probably the most representative material, day-to-day, artistic and religious productions of India’s indigenous populations showcased in a multidisciplinary and thematic approach. The collection reflected the vibrancy of the artistic traditions of these different communities, and to their evolution and their exposure to the outside world.

‘The Indian Portrait’ explored the various wondrous ways in which artists of the different eras approached the depiction of the human form and the changing role of portraiture in Indian history. Another show, entitled ‘Contemporary Connections: The Singh Twins’ (Amrit and Rabindra) was held alongside the main display. It offered a contemporary response to ‘The Indian Portrait’ show and the London based National Portrait Gallery’s permanent Collection.

Bringing together 60 stunning works from international collections, the event celebrated the beauty, power and humanity of these works. It narrated the nostalgic tale of the Indian portrait over 300 years (1560-1860), comprising some of the earliest realistic painted images from the Mughal Court.

A curatorial essay termed them a ‘record of a complex and rich history, embracing influences from Europe and Iran as well as local traditions – both Hindu and Muslim - showing that the Indian portrait could proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with outstanding portraiture styles from across the globe.’

Mueums in the West strive to get visitor-friendly

Over the last few years the number of people visiting museum has been steadily going up worldwide, in spite of the downturn.

Considering the number of patrons who gather at the Tate Modern’s in-house restaurant, browsing exquisite Swedish design objects at the Stockholm based Moderna Museet shop, or taking along their children for a quick trip to La Maison des Petits at the Parisian arts centre 104, these spaces are now seen as vivacious venues where the exhibits are sometimes beside the point. Underlining this trend, a recent report, entitled ‘Do not think of them as mausoleums’ by Tara Mulholland in The New York Times states:
“As directors vie for visitors with a large number of public and private museums, they are not preoccupied only with cafes and shops. An emphasis on novel “concept” events is also becoming more popular. For example, the ArtHome concept at the Palais de Tokyo runs, in conjunction with Nomiya, cooking workshops for adults and children, while the 104 arts space has started a regular weekend bric-a-brac sale. At ‘Late at Tate’, visitors can browse exhibitions with drinks in hand when the gallery stays open until 10 pm one Friday per month.”
Such has been the success of enhanced events and facilities at many museums that they even have become independent attractions in some cases. Facilities like bookshops, cafes and restaurants have been seen as part of the essential services museums and galleries offer for many years. Now, these are becoming a touch more sophisticated. Many galleries and museums are opening more exclusive restaurants. In fact, a good restaurant is now feature more common at most ‘good’ museums.

The Modern restaurant at MoMA has garnered accolades, whereas Tate Modern received the Time Out award as best family cafe in London. Interestingly, The National Gallery secured the best British book prize for ‘The National Cookbook’ at the British Book Design & Production awards. Incidentally, it’s a recipe book that has been inspired by the food served at its restaurant under the chef Oliver Peyton.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A new group show ‘Dali's Elephant’

‘Dali's Elephant’ is a group show at Aicon Gallery, London. It traces the echoes of Surrealism in modern and contemporary art from the Indian Subcontinent through the works of artists Manjit Bawa, Sakti Burman, Jogen Chowdhury, K. Laxma Goud, Unver Shafi Khan, Suneel Mamadapur, Rekha Rodwittya, Prasanta Sahu, and Avishek Sen.

A press release elaborates: “In 1967 Air India commissioned Salvador Dali to produce a limited edition ashtray which was to be given to a select group of lucky first-class passengers. Dali produced a small unglazed porcelain ashtray composed of a shell-shaped center with a serpent around its perimeter. This was supported by three stands, two of which point in the same direction and resemble an elephant's head.

The third stand was inverted so that it resembled swan's head. Dali was initially paid no more than a few hundred dollars for his design but when they received the design the airline bosses were so delighted that they made Dali the surprise gift of an elephant. Dali lived with the elephant for a few days at his Portligat home before donating the beast to the local zoo.”

This odd and indeed, 'surreal' episode, is one of the few concrete encounters recorded between Surrealism and India. Whilst there is enough literature on the impact of Surrealism in the Caribbean and Latin America, its influence or role within modern and contemporary Indian art is undocumented. On a case-by-case basis it is possible to discern the influence of Surrealism on a number of individual Indian artists or as an indirect influence on others.

For instance K. Laxma Goud's works from the mid 1960s through the 1970s teem with surrealistic imagery and many contain scenes that are filled with people, beasts and phalluses in odd conjunctions. Manjit Bawa also blurred the distinction between human and animal form in simplified forms that reference the mythic. Sakti Burman's works also reference the mythic in a way that recall the dreamscapes of Western surrealists with incongruous figures floating together in the same picture plane.

Jogen Chowdhury's figures have certain playfulness. Rekha Rodwittya and Unver Shafi Khan are not so much consciously reacting to surrealism but seemingly using a
visual language.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Increasing optimism about art's value as an asset class

It seems like the Blue Period of contemporary art market is over. Nearly a year and a half after prices plunged, the auction houses state they have managed to recapture their pre-recession momentum. For example, Christie's International PLC revealed it sold fine and decorative art worth $2.57 billion in the first half. This is almost 43% up from a year earlier and incidentally the second-highest in its history.

The auction house's total comprises close to $275 million in art it sold privately, up by over a third from a year ago. Overall prices were up for most major art categories, including $368.2 million of Asian art, up by an impressive 120.6%%. On the other hand, Sotheby's auctioned over $2 billion of art in this year’s first half, more than almost double a year ago. ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’ fetched $106.5 million, the highest price for a work at auction. It squeaked past rival Sotheby's top seller, Alberto Giacometti's ‘Walking Man I’ that went for $104.3 million.

Both auction houses capitalized on growing interest of collectors in modern sculpture. At Christie's, overall prices were up for nearly all of the auction house's major art categories., including $853 million of Impressionist and modern art, up 37.4%; $460.7 million of postwar and contemporary art, up 139%; and $368.2 million of Asian art, up 120.6%%.

As is evident, collectors who retraced during the worst ever economic crisis are feeling increasingly optimistic about the values of art in comparison with other assets. The visible boost in their confidence made it possible for chief auction houses to prompt sellers to auction off their trophies. Christie's chief executive, Ed Dolman, was quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal News report: “We are not going to lull ourselves into any false sense of security. However, the art market seems to be surely recovering far quickly than anyone expected."

In fact, buyers still remain divided over how fast the market should catch up. Seasoned collectors in Europe and the US still seeking potential bargains, represent a bit of skepticism prevailing out there. But they are facing greater competition from new enthusiastic Asian bidders more willing to splurge. Summing up the situation, Kelly Crow of The WSJ notes in a news report:
“So far this year, the clash in attitudes—one cautious, the other giddy—has created an unpredictable marketplace in which artworks tend to fly or flop without warning. Jewelry is another strong seller, thanks in part to a surge of interest from Asia.”
Other spots in the world are looking up, too. Art sales in Hong Kong and Dubai have climbed up.

Investors are seeking relatively 'safer' asset classes

The efinancialnews report, which we’ve referred to previously, explains how investors are seeking relatively ‘safer’ asset classes for generating returns and beat inflation. As the credit crunch gets more acute, these tangible assets are in greater demand. Investors believe that they manage to hold their value well.

The insightful report states how art investment has precedents for several renowned institutions. For example, from the 1970s until the 1990s, the British Rail Pension Fund got 11% annualized returns on precious art assets. However, a majority of today’s art funds have fewer institutional investors.

London based Philip Hoffman’s Fine fund set up in 2001 is among the world’s largest asset manager in fine art. It considers the condition of the artwork, its freshness to market, and the track record of the artist among other key factors before a BUY decision is made. In the six years of active money and asset management, its average annualized return is 34%. The firm unveiled Fine Art Fund III earlier this year. It focuses on possessing blue-chip art, following the same buy and hold strategy as the original fund. The find manager states:
“We are overtly careful in how we invest, especially since some of our investors are pension funds. Our purchases are strategically planned and backed by detailed research and a due-diligence process.”
The efinancialnews report states that the Hoffman is confident of stronger emerging markets to keep the art market in a buoyant state. He said:
“The auction rooms are full. Numerous bids are being made, new collectors are being found and works of excellent quality are being offered for sale at reasonable prices.”
Harvey Cammell of Bonhams concurs to add that Chinese art will be of the strongest markets. The auction house has already had some of its strongest Chinese sales, with exquisite works of art selling, far in excess of estimated prices. Apart from art, other exquisite asset classes like jewels and jewelry are also shining.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Art and other alternate assets hold their appeal

As a flurry of cash continues to leave traditional investment avenues in the flight to shores of safety, several alternative asset classes like works of art, antiques, fine wines, diamonds etc have started to attract likely investors. Although investment stems mostly from high net worth individuals (HNIs), institutions are also taking equal interest.

With the looming spectre of inflation coupled with falling demand, these unconventional assets are being seen favorably. Investors believe that these assets have several benefits. Not only are they physical in nature but also are able to offer a diversified exposure away from the traditional fixed income avenue.

A recent news report by Yasmine Chinwala and Liam Tarry reveals how more and more investors are delving into luxury assets to beat inflation. The managing director (Emotional Assets Management & Research), Bernard Duffy, has been quoted as saying:
“Investors across the world have increasingly been turning towards more alternative assets since the credit crunch because these are tangible assets that hold their value well. This trend will be reinforced and will accelerate further when inflation kicks in with a vengeance in the coming years.”
The report appearing at efinancialnews affirms the trend with this year’s auction sale of legendary artist Picasso’s painting that has managed to fetch over £70m. A senior art adviser associated with Castlestone Management, Constanze Kubern, mentioned that even in today’s uncertain economic environment, museum-quality post-war art has increased in demand as well as in value.

The trend is observed especially in artists whose names are etched in art history owing to their lifetime achievements. Kubern underlined to their strategy of sticking to modern/post-war art. However, returns are still below the heady years of 2006-07. They are more difficult to measure since auction prices don’t take into account the art sold privately for undisclosed sums.

To read the full report, click To read about the different alternate asset classes likely to do well in the next few years, click here:

‘Amidst euphoria, we need to ask if it’s it all happening too soon.’

If Sotheby’s and Christie’s for Indian art auction results in New York conducted in March were heartwarming, then their outcome in London in June were nothing short of astounding. The top lot - a painting by Modernist Progressive SH Raza, entitled ‘Saurashtra’ (79 x 79 inch) went at Christie’s for a whopping £2.4 million (nearly Rs. 17 crore). It broke the earlier record by a wide margin – by almost double.

The work, undoubtedly among the finest ones by the Master, set a new price benchmark by which all upcoming results will obviously be measured. In all, Christie’s managed to better their auction results by nearly ten times from the same month last year, whereas Sotheby’s almost tripled theirs. Raza, and his counterpart Progressive Modernist artists, such as Tyeb Mehta, VS Gaitonde, MF Husain and Francis Newton Souza are in demand all over again.

As a result, a renewed buying & selling frenzy is about to be witnessed in the art market.
Summing up the scenario and sounding a word of caution, art writer Sharmistha Ray mentions in an ET Bureau report:

“We should be unequivocal in our celebrations; the recession seems like a distant memory, if not erased completely. But if ever we needed the voice of reason, it’s now. Somewhere from a silent corner, it begs an all too familiar question: is it all happening too soon? A shallow market is much more susceptible to predatory speculation. We should have learned this lesson well by now. On a more positive note, the auction houses are delivering auctions that focus on content much more than ever before, even if the primary markets remain comparatively sluggish.”

In essence, elated speculators are back sniffing again and everything perhaps looks a bit hunky dory, at least on paper…

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who gains and who loses as the market recovers?

Like the Tagore Sale by Sotheby’s that did amazingly well, Christie’s single-artist sale of the late FN Souza estate received an unprecedented response. Though there were speculations that legal woes provably prompted the Souza family into liquidation of his estate, collectors jostled to acquire it as if it was the last chance for them.

The vigorous sale made up for more than 40% of Christie’s overall sale that itself scored a record for it at a figure of £12.46 million (Rs 88 crores). Even as the auction house celebrated, a debate over a possible saturation of the Souza’s market was put to rest, as the sale had exactly the opposite effect. It solidly anchored the late artist in the highest ranks of the Indian Modernist canon. It’s perhaps never been so much ‘fashionable’ to own an artwork by him.

Though Traditional & Modern Indian art is dominating most top lots at auctions, the market reflects that Contemporary art is inching ahead, slowly but surely. It’s a rather cautious ride post a painful and prolonged slumber. While some stabilizing effect is still needed, the artists with a strong international backing and exposure seem to have greater chances of a recovery. Explaining the scenario, art critic Sharmistha Ray mentions in her ET Bureau essay:
“Not surprisingly, husband-and-wife artists Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher who are both represented by one of the finest international galleries, Hauser & Wirth, have been the first to emerge out of the doldrums. However, even for them, a discriminating market scrutinizes each and every work; it takes a solid work, and not just any work, to re-establish auction pricing for these two artists.”
The recovery process is bound to take longer for other artists, and for some, it may not take place at all, which is the inevitable consequence of any downturn.