Tuesday, November 30, 2010

India’s most expensive woman artist in the making?

A monumental mural apparently inspired by the bewildering Buddhist monastic traditions is estimated to fetch a whopping Rs 10 crore by Delhi-based artist Arpita Singh at an upcoming auction. The estimated price is expected to turn her into India’s most expensive woman artist. ‘The Wish Dream’ is a 16 panel mural (24 ft x 13 ft) done by her in 2001. It’s set to go under the hammer in the Saffronart modern and contemporary winter auction on December 8.

The renowned contemporary Indian artist, Bharti Kher, previously set a new auction record in June with her fibreglass and bindi elephant sculpture. It grossed Rs 6.94 crore at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, London.

The Saffronart auction will feature a top selection of 100 works by over 40 leading Indian artists. Highlights of the event include modern masters like SH Raza, Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee and FN Souza alongside some several major names in contemporary Indian art such as Surendran Nair, Shibu Natesan, NS Harsha and Subodh Gupta.

Explaining the valuation and importance of the Arpita Singh mural, the Saffronart co-founder and CEO, Dinesh Vazirani has stated, “It’s the rarity of the art work, which determines its market value. And this is clearly one of the most significant and largest works done by any Indian woman artist at any auction ever. It’s not something any artist will create again in their lifetime. It’s a vertical work, which goes from bottom to top. It shows everything the central woman figure experiences, and portrays the evocative power of the feminine form.”

Originally commissioned by late Nandita Jain, it portrays the experience of the central woman character through usage of vivid colors and familiar motifs. The 73-year-old artist is hardly affected by the new-found commercial success, with her works doing well at recent auction events. In fact, she is busy preparing for her upcoming solo at Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi. She simply stated, “I don’t have any reaction. The work is no more with me, so I am not really concerned (about its price).”

At Sotheby’s South Asian art auction (New York, September), her ‘Munna Apa’s Garden’ grossed over four times its estimated value ($100,000-$150,000). It now remains to be seen whether the monumental work manages to scale the estimated price and set a new record.

The first ever work by a female Indian artist to be pegged at the Rs 10-crore mark

Raza, Souza, Padamsee etc will though take a backseat with Arpita Singh hogging the limelight at the upcoming Saffronart modern & contemporary winter auction, making her work the first ever by a female Indian artist to be pegged at the Rs 10-crore mark if the bidding manages to meet the estimated price.

The veteran artist's paintings are known to portray a female point of view about life in general. The featured auction work is said to have drawn its inspiration from a Tibetan play. She has been quoted as saying, “When Nandita Jain (who originally commissioned the work) asked me to do it, I first said ‘no’, since it was so huge as well as challenging.

"I didn’t really have a clue (about) where I should start, so I began reading books on epics and leafing through old literature. Someone lent me a publication about a Tibetan play - a version of the epic, Ramayana. I was reading the introduction and noticed the words ‘Wish Dreams’. And I could start thinking about exactly what to draw.” Explaining the symbolism of her mesmerizing work, the veteran artist adds:
“The mural shows the wishes and dreams of a woman within our society and how it progresses and how it’s related to other women through ritual. The most important ritual is wedding, so you’ll find a woman standing and from behind, two hands of a man holding her. I don’t like to keep space empty, so I fill it up with objects I see everyday. When I gather everything together, the whole pattern is meaningful. Individual forms are not very important to me.”
Incidentally, Bharti Kher’s life-sized, enormous elephant sculpture, ‘The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own’, fetched Rs 6,90,30,000 (roughly $1.6 million) earlier this year. For record, the most expensive auction sale by an Indian artist is Rs 15,69,48,288 ($3,486,965) set by SH Raza’s ‘Saurashtra’ (1983, acrylic on canvas work) at a Christie’s auction in June 2010.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Will the UAE emerge as a top international centre for contemporary art?

Opera Gallery is aware of the need to raise awareness about art and how to invest in it in the region. It recently held a couple of conferences with The Royal Academy of Art, London and City Group. The Academy CEO came to Dubai for educating people on nuances of investing in art.

The gallery GM observes that those used to investing in the stock market or real estate usually have apprehensions about putting their money into art. According to Epaud, all one has needs to do is specifying the amount of investment, pick the work of art, and approach the gallery for a consultation. The gallery then directs buyers to the most suitable auction."

Managing Partner at Meem Gallery, Charles Pocock feels art exhibits should be hosted in galleries of the highest international standard. Also, quality books should be released by reputable publishers. Museums should display prominent collections as well for the art scene to flourish further. He has been quoted as saying by The Gulf News:
"Research is important; knowledge is imperative; you should know what series the work is from, its medium and if it has featured in any recent publications. It's important to have knowledge of past prices, which collections, public and private, hold or have held the work, which books and catalogues are related to it, and also knowledge of artists, dealers, collectors and museum officials. Buyers must be totally informed when it comes to modern Middle Eastern art; there are only a handful of people that are actually well-informed here."
Is the UAE likely to be counted among the top-notch international cities of art like Paris, Florence and New York? To be on par with these art centers, it will need more orientation and right direction. It will take some time to reach this prime position, experts believe. It can be made possible by educating future generations about art.

An art instructor associated with Dubai International Art Centre, Rita Nicola, points out, women in particular are attracted to the subject. No surprise, most art centres in the UAE have seen an unprecedented demand from women. Currently the Dubai International Art Centre has about 35 students. Most of them are women. For many, art is much more than just a passing interest.” According to her, art has obviously become a lucrative business in the UAE.

How a Gulf gallery tasted success during the financial downturn?

Features writer Fatma Salem of Gulf News underlines how Dubai’s art scene is reaching a new peak, underlining the success story of The Opera Gallery. The story mentions:
“The newly opened gallery has been highly successful as a business and in part to their willingness to try different approaches. Its opening at a time when many businesses are closing down is significant. Persuading Emiratis to invest in art is relatively easy these days, according to the gallery GM Bertrand Epaud. Recently the BBC filmed in the gallery at the DIFC and this point was discussed. There are two approaches to buying art here.

“One is the safe form of investment, which means that you invest in a masterpiece from an artist such as Dali, Chagall or the like and you are guaranteed not to lose money. And for those who cannot afford to invest large amounts of money, according to Epaud. If you cannot afford to buy an art work, then I suggest going for a sketch because they are cheaper but still valuable and once again profit is guaranteed." But he cautions against selling the work immediately.
Bertrand Epaud explains: “In any new business, location is certainly one of the most important aspects. And, we found out after conducting research that Dubai Mall is considered one of the most popular malls in the entire emirate. Dubai has adopted a flourishing mall culture with willing consumers ready to spend large portions off their time and money there. We wanted to be accessible to as many of them as possible. There's clearly no better location for meeting prospective customers in person than the mall, on a daily basis."

He adds that Dubai as a city is also the perfect location for an art scene as it provides easy access to many different parts of the world. "It has a wonderful geographic location that connects us with clients from different parts of the world, within a matter of hours, places like India, Tehran, and Beirut."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dubai’s flourishing art scene in today’s volatile market

Managing Partner at Meem Gallery, Charles Pocock, observes in a recent interview with The Gulf News (‘Art is the new business trend’ by Fatma Salem) that in today’s volatile market, investors are looking at safer alternative investments beyond stocks, currency, gold, property and bonds. He sees considerable interest in art investment in arts with the construction of the Louvre and the Guggenheim.

This will prompt the dawn of a new era in art investment in the region, he feels. The building of the Louvre as well as the Guggenheim museums will help the region become a prime centre for contemporary art, patrons like him believe. The General Manager of the newly opened Opera gallery, Bertrand Epaud, is quite enthusiastic about Dubai’s art scene and is bullish about the prospects of the gallery.

He notes that Dubai Mall was chosen as the location for the enterprise after much research and adds. "If customers fail to come to us, it’s we who go to them. We are aware of how vital the client is. Since we’re the only gallery, which owns masterpieces in the country, we thought of taking e paintings by the likes of Renoir and Picasso (and) organize temporary exhibits in neighboring countries like Oman, Doha, and Beirut.

According to him, people there are not quite used to coming face-to-face with quality art works. You can't believe the immense thirst for art in this region. The demand in Oman clearly exceeded our expectations; we had over 2,000 visitors. Those temporary exhibits gained us a lot of recognition and exposure. It enhanced our database of new customers in the middle of the financial downturn.

He has been quoted as saying in The Gulf News story: "When it comes to buying contemporary art as well as emerging artists, we suggest holding on to the works of art for at least five to seven years to increase its value in the market."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Surendran Nair’s first solo in the US

A solo exhibition of recent works by artist Surendran Nair takes place at Frey Norris Gallery, San Francisco - incidentally his first solo in the US. Its title ‘Neti, Neti’ refers to the BrahadAranyaka Upanishad.. It includes new paintings from ‘Elysium’, and the ‘Doctrine of the Forest’, as well. The two sections belong to the series Cuckoonebulopolis; all inventive ‘Itinerant Mythologies', the title of a recent monograph.

Summing up the spirit of the show and the artist’s work process, a note by art scholar Ranjit Hoskote mentions:
“Delighting in the condition of paradox, these paintings assume various forms: they come at us as puzzling riddles and private jokes, mumbled asides and deafening proclamations, knife-edged critiques and tender parodies, baroque satires and impish elegies…Nair regards painting as no less interactive a medium than the installation or the digital interface: a coded yet inviting communication around which artist and viewer choreograph a productive dialogue.”
'Neti, Neti' is comprised of paintings on canvas and paper. The artist explains that the title literally means: not this not this or, not this not that; or, neither this nor that. Yagjavalkya, the Upanishadic philosopher employed this particular approach of apophasis to describe the nature of the absolute, the Brahman, or God, the Supreme Being, when he was asked to do so by his students."

The brightly colored centerpiece portrays an actor with a false blue arm hanging from a neck contraption. The artist adds, "I was thinking of the figure of a Vidushaka (clown) here, who, in the Sanskrit theatre of Kerala plays different roles, like the stage manager or the sutradhar (the one who holds the strings), the initiator of the play, the hero's friend or 'side-kick', comic relief etc. etc. Shakespeare's fool in King Lear to some extant could be considered somewhat as a comparable."

A tiny masked man, based on a Greek sculpture of a comic-actor looms in the background supporting a flaming trident. Lovers (ShriParvatheeveekshanapriyan and Kaushiki Puramjanam) at Playful Leisure (2010) is an intricate and complex painting situated in a theatrical ritualized space.

Thukral and Tagra ‘Match Fixed’ in Beijing

A new solo exhibition of the artist duo, Thukral and Tagra, takes place at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing.

Lauding the Indian artistic duo, a curatorial note states that both have a truly unique signature style that they bring to the venue with a series, entitled ‘Match Fixed’. It’s a wickedly playful and a delightfully gaudy body of work that talks about sexual double standards, social hypocrisy and the impending clash of culture, caught in the midst of tradition and global aspiration in the new-age India.

The works satirize marriage practices in the country’s northern state of Punjab. Many young men of the thriving state incidentally immigrate abroad for realizing their career ambitions. They yet are pressured by their traditional families into arranged marriages and ‘sham weddings’ after finding for them nice ‘suitable’ local girls, an accompanying essay states. It adds:

“All too often, the fantasy wedding and honeymoon scenario is followed by an absentee husband who, having enjoyed his holiday and pocketed the dowry, returns to an overseas job with promises to send for his bride at some later date. When the visa papers and plane tickets never arrive, the “toy wife” is left at home alone with her family: abandoned, humiliated and ruined.

“Thukral & Tagra envision this phenomenon as a sports match between two competing teams: The Runaway Grooms vs. The Holiday Wives and their fathers. The court upon which they play is decorated with trophies, ornate decorations, garish gifts, ceiling fans draped with flowing silk scarves and television sets playing moving interviews with real-life ‘holiday wives’, so to say.”
With triumphs and tragedies, winners and losers, scheming and suspense, ‘Match Fixed’ has all the ingredients and ambience of a fiercely-contested fight to the finish. Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, hosting is a nonprofit, comprehensive art institution in Beijing. UCCA has been founded by collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens in November 2007. It presents exhibits of established and emerging artists from across the world.

Friday, November 26, 2010

‘Vernacular, in the Contemporary’

Jackfruit Research and Design, a Bangalore based arts consultancy, is curating a new show of works from the Lekha & Anupam Poddar collection and some newly commissioned works as well by artists often categorized as makers of folk, tribal and traditional art.

The new exhibition, entitled ‘Vernacular, in the Contemporary’ look to focus on the vernacular and shift the art historical and institutional terms for understanding and theorizing this captivating cluster of visual art. More importantly, the show tries to foreground the diversity and contemporary relevance of vernacular artists’ ideas, concerns and personas, through some truly ambitious projects.

The exhibition being hosted at the Devi Art Foundation venue features the works of nearly sixty artists. All of them practice a wide range of painting styles and are also proficient at sculpture. Most gained their humble artistic training either in the family or community, However, they today are seeking to explore and stretch their practice further.

Jackfruit and Devi Art Foundation both have created a novel curatorial agenda that strives to provide these upcoming and talented artists necessary space and resources for developing and executing new projects. The exhibition also serves as an archival venture since the participating artists were interviewed and photographed in their workspaces and studios, as you might like to call it, during the selection process. The documentation and fieldwork undertaken during the preparatory stage is now a source of art historical knowledge for the exhibition curators as well as for art scholars.

Incidentally, Devi Art Foundation is expanding its portfolio of private institutional support by encouraging vernacular artists of India. Its support will also create fresh public discourse and pedagogy through global contemporary and vernacular art today to explore new themes.

The first part of the show takes place from November 27 until February 28th 2011, whereas its second part is slated to be held between March and June 2011.

Artist Mona Rai’s new series of works

New Delhi based Nature Morte gallery just recently showcased a solo exhibition by talented artist Mona Rai. Her new paintings done in a cultural context known predominantly for figurative art, display her steadfastly commitment to abstraction throughout her career as a painter.

Incidentally, her first solo show took place in Delhi way back in 1974). Her new series ‘Verk’ declared the foundation for this suite of new works - ambitious in scale, materials, and approach. A press release elaborated: “A grid of metallic leafs (gold, silver or copper) acts as the structure for each of these large paintings, then manipulated by the artist to arrive at multiple destinations. With the addition of paint, mirrors, fabrics, and strings, Rai crafts elaborately detailed surfaces that resemble exotic textiles, kaleidoscopic vistas, ancient mosaics and antique veneers. In works composed of multiple panels, they recall Japanese screens and city lights; in single-canvas works the references include carpets, tapestries and even gardens. “

Mona Rai first studied Psychology at Delhi University and then opted to attend art classes for a few years at Triveni Kala Sangam. In that sense, she is not a formally trained artist and painted more by instinct. For her the fascinating painted space is not one for quiet contemplation, seclusion, of refuge, and complete withdrawal from the world. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite in her case. The artist tends to treat it as one for experimentation and vivacious expression where limits can be exceeded and new norms can be set. Her looming, square works well epitomize her dynamic artistic attitude.

The new works by Mona Rai seem to glow from within and Rai's touch is both delicate and assured, resulting in astonishing levels of variety and subtlety in the works. In the end, geometry battles an organic fecundity and painting becomes something both architectural and commemorative.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A collector-turned curator’s effort to promote mixed media and new media art

One common element to the works on view as part of ‘Scratch’, Sakshi Gallery’s 25th anniversary show, is that a majority of them are ‘large scale, formidable and fresh. Art collector turned collector Swapan Seth quips that Indian art tends to lack sheer size and scale, and the very spectacle of this exhibition show lies in its appeal. The videos are aesthetically appealing. They may well qualify as works of art on twin counts- they make you pause and think, and are quite pretty to gaze at.

The director of Sakshi Gallery, Geeta Mehra, finds the positive response to be refreshing. Most collectors in India, she thinks, are conservative in their tastes. Her own collection, she concedes, reflects this streak of conservatism. She points out that, the Sakshi Gallery branch based in Taipei, unlike in Mumbai, largely displays mixed media and new media works. One reason she hasn’t emphasized on such works here is the quality of works produced in India.

She blames the lack of local patronage for this. She has been quoted as saying in The Mint: “I hope to influence other people. The different range of art practice that will be on display needs to gain more currency.” Among the works on view, as Himanshu Bhagat elaborates, are:
Akshay Rathore’s ‘Rye ka Pahad’ and Mithu Sen’s floor installation, ‘Lifelong’. The title of Rathore’s work describes what it is—a 4ft-tall, 9ft-wide mound of mustard or rye seeds. The reference is to the common Hindi phrase “rai ka pahad banana”, which roughly translates to “making a mountain of a molehill”.

As Rathore describes it, there are multiple allusions—to hills and mountains, including the ones in Orissa that the tribal population is fighting to save from being taken over by mining companies; as well as to the traditional association of the mustard seed in the Bible as well as in Hindu texts with “faith, soul, the universe”. The mound has been raised from the ground, providing the added “dramatic” element.
According to Geeta Mehra, shows like the ongoing one at LKA, New Delhi will nudge buyers to get more attentive to the various alternative and novel forms of media.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sakshi Gallery’s ‘Scratch’

‘Scratch’, Sakshi Gallery’s 25th anniversary show, is on view at the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), New Delhi. The viewer is welcomed and ushered in, rather conventionally, by a band with drums and horns. An installation by Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto includes band members with no bodies. They only have eerie breeches and shoes, mechanical arms beating on drums and circular video screens for heads.

NS Harsha’s valedictory work has exactly the opposite effect, quietly seeking reflection. “Art is elsewhere” are the words engraved on a block of marble. The viewer is free to draw his or her own conclusions. Two of the video works on view are rather quirky. The camera here gently pans over haphazardly built typical urban dwellings. They capture the gradual rise in the early morning light in the video spanning 6-minute. It features in ‘surround sound installation’ by Rashmi Kaleka.

Accompanying this ubiquitous urban idyll are the sounds of hawkers who peddle various wares amplified to create a kind of pastoral symphony. On the other hand, Priyanka Dasgupta’s 4077 builds repetitive bird call that similarly offsets the slow-motion black & white close-up video of an insect. This smaller version of what seems like a centipede slowly curls and twists on the ground, probably engaged in a life-n-death struggle. The title denotes the 4,077th death in the military operations in Iraq. The artist wishes to show “how hapless individuals are reduced to numbers, under patriotism’s seductive control.”

The Mumbai based gallery requested art collector Swapan Seth to turn the curator for the unique exercise. Incidentally, he collects mixed media (installation) works and new media (video). No surprise then that plenty of both are among the contemporary works on display at the venue. The curator mentions in an interview that there is no common theme or no binding thread.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Artistic and historic importance of Indian Miniatures

London based Francesca Galloway hosts an exhibition of Indian Miniatures from the James Ivory collection (4th November - 17th December).

Francesca Galloway has been dealing in courtly Indian art and Islamic textiles and costume since 1974. She was initially a director of Spink & Son until she set up her own business in 1992. Since then, she has become well known for handling the best Indian paintings and helping to form several major collections in this area. Her other passion is European textiles. Over the last 20 years, she has collected and pioneered interest in Post War British textiles.

There are three sixteenth century paintings in the collection, The first of these is from a series illustrating the tenth book of the Bhagavata Purana, Its style is known as the Early Rajput style. It is found in primitive form in eastern India as early as 1491 and is also found in northern and other parts of western India as well as the Punjab Hills.

The concept of paintings illustrating stories rather than iconography was perhaps awakened in the Hindu mind by the influence of Sultanate painting, i.e. painting illustrating Persian texts at the courts of pre-Mughal Muslim Sultans, but there is little if any stylistic influence.

The development of this new style broadly coincided with the establishment of the Mughal dynasty in India in 1526 by the cultivated Timurid ruler Babur. Akbar’s (1556–1605) rapid expansion of Mughal power over neighbouring sultanates and the Hindu kingdoms of Rajasthan was accompanied by an equally rapid development in the arts and especially painting.

Paintings from Mewar form one of the most important groups in this collection. The James Ivory collection also throws some interesting light on styles allied to that of Mewar. The Mewar school was influential far beyond its borders, particularly in southern Rajasthan and Gujarat. The great shrine at Nathdwara in northern Mewar dedicated to Krishna as Srinathji had its own artistic style.

The fabulous Indian Miniatures from the James Ivory collection are worth a look for their artistic and historic importance.

Celebrated filmmaker James Ivory on his Indian miniatures

A preface to the exhibition of Indian miniatures in London by celebrated filmmaker James Ivory:

The first film I ever made, in 1956, was a documentary about Venice and the many artists who had painted her. In the course of making this film, I came to admire Venetian painter Canaletto's etchings of the city. Hoping to find one, I went to see a print dealer in San Francisco named Raymond Lewis. I had not been told that he also dealt in Indian miniature paintings.

On the day we met, Lewis had been showing his stock of Indian pictures to a buyer; they were still spread around his gallery when I came in. Years later, when I thought back on that afternoon, I would wonder: what if I had turned up slightly later and he had time to put his pictures away? Had I even passed the unknown buyer on the stairs as I went up? Everyone's life history is made up of such possibilities, for better or worse. Love, murder, passions, like collecting, start in this way.

I had never seen an Indian miniature painting before. I knew very little about India apart from the intoxicating memory of the country I had taken away after seeing Jean Renoir's film The River two or three years before. Some of the radiant scenes from the world created by Renoir, starting with a jewel-like dancing Krishna and Radha, now seemed to be lying in front of me in Lewis's show-room, and could be picked up and held in my hand.

As I moved from picture to picture, taken from a manuscript painted in 18th-century Delhi called Ragamala, I forgot that other 18th-century world of Canaletto and entered the one of Indian miniature painting. What were the stories these little scenes were telling? There were many moods, some inexplicable: a dark-skinned, half-dressed woman wearing a skirt of leaves sitting under a tree in communion with some friendly snakes; an embracing couple sitting in a swing in a downpour; a man with a donkey's head like Shakespeare's Bottom listening attentively to someone sitting above him on a throne.

On the spot, possibly rashly, I decided to make a film about this new world I had come across so unexpectedly. Also, on the spot, I bought two of the pages from Ragamala, and so this collection began.

(courtesy: The Francesca Galloway Gallery, London)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fathoming key facets of a fascinating Indian miniature collection

An important collection of Indian miniatures belonging to the celebrated American film director James Ivory is on show from 4th November to 17th December at the Francesca Galloway gallery, 31 Dover Street in London. Here are some key facets of this miniature collection:
  • The underlying theme of Ivory’s collection is his fascination with India and his acute observation of Indian life, both secular and religious. The majority of the paintings are Rajput but some record the interaction of the British Raj with native India.

  • The James Ivory collection contains an interesting group of portraits from the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. From the middle of the eighteenth century most styles of Indian painting outside of Rajasthan were increasingly affected by renewed European influence.

  • Just as Akbar’s artists copied from and based new paintings on European Renaissance prints, the late Mughal artists of Bengal and Avadh were influenced by European portrait and topographical prints, and often copied them. They were also influenced by the presence of British artists. To Calcutta, and to a lesser extent Madras and Bombay, came a series of British professional artists seeking to make their fortunes.

  • Indian artists worked in a wide variety of styles and techniques during this period, all showing the influence of European art to different degrees. The use of shading and perspective, the abandoning of the traditional profile format and, from the mid-nineteenth century, the influence of photography all contributed to this mixture of Indian and western approaches to the rendition of the human figure and of topography.

  • ‘Company Painting’ is a useful term when the patronage came from employees of the East India Company, but in fact Indian patrons also commissioned such work particularly at such cultural centres as Murshidabad, Lucknow, Delhi, Lahore and Tanjore.

  • Another strand in Delhi painting in the nineteenth century is almost fully europeanized and was reserved normally for British or highly anglicized Indian patrons.

‘Buy what you love; put financial considerations aside.’

Keeping the fragile investor sentiment in mind, London based Whitechapel Art Gallery has conceptualized a comprehensive course, which it terms ‘the inside track on how to collect works of contemporary art.’

Unveiled in preparation for the prestigious Frieze Art Fair, the first edition of this profound exercise was apparently aimed at genuine art lovers. The inaugural session drew 20 of them, forming a varied bunch of professionals from different walks of life.

Many doubts and queries were raised during an insightful discussion with collector Dominic Palfreyman. A former investment banker and the founder of the Felix Trust for Art, he is an avid collector of drawings, paintings, prints, and photographs. He noted: "I think living with your works of art is very different from seeing them in exhibits or museums. You need things that you're happy to look at all day, each day, every day. And so the art I collect is a very small slice of that I like."

His observations summed up the crux of the whole exercise on the process of collecting. The message it offered was simple and clear: “Buy what you love and learn to put financial considerations aside, and you will ultimately get the returns.”

Several art experts and artists invited by the gallery spoke about the intricacies of collecting art. "It's not merely a transaction," remarked sculptor Owen Bullett. Artist Doug White echoed to add: "You are often willing to offer more to someone who keenly engages with your practice." David Batchelor revealed having experienced a similarly fruitful relationship with the corporate world.

The director of the Hales Gallery, Paul Hedges, explained that physical considerations matter. The first query he would pose is: "How much space have you got?" His other suggestion to aspiring clients is: "Film has no storage issues and is interesting and often cheap."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sifting through new publications on Anjolie Ela Menon, KG Subramanyan and Paresh Maity

Recent book releases on three most significant artists from India; their vision and voyage, are worth having on your shelf! Anjolie Ela Menon, KG Subramanyan and Paresh Maity are among the most distinguished names on Indian art scene. The new publications provide a succinct insight into their thought processes, philosophy and achievements because of which they occupy a place of pride in Indian art history.

‘Regarding the Drawings of KG Subramanyan’ (Pages: 433; Publisher: The Guild; Price: Rs. 2,500) by R. Siva Kumar, Professor of art history at Visva Bharati, Santiniketan throws light on his illustrious career. The author introduces us to the various facets of his personality - artist, art scholar, educationist, writer, philosopher and designer – all rolled in one.

Professor R. Siva Kumar notes about his art: “Encompassing doodles, scribbles, sketches, studies, calligraphic and tinted drawings, and drawing with pigments; done using ballpoint pen, brush and ink, crayon, alone or in combination with color or ink washes, and in gouache; and employing graphic devices ranging from marks, scrawls, calligraphic brush work, freehand flourishes, strokes and dabs- KG Subramanyan’s repertoire of drawings is indeed large.”

Another recent release tracks the journey of India’s most recognized female artist of her era. ‘Anjolie Ela Menon: Through the Patina’ (Pages: 342; Publisher: Vadehra Art Gallery; Price: Rs. 4,500) is a beautiful pictorial illustration and analysis of her rich oeuvre that spans over five and a half decades. Authored by by Isana Murty, incidentally the pen name for renowned defence analyst C Uday Bhaskar, the book contains informative essays on her evolution as an artist.

Another noteworthy release on prolific contemporary artist Paresh Maity, entitled ‘The World on a Canvas – A Visual Voyage’ (Hardback, 360 Color Pages; Publisher: Art Alive Gallery; Price: Rs 7500), maps the wonderful watercolorist’s enchanting artistic journey. Rightly termed a 'romantic' painter, he treats life and art as an endless celebration as described in the new publication that also features his drawings, watercolors, oils, mixed media works and sculptures.

Authored by Sharmila Tagore, the book peeps into his artistic realm on a canvas and beyond. It depicts how his path to success has been one full of hurdles and hardships. An accompanying note states: “Travels form an integral part of his life and undeniably lie at the heart of his art. An indefatigable traveler, he has traversed the continents, seeking inspiration from landscapes and monuments, from history and people, from cities and hamlets. His sojourns across India and abroad have shaped his palette; he has instinctively imbibed the essence of each place in his work.” Complementing this enriching visual journey are Nemai Ghosh’s beautiful portraits of the artist at work.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Angeli Sowani's new series at Grosvenor Gallery, London

Angeli Sowani's work avoids giving easy closure on the many options that it opens up for the viewer and for the artist herself. Her new series of works takes place at Grosvenor Gallery, London. The artist in her note to 'Vaahan' states: ‘What do you paint’ is a question I am always asked ... and while the question is simple, there is no simple answer. I do not want my work to fit into a neat ‘slot’ or ‘style’ or to tell the viewer what to think.

She adds: “I prefer to push my work into new and unexplored areas and leave it for the viewer’s imagination to unravel the meaning. In my current body of works I have taken this further using industrial paint, religious threads, paper collage, tibetan prayer flags ... and a blowtorch.

According to her, watching Mumbai burning on the television on November 26, 2008, was when she first took a blowtorch to canvas, each burnt mark in her mind a life lost to the continuing violence. Ideas poured out as she worked with this new medium. The artist started to scorch the canvas and see where the patterns would lead me…to explore how far I could push the material before it was destroyed. I found that even in destruction there was fresh creation as shapes of birds, flames and whorls emerged, cut from the burnt canvases.

“Surprisingly, the intense concentration and focus required to work with this medium was calming, almost meditative ...and through it I learnt how vulnerable material is when touched by fire which seemed a fitting metaphor for the fragility of our lives. ‘Vaahan’ meaning ‘carrier’ symbolises to me the medium through which thought and passion are brought together to create meaningful art. By using the distinct and different medium of fire, I hope to challenge the viewer to think about the delicate balance of our lives and the fragility of being ...” she concludes.

Sheila Makhijani’s ‘TOSS’ at Talwar Gallery, New York

Talwar Gallery, New York presents a show of new works by talented artist Sheila Makhijani. ‘TOSS’ is the third solo of the New Delhi based artist at the gallery. It is comprised of a body of works done over the last couple years and includes a series of drawings with gouache on paper apart from stitched drawings and an artist’s book.

The stitched drawings are combined of multiple planes of paper that have been cut into different shapes, joined and then stitched with layers of clear plastic. On the other hand, a set of drawings constructed and bound by the artist unfold in the book as its pages are turned. An accompanying note elaborates:
“Stitched, ripped, folded, layered and painted, the paper in the artist’s hands becomes a performance site for her lines. On this surface lines dart, skip, or twirl like an ecstatic dervish dancer or gently wind their way like a solitary country road through the folds of nature and those of the artist’s mind. These seemingly aerial mappings of imaginary landscapes, while balanced and floating in her gouache drawings series, are more adventurous in her ‘stitched’ drawing series.”
Here they aren’t any longer contained within a mere a frame or square sheet. In fact, they tend to traverse the various planes and colors, courting lines of sewn colored thread, in the process, which seem to keep them from trespassing on what looks like thin ice-like clear plastic sheathing.

Born in 1962 in New Delhi, Sheila Makhijani received her Bachelor and Masters of Fine Art from the College of Art, New Delhi. She traveled to Japan to study at Kanazawa Bijutsu Kogei Daigaku, in 1993. Her works have been showcased in exhibits at Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Australia; National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi; Gemeentemuseum, Arnhem, and Kuntsthal Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Her works will be on view at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NY later this month in ‘On Line: Drawing Through The Twentieth Century’, curated by and Connie Butler amnd Catherine de Zegher.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An artistic preoccupation with mystifying migratory patterns

Mumbai based Gallery BMB since its inception has presented several groundbreaking exhibitions of the very best and highly talented international and Indian contemporary artists. It has attained the distinction to be the first to feature many international artists of the highest quality and caliber who, in spite of critical acclaim from prestigious art institutions, have seldom been shown on this continent. Along with them, many outstanding emerging Indian artists also form part of the gallery’s exciting and dynamic program. As its website notes:
“Blurring traditional boundaries between an art space and a commercial gallery, Gallery BMB houses a unique art bookshop with a dedicated reading area and onsite café. BMB’s holistic concept is for the gallery to be a truly interactive space – a cultural hub which welcomes and connects people from different walks of life with art.”
A new exhibition testifies Gallery BMB’s commitment to novel concepts and offbeat themes. ‘A Place of Their Own’ is based on a preoccupation with mystifying migratory patterns and the subsequent straddling of cultures that is evident in the works of several talented artists who belong to South Asian-American Diaspora. The trend has been pronounced over the past couple of decades. Taking a cue from it, a younger generation of artists explores an array of media from collage to mine and video art to watercolor share autobiographical experiences.

The journeys of artists like Gautam Kansara, Fawad Khan, Samanta Batra Mehta, Mala Iqbal and Maryam Jafri overlap in a new show, entitled ‘A Place of Their Own’. By putting their diverse practices up alongside each other, the subtle tensions, psychological impetuses and internal forces - the key drivers of an immigrant experience, vie for attention. However, the Diaspora artists are not mere itinerants; for the duration of this show, they have an address. The group show offers a venue for a critical dialogue about their body of work.

This exhibition of South-Asian American Diaspora Artists Is curated by noted art critic and scholar Sharmistha Ray.

A spotlight on Diaspora artists who search for ‘A Place of Their Own’

A brief note on each participating artist who form part of the show entitled, ‘A Place of Their Own’, at Gallery BMB.

Samanta Batra Mehta uses antiquarian illustration, drawing, maps and photography to collage a world that centralizes a feminist rhetoric amid mythical dramas that suggest a post-colonial condition. In The Last of the Uncolonized Lands, a subdued female protagonist (a stand in for Mehta?) invites our voyeurism. Both her virginal garb and her passive demeanor, mark out her body as a potential site for violent acts.

Gautam Kansara creates poignant video installations that focus on the subtle dynamic shifts of family life and the impact of aging on his grandparents. Even though works like I’m Leaving are intimately familiar with an Indian subject, Kansara’s experience of India has been filtered through his grandparents who lived in London. By subjecting himself to their eccentricities, he becomes a deliberate recipient of their generational experiences.

Mala Iqbal paints luminous landscapes that are as subtle and dazzling as they are foreboding and desolate. Paintings like Picnic are utterly uncanny, confounding the viewer with strange occurrences while flirting with seduction. An internal dysfunction is apparent; human beings make appearances, but they seem hopelessly out of place. The disjuncture between person and place creates a profound dystopia.

Maryam Jafri tells stories through video installations that combine influences as eclectic as Victorian era literature, Western art history and costume design to create theatrical worlds that linger on the precipice of memory. Bizarre characters inhabit her cinematic worlds; they speak in self-conscious tongues and often wax philosophical on the role of cultural identity and the shaping of the individual consciousness.

Fawad Khan draws upon personal experiences of oppressive military cultures and depicts brilliant explosions of vintage and foreign-model automotive vehicles in large-format works on paper and installations. We are left to view violent displays, but not as bloody events but as elegiac, transformations that seem almost choreographed. Although celebratory on first impression, these explosions reveal an underlying fragmentation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Highlights of recent international auction sales

At the height of the recession, buyers felt their money might be safer if socked into soft-focus portraits and pastorals by Impressionists like Edgar Degas. Now collectors are feeling more confident in the art market and have switched to chasing crisp, primary-colored modernist works instead, a news report by Kelly Crow (The Wall Street Journal November 6, 2010) states.

In fact, the biggest lesson from major New York art auctions: Being pretty in a late-1800s way isn't enough to please collectors anymore, it adds. Amedeo Modigliani's portrait of a World War I-era brunette, "Nude Sitting on a Sofa (The Beautiful Romanian)," sold for $69 million at Sotheby's on Tuesday. Fernand Léger's futuristic works from the 1920s also fared well, including "Still Life," which Christie's sold to Monte Carlo dealer David Nahmad for $7.9 million on Wednesday.

Christie's top sale was a 1930 bronze cast by an older standby, Henri Matisse. His hard-edged sculpture of a woman's backside, "Back IV," sold to New York dealer Larry Gagosian for a record $48.8 million. All of this bodes well for next week's round of auctions offering art that's even more modern, specifically works created after 1950.

Impressionist & Modern Evening Sales highlights:
CHRISTIE'S $231,439,500
SOTHEBY'S $227,561,000

Above Estimate

Below Estimate
32%/ 33%


Sold / Total
CHRISTIE'S 67 / 84
SOTHEBY'S 46 / 61

High Price
CHRISTIE'S $48,802,500
SOTHEBY'S $68,962,500

Top Ten Prices
• Amedeo Modigliani, Nude Sitting on a Sofa (1917), $68,962,500
• Henri Matisse, Back IV (1930), $48,802,500
• Juan Gris, Violin and Guitar (1913), $28,642,500
• Claude Monet, Water-Lily Pond (1917-19), $24,722,500
• Henri Matisse, Dancer in the Chair... (1942), $20,802,500
• Amedeo Modigliani, Jeanne Hébuterne (1917), $19,122,500
• Joan Miró, The Air (1938), $10,330,500
• Alberto Giacometti, Woman of Venice V (1956), $10,274,500
• Henri Matisse, Two Black Women (1908), $8,482,500
• Fernand Léger, The Teacup (1921), $8,146,500

(Information courtesy: (Kelly Crow; The Wall Street Journal)

Inside a hectic Phillips de Pury & Company auction evening

Crowds jostled to make their way into new Park Avenue salesroom of Phillips de Pury & Company in New York. Some top contemporary masters, like Murakami and Warhol, topped expectations. Others like Cindy Sherman, Rudolf Stingel and Felix Gonzalez-Torres fetched record prices, too. In addition to the dealers and collectors, (artists are rarely seen at auctions) Abdi Farah and Mr. Murakami were also there.

In every sense, it was a rather unusual occasion for Phillips. Apart from inaugurating its uptown space, the auction house was experimenting with a new program termed ‘Carte Blanche’. Just as museums ask an outside curator to host a show, Phillips officials plan to invite someone from the contemporary art world to put together a sale, and this was the first such. Depicting the mood, a news report in The New York Times stated:
“It was a bifurcated evening, beginning with 33 lots orchestrated by Mr. Ségalot and ending with a less impressive group of 26 works assembled by Phillips’s own team. Mr. Ségalot’s part of the evening was a success, totaling $117 million, above its high estimate of $104.8 million. The second part brought just $19.9 million, below its low $23.6 million estimate. Still, the night’s total of $137 million is a huge number, considering that until now Phillips had never sold more than $59 million in one evening sale.”
Here are some highlights of the auction evening:
Warhol’s ‘Men in Her Life’ was the biggest star of all. Mr. Ségalot pried this 1962 painting out of the Mugrabi family’s private collection. An unidentified client bought it for $63.3 million, the second-highest price ever for a Warhol.
A Murakami sculpture ‘Miss Ko2’ was another big star. This six-foot-tall sculpture estimated at $4- $6 million, got $6.8 million.
Thomas Schütte’s cast aluminum sculpture, ‘Grosse Geist No. 15’, was grabbed by a telephone bidder for $3.6 million.
There were a few disappointments, though. Mr. Ségalot later quipped: “There were some really fantastic prices. Still I was disappointed that three works didn’t sell. Auctions are never a perfect science; I guess they are always unpredictable.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Whitechapel Gallery, a participant at Art Expo 2010, in spotlight

The contraction of the art market worldwide during the last couple of years doesn't fully erase the bitter memory of the spectacular and speculative rise in prices (by over 80% in a decade from 1995 and 2006), of the insatiable public appetite for zooming contemporary art market, over the earlier two decades, and the most recent fall, making the investors understandably a bit wary. This is exactly where some orientation can be very handy to see through the ups and downs.

London based Whitechapel Gallery, a participant at Art Expo in Mumbai last year, is in spotlight having launched a comprehensive course for aspiring collectors. For over a century it has premiered several world-class artists from modern masters, such as Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Frida Kahlo and Jackson Pollock, to contemporaries like Lucien Freud, Mark Wallinger and Sophie Calle.

Incidentally, the renowned London gallery has also been promoting contemporary art and artists from India in acknowledgement of their rising stature. A recent landmark exhibition, entitled ‘Where Three Dreams Cross’ at the London venue, gave an insightful view of how modern India along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been shaped through the lens of their photographers.

Renowned curator Kirsty Ogg closely associated with the gallery took part in Art Expo India last year. In an insightful talk session at the event, she discussed contemporary Indian art from a global perspective. According to her, ‘the representation of Indian art has been gaining in prominence internationally, and not just on a commercial level. Artists have been appearing in prestigious exhibitions and events. So there's a high visibility and awareness about Indian art.’

Her personal advice to collectors is: “Just because your work sells, it's not necessarily good. You hope it sells to a good collector who takes care of it. Work quickly sold by a collector can undermine an artist's career. In fact, people start thinking whether the work is good or not.”

A course that tells how to collect works of contemporary art

A very few human impulses are probably as personal in nature and as mysterious in their in-built process as the inclination to collect something. However, the valuable advice on the subject comes from famous collector and financier, John Pierpont Morgan, who states: “Whatever you opt to collect, simply go for the hundred best examples, and then you stop.”

And as straightforward and simpler the strategy may seem, more difficult it is to put into practice. This though, is indeed a sensible approach since, as any collector will state, stopping is the trickiest step to take of the whole process of collecting. And then what about those, who posses limited resources and wish to understand not how and when to stop, but where to begin!

A prominent art gallery in London has come up with a novel initiative. Regarding a new 5-part course, the website mentions: “It gives the inside track on collecting, giving an overview of art from the 1960s to the present day. The small group will meet internationally renowned artists, learn from some of the most respected collectors in the world and then put theory into practice.”

Summing up the sentiment at the recently concluded inaugural rst session, a news report in The Wall Street Journal pointed out: “The prevailing financial climate sure has winnowed out the ranks of bankers probably hoping that their hefty bonuses might kick-start an art collection to rival that of Saatchi. This is just as well, for if there’s one consistent piece of advice almost everyone addressing the course offers the aspiring students, it is to purchase what you fall in love with, and not to focus too much on the potential or lure of financial return.”

We in India too, probably need few such informal exchanges and deliberations that will nudge both aspiring and even serious collectors towards appreciating and buying quality art.

Monday, November 8, 2010

India’s priciest works of art

An informative essay by art writer Jhupu Adhikari (Oct 31, 2010; The Financial Chronicle) sheds light on some of the most expensive Indian paintings. He begins by stating: “I believe it will be of interest to art lovers, to know about these works by Raza, Souza, Mehta and other illustrious artists.”

S H Raza’s ‘Saurashtra’:
The veteran Indian painter heads this list. He has been residing in France for over half a century, though India and Indian ethos remains his primary inspiration.At Christie’s summer auction this June, his 200 cm x 200 cm acrylic on canvas work fetched Rs16.42 crore. It thus became the most expensive painting by any Indian artist.

The work painted in 1983 was bought by a French collector from the artist who this year decided to put it up for sale. According to him, this one is among the 10 most important painting he has done. The work provides a glimpse of his signature style. The geometrical shapes and primary colors he is renowned for, seem to be not quite as precise and well-defined as in most of his works, Jhupu Adhikari notes.

FN Souza’s ‘Birth’:
The painting depicts a pregnant woman and priest. It follows the legendary artist’s bold style of dark lines to delineate what can be termed a very sombre work. It was sold for Rs 11.5 crore at Christie’s Summer 2008 auction. There is a significant gap of over crore between the sale price of Raza’s work and that by Souza.

Tyeb Mehta Untitled (figure on a rickshaw)
The late artist managed to break his own previous record with this Untitled (figure on a rickshaw) work, when it went for Rs 8.2 crore at the Christie’s 2008 auction. His earlier work, among his most famous, ‘Mahisasura’, had then made a record for Indian art, fetching Rs 6.8 crore. This was in 2005.

Husain’s Untitled
In fourth place is none other than MF Husain. His painting depicting four horses and a female rider got Rs 2 crore at one of Saffronart’s online spring auction. In fact, this was the highest price earned via mobile bidding.

Jehangir Sabavala’s ‘The Casuarina Line 1’
This one was a world-record auction price for the painter. It got Rs 1.7 crore at Saffronart’s sale in June 2010.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Indian art shines in France

In an interesting and insightful essay (The DNA India), columnist Madhu Jain writes about the growing buzz about the ‘quiet, fledgling, albeit sure’ emergence of contemporary Indian artists (not to mention those of Indian origin) on the European art scene.

Over the last couple of years, the art fair has emerged as a ‘wilting wallflower’ on the art scene, she states.In the backdrop of Foire Internationale d’art contemporain (FIAC) in Paris, she well underlines this phenomenon. The columnist notes:
“Several desi artists have been gliding into European blue chip galleries: At FIAC, there’s Atul Dodiya (Daniel Templon), Subodh Gupta (In Situ gallery/Fabienne Leclerc) and New-York-based Rina Banerjee (Nathalie Obadia). Collectors are beginning to zoom in on other Indian artists. Lately, Paris-and-Cholamandal-based painter Viswanadhan (his paintings were at the Art Elysees Art fair) has had several knocks on the door of his studio from a few collectors and dealers who see him as the next big thing.”

Incidentally, FIAC is a contemporary art fair, which has just concluded in the city. This time, it drew close to 125 galleries from abroad apart from many reputed international collectors. Larry Gagosian, among the world’s most powerful dealers, launched his gallery in the city during FIAC something that was not lost on buyers.

Underlining how the French are striving to fortify their status in the world of contemporary art, Madhu Jain gave example of quality exhibitions like and the magnificent Claude Monet show at the Grand Palais and the Takashi Murakami show in the vivacious Versailles Palace that are drawing hordes of visitors. Meanwhile, there were other contemporary art fairs as well alongside FIAC.

For instance, Art Elysees Art fair showcases modern & contemporary art. It features some of the most renowned galleries. Slick Art Fair focused on young and emerging artists this year with galleries from China, Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Philippines, and of course, India taking part. New Delhi based Seven Art Limited, a young contemporary Indian art gallery, made its presence felt.There was one gallery from India at FIAC this year. It was Chemould Prescott Road from Mumbai-based, which showcased the works of artists like Mithu Sen, Jitesh Kallat, Hema Upadhyay, Desmond Lazaro and Aditi Singh.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A snapshot of ‘Midnight's Children’ at Studio la Città in Verona, Italy

Three of India’s most important artists of this generation, Riyas Komu, Jagannath Panda, and Hema Upadhyay featured in a significant group show courtesy Studio la Città in Verona, Italy. The title of the exhibition, derived from world-renowned writer Salman Rushdie’s controversial fictional account, drew a critical applause.

Over the years, Studio la Città has looked to deepen its interest in contemporary Indian art (with many study-trips organized to the country); the first visible outcome of this engagement was group show ‘India Crossing’ held in 2008, followed by several solo. Today, in the firm belief that globalization is a positive challenge and not merely a convenient label to act as a substitute for the typical ‘internationality’ of the modern age, its curatorial team has continued investigating a few generations of evolving Indian art in order to do away with facile exoticism, issues related to ethnicity, and labels that are so widespread as to be banal: like simply being Indian…

This thought process well reflected in its latest curatorial venture as well as the choice of artists for it. A curatorial note explained: “The participating artists respond to deeper criteria than just belonging to a particular nation (though that too has its significance): the peculiarities of the three demonstrate, on the one hand, a mutual cultural feedback related to their very roots (among other things, they all belong to in Mumbai); on the other hand they are very much interested in new global languages, above all in their evident tendency to ‘narrate’ stories through evocative images and constructions.”

All three are concerned with the concept of sculpture/installations underpinned by mythopoeia, as can be seen in the works specifically created for the show: in the airy installations by Hema Upadhyay, individual and poetical yet probably not without concerns about the condition of women; in the strength of dialectic contrasts shot through with subtle irony in Jagannath Panda’s sculptures and paintings; and in an openly historical and ideological-idealist manner for Riyas Komu.

Incidentally, Hema Upadhyay also presented a major installation ‘Think left, Think right, Think low, Think tight’ at the Aichi Arts Center, Japan.

‘Likewise’ by Jitish Kallat at ARNDT, Berlin

Berlin based Arndt & Partner (ARNDT) presents a Jitish Kallat solo show, entitled ‘Likewise’. The wide array of work captures the psychological strains of the mega-metropolis and evokes the themes of survival and sustenance that recur through his practice.

The grotesque-surreal and ironic imagery is composed of video, sculpture, photography and large format paintings. ‘Eat or to be eaten’ seems to be the question asked by the intricately treated sculpture of a gigantic, oversized kerosene stove titled ‘Annexation’. The sculpture has on its surface over a hundred images recreated from those found within the porch of the VT station (now renamed) building that is the hub of Mumbai’s railway commuter action.

The decorative architectural friezes of this structure, quite curiously, carry several images of animals that are devouring each other and clinging onto different kind of foodstuff; viewed together on a single sculpture, this particular turmoil is not unlike the day-to-day grind of survival, which this porch always witnesses.

The two large triptychs, seen in conjunction with the sculpture, evoke this very struggle daily. Like a crumbling cascade of narratives - cars, busses, people, animals, all pile up, interlaced with the hair of the persons, painted from photos snapped at railway stations. Stains and drips, descend from beneath the mouths of the bronze gargoyles that, in turn, clutch the paintings in their mouths.

A black, oily substance appears to seep out and form speech bubbles – their edges formed by an urban horizon line comprised of water towers, factories and houses. The backlit photo ‘Conditions Apply’ is reminiscent of schoolbook diagrams of lunar cycles. However, rotis (the Indian flatbreads) can be identified, on closer observation, representing the moon’s varied phases. ‘Forensic Trail Of The Banquet’ is a video projection that simulates a journey through dark, cryptic and hypnotic space.

When viewed a little longer it seems like floating cellular formations, suspended tumors etc. morphing the insides of the body with the dark, indeterminate cosmic space and evoking notions of survival, sustenance and mortality. With his photo-series ‘Chlorophyll Park’ (Mutatis Mutandis), the artist literally pulls the rug out from under the city’s chaotic traffic.

Friday, November 5, 2010

‘If It Rains Fire’ by Atul Dodiya at Nature Morte, Berlin

An exhibition of Atul Dodiya’s recent works takes place at Nature Morte, Berlin. ‘If It Rains Fire’ examines highly critical political issues and his home nation’s relationship with its neighbors. The body of work also addresses contentious issues, such as the Naxalite movement and terrorism.

The latest show is primarily comprised of ‘paintings under construction’ seemingly still in the process of making. Significantly, these are not painted works in the conventional sense, albeit replicas of paintings that have been crafted out of milled steel and burnished to a rather dull, silvery glow. For them, he has burnished the images onto steel sheets, made to resemble the back of canvases.

With their faces tilted towards the wall and delicately standing on blocks erected on the floor, you get to see the back-sides of stretched canvases, stretcher bars - dividing their spaces into squares and rectangles. Throwing light on his new body of work, a curatorial note elaborates: “Images conjoin on these back-side surfaces, coaxed on by the artist’s hand with soldering putty used to repair automobiles (not paint, for sure) and through the vehicles of refrigerator magnets picturing some of art history’s greatest hits, collected in museum gift shops around the world. The resulting works are conundrums of references, purposefully chosen by the artist so as to posit an amalgam of identities that is both genuine and sincere.”

Another suite of paper works is done in watercolors. ‘Breakfast Project’ is a watercolor that employs text. Atul Dodiya has been over the years quoted the works of artists like Raja Ravi and Marcel Duchamp, who have played a significant role in his life. In the past he has rendered exquisite poetry in fine hand-painted watercolor letters. He has turned to news headlines this time as explained in an interview: “The newspapers always state the full report is on page so and so, but one might wonder what really the whole story is; is the tension between our neighbors a created one?” In another work he alludes to the struggles and survival instincts of the lower middle-class, his major artistic concern, having grown up in Mumbai’s working class locality himself.

Completing the curious display is a sculptural work, large-scale watercolors, and two sets of smaller works-on-paper, all continuations of on-going bodies of works. They both compliment and build on the images and materials used in the ‘replica’ paintings, to attain a rhizomatic structure. In it the artist reflects on artistic influences, the manipulation of meaning through juxtapositions, and the extreme self-consciousness of producing art from a specific vantage point for a globalized consumption.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Buddhism-Inspired art show

The Rubin Museum of Art based in New York is a nonprofit cultural institution solely dedicated to the art of the Himalayas. The mission of RMA, as the site states, is to showcase, preserve and document a comprehensive collection that will reflect the complexity, vitality as well as historical significance of Himalayan art. It creates exhibitions and hosts programs that are designed to explore connections with other established world cultures.

In keeping with its aim, the new show ‘Grain of Emptiness’ features five contemporary artists whose works are inspired by Buddhism. Sanford Biggers, Theaster Gates, Atta Kim, Wolfgang Laib, and Charmion von Wiegand are all influenced by the Buddhist notions of emptiness and impermanence and Buddhist ritual practice. An essay in the New York Times regarding the exhibition explains:

“The Buddhist influence on art of the past 50 years is, like much else in the Buddhist worldview, immeasurable. Buddhism-Inspired Contemporary Art at the Rubin Museum, wisely doesn’t attempt such a survey. Instead it offers up an eclectic, not-the-usual-suspects group of five artists. None of them incidentally consider themselves hardcore Buddhists, but they all tend to lean heavily on the religion’s symbols, tenets and rituals. As implied by the show’s puzzler of a title, the concept of emptiness, or 'shunyata' in Sanskrit, is particularly important to them.

An accompanying note to the show elaborates: “The participating artists are from disparate backgrounds and explore a range of artistic mediums, but all have inherited the practice of incorporating Eastern religious beliefs into their works. The exhibition's paintings, photographs, videos, and installations will be complemented by performance art.”

Martin Brauen, chief curator of the museum, has organized the show. He further adds in a catalog essay that ‘fullness of form, as manifested for example in a mandala, is emptiness, and emptiness is this fullness of form.’

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A selection of works by Nalani Malani

Chemould Prescott Road along with Chatterjee & Lal in Mumbai present a selection of most significant works by celebrated artist Nalini Malani done over the last five years.

Her work has constantly reflected on the state of the nation. For her the nightmare of history and the dream of redemption are encapsulated in her practice of working with installations, video and painting. The most notable instance was the ‘Medea’ project (1993-95) that took up the theme of the Greek myth as retold with a contemporary political edge by German playwright Heiner Mueller.

A curatorial essay elaborates on her practice to state: “For Nalini Malani to be born in the midnight hour both literally and metaphorically has constantly played a dual role in her life – growing up in the utopian Nehruvian era, as well as living through the trauma of the family’s migration from Karachi to her twin city, Bombay in India during partition in 1948. The duality of these events in her life linked to more recent political happenings since 1992 post Babri Masjid has constantly drawn her to the work of Heiner Muller, Brecht and Greek tragedies.

“As a woman who has existed in a world of ‘man’-made disasters, Nalini has often referred to the stories of women, such as Aka, Medea, and Mad Meg. The work ‘Remembering Mad Meg’ thus refers to the woman from Flemish folklore who leads an army of pillage to invade hell and comes back to recount the stories as depicted by Pieter Breughel in his painting ‘Mad Meg’.”

The new exhibition is split into two parts. At Chatterjee & Lal, there will be an elaborate video/shadow-play called ‘Remembering Mad Meg’. Between the two galleries there will be paintings and two video installations, both having their premier viewings in India. At Chemould Prescott Road the works are built around the seminal 50 feet multi-panel painting, ‘Splitting the Other’ being the title of the show. This has a direct reference to the pogrom in Gujarat of the most horrific divide between the Hindus and Muslims post-partition.

‘The Silk Road’: A show of artists from the Asian subcontinent courtesy The Saatchi

For the first time in France, the world-renowned Saatchi Gallery presents a show of artists from the Asian subcontinent in the autumn of 2010.

The London based gallery brings over 60 works from its rich contemporary art collection, which has been specially assembled for the exhibit. Entitled ‘The Silk Road’ (La Route de la Soie), it’s organized by lille3000. Founded by legendary art collector Charles Saatchi, the two and a half decade old Saatchi Gallery now occupies the dazzling Duke of York’s HQ located in Chelsea. At nearly 70,000 square feet, it’s among the world’s biggest totally free entry avenues for contemporary art. It attracts more than one and a quarter million art lovers a year.

By championing the quality work and mostly unseen artists, as well as showcasing rarely exhibited work by several international names, the gallery has compiled a stimulating and up-to-date collection. Its pioneering exhibitions over the last two and a half decades have comprised work by world-famous artists and many new names as well, thus providing a unique springboard for them.

Its new presentation ‘The Silk Road’ refers the ancient trade routes established between Europe and Asia that linked in particular China as well as the Middle East via India as early as from the 2nd century BC. Contemporary works of the three regions arouse growing interest in the art world internationally. In this context, the exhibit offers an extensive overview of the most recent artistic work through sculptures, photographs, installations and paintings by Iranian, Palestinian, Egyptian, Afghan, Chinese, Lebanese, Pakistani and Indian, artists.

‘The Silk Road’ looks to explore an Oriental art, which is resolutely contemporary and serves as the expression of societies undergoing rapid change, caught between an overwhelming modernity and age old cultural traditions. Among the significant works presented in the exhibition, artist Subodh Gupta harks back to the monumental installation ‘God Hungry’. Commissioned by lille3000 and recently purchased by the City of Lille, it’s installed in the church of Sainte Marie-Madeleine.

Monday, November 1, 2010

India Meets Bharat at CIMA, Kolkata

The media and art make us experience the turmoil of today’s India. The former makes us experience an event collectively based on facts. Art reflects and interprets the turbulent occurrences to us, individually and personally by chronicling an episode; offering a perception; acting as society’s witness to present circumstances. What ails the country is the arbitrarily crystallized images of India and Bharat. And Civil Society essentially is the bridge between these two differing notions, its absence as well as the turbulence within the void, is the Image Mahaan.

Explaining the concept, an accompanying note to a new group show ‘Yeh Image Mahaan: India Meets Bharat’ at CIMA, Kolkata states:

"It isn’t the past which is at stake, it is the future. Neither is our way of life or lifestyle at risk; at peril is our understanding of ourselves as citizens of a modern nation, governed by Law versus custom. When Law encounters and has to interpret an old, pragmatic and often violent custom the encounter must be articulated and made visible.

"For many the expression of this collision is colourful, attractive and valuable. Law emanates from Justice which is based on the premise that all men are equal. What happens when this idea meets an ancient civilization, whose customs and practices are based on the belief that all men are not equal? Confusion, chaos and mayhem happen."

Although the scope of the exhibition is pan-Indian, some of renowned artists feature in it are from West Bengal. Veterans like Jogen Chowdhury and Ganesh Pyne share the gallery space with the talented younger artists like Kingshuk Sarkar and Sumitro Basak. The presence of names like Shakila and Mayank Kumar Shyam, academically untrained, albeit gifted artists make the templates of comparison in this sizzling spectrum even more intriguing...

The affinities are quite discernable. Rashmi Bagchi Sarkar provides a ready counterpoint to Meera Devidayal’s mixed-media of a dingy shack with sequinned doll’s house, whereas Sumitro Basak and Ashish Ghosh’s oversized carnivores exude an unmistakable energy. The curator has included artifacts like an antique lion by an anonymous artist.

There are TV commercials that afford a pointed comment on popular taste. These diversions tend to open up the viewer’s thinking power and imagination. An arresting video is of a media campaign depicting the carnivalesque spirit of South Indian politics shimmers with an infectious energy.

CIMA show celebrates emerging art trends in India

An ongoing show at Kolkata based CIMA gallery celebrates new emerging trends in Indian art. One can witness the collusion and collision of contrasting styles, how individual talent and tradition tease and transform each other. An accompanying note elaborates:
“In India, so much of our life is lived in the past. But youth is the group which constitutes most of the country’s population; there is more youth than age, more future than past? I would say, more future than present, for the past surrounds it and is fighting to engulf it. This past is not of the Ajanta murals or Mughal miniatures, it is more cacophonous.

Art imitates life. To match the din, paintings have become pungent. The old order dress themselves in new and ornamental clothes. Hybrid becomes chic and kitsch classy. In the west,at a similar time in its art history, Fluxus, with their inter-media experiments and Pop Art made the mundane sublime & with a caustic wit, critiqued and commented on middle class conventions and prejudice.”
In a way, the traditional–Modern would have us feel that heritage is in a rather precarious position and so gave rise to myth-history. It’s effectively ‘the mythologizing of history and vice versa – i.e. historicizing myth. The idea is to follow the evolving trajectory of modernism in contemporary Indian art. The context is well and truly set by the reproductions of masterpieces pioneers of modernist Indian art, such as Bhupen Khakhar, Jamini Roy, Abanindranath Tagore, MF Husain.

The images act as vital reference points to compare other works on view in order to grasp the parallels and paradoxes in ‘Yeh Image Mahaan: India Meets Bharat’. Among the other participating artists, as one takes in sublime meditation on plantains and coconut by Shreyasi Chatterjee, the orgiastic pulse of Incredible India tends to recede. The artist casts a panoramic look on a lavish landscape of unearthly beauty soaked in its own rituals of stillness. The work is matched by Sumitro Basak’s serpentine book of life.