Friday, December 31, 2010

‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ show

To mark the end of the first decade of this millennium, Queensland Art Gallery presents '21st Century: Art in the First Decade'. This Major Exhibition Project occupies the entire GoMA building of the gallery based in Brisbane, Australia. It focuses exclusively on works created and acquired between 2000 and 2010. Among the Indian artists featured in the show are Bharti Kher, Thukral and Tagra apart from a host of international artists.

The exhibit draws on the gallery’s wide contemporary collections. It features excellent new commissions and a select group of loans drawn from both Australian and international lenders. It is all-encompassing in its geographic and generational scope, comprising more than 200 works by over 140 artists from nearly 40 countries. A press release notes:
“Over the past decade, we have seen the way technological, political and environmental issues have direct global effects and how these are reflected in contemporary art. '21st Century' will showcase current directions in artistic practice as well as examine the role of the art museum in these changing times."
For ‘21st Century’, the Children’s Art Centre is presenting interactive works and projects by participating artists. Spanning both levels of the centre and beyond, they encourage children to explore the imaginative ways, which these artists consider their world in the 21st century. Focusing on interactive design and new technologies, the artists’ projects continue the centre’s program of contemporary art fo young art lovers.

The Queensland Art Gallery strives to present a wide range of shows and collection displays, including international blockbuster exhibits like ‘Picasso and his collection’, ‘American Impressionism and Realism, and two flagship triennials. The ‘Asia Pacific Triennial’ is among the few major series of exhibits in the world that focus exclusively on the Asia and the Pacific region’s contemporary art. ‘Contemporary Australia’ is another recent initiative of the gallery.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wonderful ‘Writing Visuals’ courtesy W+K Exp, Delhi

A new group exhibit in New Delhi partnership by W+K Exp, in collaboration with the Kolkata based, Harrington Street Arts Centre, features works by several talented artists like Adip Dutta, Dilip Ranade, Debnath Basu, Jogen Chowdhury, Jayashree Chakraborty, Kishore Chatterjee, Mekhala Bahl, Mithu Sen, Manisha Parekh, N N Rimzon, Paula Sengupta, Partha Pratim Deb, Pooja Iranna, Sarnath Banerjee, Samir Roy, Vivan Sundaram, and Sudhir Patwardhan.

The show is curiously titled ‘Writing Visuals’. It has been curated by Adip Dutta, whose works also form part of the exhibition. ‘Writing Visuals’ makes an honest attempt to establish the mysterious and mystical relationship between drawing and writing. A curatorial note elaborates on the latent theme of the show to state:
"Just as writing is a mode of expression through language and the alphabet, drawing too has its own visual alphabet – such as line, form, symbols, motifs and sometimes even text. When these are creatively put together they create a sense of language –a visual language."
The works on view include fascinating geometric forms and linear drawings (by Manisha Parekh and Vivan Sundaram), etchings on paper (by Paula Sengupta), etchings on silk (by Mekhala Bahl), an artist’s book (by Jogen Chowdhury), text on a paper sculpture (by Pooja Iranna), hair imprints (by Mithu Sen), working drawings for a sculpture (by N.N. Rimzon), charcoal drawings (by Samir Roy), ‘caricreatures’ (by Kishore Chatterjee), Jayashree Chakraborty’s mixed media works on paper, Sarnath Banerjee’s graphic illustrations, and Dilip Ranade’s pen on paper, amongst others.

Wieden+Kennedy, originally founded in Portland, Oregon, is among the largest independently owned ad agencies, with offices in London, New York, Amsterdam, Shanghai and Tokyo. It has helped build some truly powerful brands, including ESPN, Starbucks, Honda, P&G and Coca-Cola. Established in 2007, the client list of Wieden+Kennedy (Delhi) boasts of brands, such as Nokia, Chevrolet, and several popular brands' from India's fastest-growing consumer market categories.

W+K Exp's strives to make art accessible to both classes and masses - stripped of jargon, to be purely enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

‘Flux’: A new series of works by photo artist-environmentalist Ravi Agarwal

“Spaces are in transition. Everything around is changing violently. Of course, everything changes all the time, but that happens in many ways, in many places, with many tempos, and with many outcomes. This moment is different. The change is towards one end, one goal, already known, as if a new future is so well imagined that it must be arrived at immediately, ripping off all, which doesn’t fit…”
This is how artist- environmentalist Ravi Agarwal expresses his concerns. There’s hardly any breathing space around anymore. Everything is in flux. The city is in a rapid transition and he is seeking spaces for keeping his own self intact. He adds: Ecology has become an ornament. Nature which shaped the city once is now being shaped by contemporary relationships of capital and power, instead of as a democratic idea of a common future”.

Incidentally, he was invited to take part in Documenta 11 (Kassel, Germany), among the most prestigious art events in the world. His new series of photo images, entitled ‘Flux’ is on view at Gallery Espace, New Delhi. It comprises over 50 images and also a video. A 16 photograph-series 'Tar Machines' express his fascination with issues of labor and industrial machines. Another series 'Sewage Pond' and a set of two photos 'Forest Morning' amplify his concerns.

Largely, the works belong to his long-standing practice of closely examining his ‘ecological relationship’ in context of the developments around, this time with a ‘globalized’ city in transition - literally and metaphorically through forest spaces, machines, flyovers, sewage ponds etc. It’s a curious engagement with a ‘moment’ captured in changing times.

According to the artist, an aesthetic relationship with a photo takes place, during its making. The image is a moment that won’t re-occur. It’s not one of something outside, rather reflective of a relationship. Ravi Agarwal quips: “Nothing is ever going to be the same, and can never be revisited."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Portraying 'Public Enemy Number 1'

A group show curated by Shaheen Merali at New Delhi based Exhibit 320 features works by artists Sunil Padwal, Prasad Raghavan, Gordon Cheung, Iona Rozeal Brown, Radhika Khimji, and Mithu Sen

The exhibition takes a cue from 1931 film ‘The Public Enemy’ that provided James Cagney with a vehicle by which to claim both stardom and notoriety, as an actor and also an alternative sex symbol. Smoking a cigar, wearing a Zoot suit and Wielding a sub machine gun, the film still was reproduced by Andy Warhol as a print in 1962 (Cagney).

All the intrinsic qualities of a prevailing gangster culture found their echo symbiotically and symbolically in an underground stream of economy - A mesmerizing mix of gun power, high lifestyle, violent caricatures, neat dress, testosterone and devilish luck with the opposite sex. A curatorial note elaborates:
“All men, all hard, all guns ablaze at moving targets beyond the frame - the gangster cult has been part of the visual culture for a long time - a partner in crimes of passion, a remarkable co-existence between depiction and reality. The music and film world have portrayed gangster culture with all its alternative status as a fertile ground for storytelling, often from humble beginnings to highly emotional endings, renderings of life on the streets and the worthiness of the game. Hardly an era has passed when movie makers and even artists have not turned to this most awkward, yet destructive, force in our society.”

Revenge, Bloodletting and sordid virtues make this ‘Public Enemy Number One’ - indeed, facets and faces of known bandits and thugs recognisable. The curator has brought together six artists from different backgrounds in order to highlight the role of violence and the culture of violence, which has propagated generations of gangsters and gangster attitude through the visual arts.

Using wit, confounded values, conditions and history, they treat the theme in their own unique way to portray ‘Public Enemy Number 1’.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Figure/Landscape' show - part II

A two-part exhibition series, staged in New York and London, aims to explore prevalence of the figurative in modern Indian art through the presentation of works from across the 20th century (and some from the current century). Landscape, the figure and the interplay between them are the pivot points for the project.

Scholar Partha Mitter has argued that the Industrial Revolution in the West, and the subsequent feelings of alienation and angst it bred amongst individuals, helped give rise to the radically distorted and fragmented techniques that became the hallmark of much of European modernism. According to this argument, India, in the first part of the twentieth century at least, was still largely a non-industrial country with a certain level of socio-economic cohesion binding together much of the population.

It was this sense of shared cultural experience, already rapidly disintegrating in Western societies that shaped the unique paths India’s early modern artists collectively began to explore. The figure of the common man or woman ensconced in a native landscape can then be understood as an articulation of an indigenous modernism, even while its artists continued to draw upon the aesthetics of the broader international discourse.

Typical of such a practice is the artist Sudhir Patwardhan's aim, which he described as "to make figures that can become self-images for the people who are the subject of my work.” Or, as critic Geeta Kapur contends concerning this shared modernist drive in "Contemporary Indian Artists," "the sense of community belongs as much to the past as to the future."

Part I of the show took place early this year at Aicon, New York. It featured works by artist MF Husain, George Keyt, Anjolie Ela Menon, Akbar Padamsee, Sudhir Patwardhan, Jehangir Sabavala, Sadequain, F N Souza, and Jagdish Swaminathan among others.

Part 2 of the show takes place at its London venue (25th November 2010- to 8th January 2011) features artists Rameshwar Broota, Avinash Chandra, Jogen Chowdhury, Ganesh Haloi, M.F.Husain, George Keyt, Akbar Padamsee, Sudhir Patwardhan, Shyamal Dutta Ray, Jehangir Sabavala, Sadequain, F.N. Souza, Viren Tanwar and T. Vaikuntham, among others.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Conscious efforts to bring Indian tribal art to the mainstream

A new two parts show at Devi Art Foundation (DAF) features over 60 artists, all practising traditional forms of painting and sculpture. For this ambitious project, curated by Bangalore based Jackfruit Research & Design, more than 300 artists were contacted. About 90 of them selected and finally 30 were commissioned to make a series of paintings and sculptures.

These are the artists typically categorized as makers of folk and tribal art. The fieldwork and documentation to locate them will serve as an art historical archive since all of them were interviewed and photographed in their rusty workspaces and studios. In the process, Jackfruit and DAF have created a curatorial agenda on the issue of work and process that provides them space and resources for developing new projects and broaden their horizon.

On the eve of this unusual exhibition of works, Anindita Ghose of The Mint publication notes in an essay (‘The vernacular advantage’) how tribal art is now the youngest star of India’s contemporary art scene. Quoting curator Yashodhara Dalmia, the article underlines the fact that folk & tribal artists aren’t the ones perhaps slow in catching us, but it’s other way round, as we’ve been a tad slow in recognizing them. Striking a positive noted, the writer elaborates:
“A seminar conducted by Art Alive Gallery in Delhi, panelists discussed factors making this market switch problematic. However, a number of interventions are now helping turn this around. Mumbai based Pundole and Chemould held tribal art shows last year. Delhi’s W+K Exp, hosted a show of Gond sculpture. This was the first year that auction house Sotheby’s included tribal art from India in its sales."
In another conscious effort to bring tribal art from India to the mainstream, the upcoming India Art Summit (January 2011) will host its closing party at DAF, with a live performance to highlight the show there.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An ambitious contemporary tribal art exhibition

Renowned art collector Lekha Poddar noticed a young and talented tribal artist from Madhya Pradesh around 10 years ago. She came across Ramesh Tekam at the Handicrafts & Handlooms Museum in Delhi. Mesmerized by his peculiar animals and tree of life works done on paper, the astute art lover got him canvas and oil paints, for enlarging one of those strange animal forms.

He created five works in a couple of weeks’ time. The contemporary chic of his first canvas cow shifted the focus for Lekha, as she realized the work was as ‘contemporary’ as those already there in her collection. She also bought papier mâché masks at a recent show of folk & tribal masks in Delhi. Among the god, goddess and tiger masks, there’s a captivating character from Vodafone’s Zoozoo. It’s this blend of this innocence with the contemporary touch to it that draws her to tribal art.

In fact, there has been a ‘tribal invasion’ of sorts in the arty abode of Lekha and her son Anupam Poddar. Their Delhi residence wall has two big vertical panels from Purulia (West Bengal) that tell the tale of Manasa Devi and Shiva. Then woven fibre chairs from Chhattisgarh and paintings by Jangarh Singh Shyam dot the dining area. Many of these were acquired over two decades ago well before the Gond artist turned the poster boy of the Indian tribal art.

Earlier this year, the two loaned some art works for a show at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. Entitled ‘Other Masters of India: Contemporary Creations of the Adivasis’, it was curated by noted museologist and art historian Jyotindra Jain. The Poddars have now unveiled an ambitious contemporary tribal art exhibition, probably the largest ever in India at their non-profit institution. It comprises works from Lekha Poddar’s personal collection apart from works that the foundation acquired and commissioned for the new show.

‘Vernacular, In the Contemporary’ is split in two parts and will have an extensive six-month run.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

State of the art market in India

ArtTactic’s recent market confidence report presents an encouraging picture for modern art in India, but remains a tad cautious on the contemporaries.

Now that the Indian economy is almost back on track, overall investor confidence even in the art market is boosted. Analysts believe the Indian recovery is on a solid footing. Against this backdrop, the new Indian art market confidence survey throws up some interesting trends.
  • It points to optimism in the art market. However, its analysis of the state of contemporary market is somewhat gloomy.
  • Since the last report in May, the new report suggests a further drop of 10.8%, reflecting the fact. With the modern art market, on the other hand, having recovered, the confidence gap between the two now stands at 78.2%. The confidence indicator for modern art in India is up by 5.2%.
  • Spectre of speculation in art is down by 7.9%, and 53% of the respondents believed that the market has rebounded. More than 50% think it will inch upwards in the next six months or so. Of course, a section of them is apparently still nervous.
This time both investors and collectors are more careful. They are posing questions like: What are the long-term prospects of a work? How much should one ideally invest? Who can serve as impartial guides in the whole process? What about aspects like short-term liquidity? How to enhance the worth or value of your portfolio? How to chuck weak assets to acquire more blue-chip artists?

Finding answers to these questions is now an important exercise for those keen to build a portfolio. Summing up the investors’ mood, art expert Kishore Singh notes in his recent Business Standard column: “What’s interesting is that they aren’t really rushing in to buy art with the herd-like mentality visible during the pre-2008 era. Art funds, as a result, are being given short shrift. Both collectors and investors, drifting back into the market, appear determined to control their investment (on the own).”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Catching a glimpse of the contemporary Chinese art

ShanghART was founded by a Swiss national Lorenz Helbling, who happened to move to the city in 1995. Mr. Helbling launched his first gallery in 1996 when the inaugural biennale was held. His first halt was at the Shanghai Centre. He recounts in an interview:
“When we opened, anything more than a painting in a hotel gift shop was considered exotic. There was only one art museum, and only one art show every few months. It was a totally different world. It was a totally different city. The ring road had just opened and Pudong didn’t exist. It was only in the ’90s that Shanghai really started building highways and skyscrapers.”
Every other autumn, at around this time of the year, visitors flock to Shanghai city to catch a glimpse of the Chinese contemporary art. They are keen to gape at the strange, large sized installations so much in vogue. The tradition started with the 1996 state-run biennale, and took shape with an explosion of private galleries, studios, museums, and now an art fair.

Both the Zendai MOMA and the MOCA Shanghai, followed by the city’s prime art fair, ShContemporary, in the year 2007. Two more private museums were opened in Shanghai this year. The Minsheng Art Museum had its first official show earlier this year. It was a retrospective encompassing three decades of modern & contemporary Chinese art. Just about a month later the Rockbund Art Museum was thrown open to people. It’s housed in a quaint 19th-century building just along Suzhou Creek, in a stretch of historic structures off the Bund district’s northern end.

The ShanghART gallery opened in October what it termed a ‘warehouse-style museum’ in a large 3,000-square-meter space in Taopu, just northwest of Shanghai. Technically, it’s not a museum - everything here is for sale - but its scope and size give it the feel of one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A solo exhibition of veteran artist Ram Kumar’s works

Paintings by Ram Kumar were recently on display at LKA, New Delhi, courtesy Vadehra Art Gallery. Following is the gallery note on the veteran artist:

The human condition is the main concern of the painter manifested in his early works by the alienated individual within the city, from the city as well as from himself.
With a cool palette of aquas, blues, grays, and tawny yellows, his prime motifs oscillate between the numerous visitations to he made to Banaras and the open vistas that are in essence painterly vestiges of his life’s journey.

Ram Kumar shared with his other contemporaries, in Delhi Shilpi Chakra and Bombay Progressive Group in 1950s. He left for Paris in and studied painting under Andre Lhote and Fernand Leger. In the transitory period, the lines gave way to sweeping strokes of blue and golden yellow lending buoyancy to the painting. In the early 1960s Ram Kumar took to abstract painting after a pivotal journey to Banaras and never returned to figural painting since then.

By banishing the figure he was able to emphasize the nullification of humanity, and to deploy architecture and landscape as metaphors. His ‘abstractions’ are not flights into the ‘unknown’ but like shifting beams of light they move, passing through the entire space of the painting, from one segment of reality to another, uncovering the hidden relations, between the sky, the rock, the river.

In the eighties with his broken structures, Ram Kumar made a reference to an incipient violence and destruction. In the later part of his career, a residual geography and a notational architecture crept into his landscapes. He translates the landscape in to a system of line, planes, blocks; their machine-edged logic, entering into dialogue with texture and tone, governs the distribution of significant masses over the picture space.

His landscapes often straddle the boundaries between abstraction and naturalism, quoting both but succumbing to neither. The recent ones are not representations of specific sights, but rather a complex hybrid of memories merged with actual sights visited over the years.

The Shanghai Biennale 2010

The 1990s probably represented the peak of biennale fever, with shows that were launched around the world, more so in the Far East. The Shanghai Biennale was a bit behind in terms of registering itself on the international art map. It began only in 1996, but fast emerged as a significant event on the international art calendar. It came to prominence in 2000, when it first included new media artists apart from international curators and artists.

A decade later, the biennale has definitely grown in stature, but it has become a platform for big name art instead of an honest investigation into contemporary practices, a recent article in The New York Times notes. Aware of this, the organizers have opted to take a step backward for reassessing what the biennale actually means and what thematic direction it should take.
Doing away with the tradition it set in 2000, the current edition is led by an all-Chinese expert curatorial team. The executive curator of the biennale, Gao Shiming, reveals: “We decided for 2010, this would be the perfect time and opportunity to ask, what is the Chinese opinion on contemporary art?”

The series of exhibits and seminars that run till 20th, are the brainchild of curator and professor Johnson Chang. He is considered a force in contemporary Chinese art for close to three decades. The new Rockbund Art Museum also had an opening alongside the biennale, for ‘By Day by Night: or Some (Special) Things a Museum Can Do’. It’s more of a mini-festival than a show, and is comprised of seminars, performances and workshops. The art exhibition portion was organized by Hou Hanru, the curator behind the Shanghai Biennale in 2000. According to the art expert, the creation of a museum like this is part of the whole urbanization process.

The theme of core show this year, entitled ‘Rehearsal’, denotes the concept that exhibit spaces are not meant only to display art but also to serve as an ever-changing and dynamic stage, which can engender creativity.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

‘Oil on Canvas’ by Subodh Gupta

Nature Morte presents its fourth solo in Delhi with a series of new works by Subodh Gupta. The gallery opened its Neeti Bagh viewing space with a solo of his works in December 2003 (this incidentally was the second solo exhibition, the first being in Haus Khas Village in October 2000). The artist’s third solo at their current gallery space, also marks its eighth year there.

The internationally acclaimed artist’s new solo is entitled ‘Oil on Canvas’. Interestingly, the show is comprised entirely of new sculptures. There are no painted works in it, at all. The title, he reveals, originates from one of the works on view. (Nature Morte though, will showcase new paintings by him at the Indian Art Summit in January 2011.) On display are a range of sculptures done in a wide array of materials and forms.

As is known, the renowned artist’s signature medium happens to be stainless steel. This facet of his oeuvre is in evidence. However, there are also works in other materials marble, brass, bronze and wood. All of them in a way continue his dialogue with a range of found and manipulated objects. The intention is to focus on specific objects of a typically mundane nature, which encapsulate implicit multiple meanings and mull over the contemporary India and prevailing circumstances.

Born in Khagaul, Bihar, in 1964, Subodh Gupta has emerged as one of the most celebrated Indian artists on the international scene in the past decade. His works have been presented at prestigious museums, biennial exhibitions and art fairs across the globe apart from a series of solos at the world’s most famous galleries, such as Arario (Seoul and Beijing), Hauser & Wirth (London and Zurich), Galeria Continua (San Gimignano, Italy) and Pinchuk Art Centre (Kiev).

The new series displays the artist’s versatility over the wide-ranging materials, as stated above, to create what he terms ‘minimalist’ and highly ‘conceptual’ works.

Creative strokes at a celebrated contemporary artist’s home

Bose Krishnamachari’s abode is a riot of fluorescent colors beginning with the front door itself that reveals its creative owner. Fluorescent-colored bottles, pop art cushions and psychedelic oval table add a touch of quirkiness to the spacious and serene hall. This is how a news report (Artist Bose Krishnamachari’s creative strokes; The DNA India) by Marina Correa reveal his preferences.

“Anything that I buy or create must not only have a functional value but also an aesthetic element to it,” says the artist about his artistic preferences. On one of the walls hangs a Murano glass white clock in a ‘lacy’ design purchased from Singapore. A helicopter-shaped fan from Thailand follows the same principal of being functional yet aesthetic.

The house is 1,400 sq ft, and he has utilized space cleverly. For example, perforated steel sliding doors act as a great space saver and also add much to the decor — covering the kitchen, bar cabinet and the passageway to the bedroom. Stylish red flutes in the bar cabinet were picked up from Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. “As an abstract artist these optical illusions are visually stimulating to me,” explains Bose of his fascination for psychedelic prints.

Silver leafing on the walls are as much a visual delight as they are a neutral backdrop for displaying artworks. The metallic look of the flooring comes from the Spanish tiles. The decor in the master bedroom is simple. Two paintings by Prajakta Palav hang on the silver leafed walls while a purple alcove adds a sharp contrast. Even the cupboards are silver leafed and coated with laminate to increase its longevity.

With Aaryan, 7, and Kannaki, 4, his two young children, Bose Krishnamachari wanted a child-friendly space but one which also took care of his artist leaning, and the home has successfully found this balance. That’s what he has tried to achieve by bringing into play his unique artistic sensibilities.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Two talented artists from Hyderabad show their work in Mumbai

Two recent shows at Mumbai based Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke feature two young and talented artists, both from Hyderabad.

Artist Varunika Saraf presented large-scale watercolors on rice paper and cotton cloth, and a suite of intimate 7 x 7 inch square paintings on patterned fabric. Her paintings are like poetic visions in which the land and its people act as catalysts for her emotions and imagination.

Plucking some of her forms and figures from Indian miniature traditions, she opts to re-cast them into ever changing situations and mediums in narrative paintings, which assert their capacity for new adventures and journeys. The eccentric mix of her cast of characters: masked clowns, acrobats, actors, angels, soothsayers, skeletons, moonwalkers and a host of others, when collated in groups, often has an enduring frieze-like feel.

At other times they are reminiscent of the participants of an itinerant Jatra theatre or a traveling circus, captured as if mid-performance in the lingering spotlight of the ages. On the other hand, the latest show of artist Vinod Balak, entitled 'Venus Retrograde', involves works that draw on what he terms the ‘naive schema and European classical aesthetic norms’ as the hallmark of the ‘Kerala school of art’.

He quotes well known western masterpieces as well as Indian iconography apart from artistic convention and puts them on the same register of subversiveness. The artist assumes the stance located within a self consciously articulated ‘provincial modernism’, even as he views both the artistic canons with distance and critique. The paintings in themselves bear out description, for such is their intense narrative engagement.

However, as the principal actors in his formally laid out and highly defined compositions these are acts of mimesis. The animal forms are enacting a dialogue with what the artist likes to describe as a ‘fetish’ but that could also be read as a quotation, seeking to reposition the notions of value and beauty in art.

'I've to react to my own life and environment.'

Art expert-columnist of The Mint publication, Himanshu Bhagat, interviewed internationally celebrated artist Subodh Gupta on the eve of his new solo show at Nature Morte, New Delhi. In a free-wheeling interview (Steely resistance), he explains why his practice will continue to be inspired by the middle class and their aspirations.

Over the years you have continued to use your signature motif of pots and pans, even if the subject does not have an Indian context.

Subodh Gupta: It doesn’t matter what the subject is. It is not necessary for it to be Indian. But utensils are always related to food and food is related to human life. If you have food on plate, you have life. And if you don’t, you don’t have life. Now even the poor have stainless steel utensils but it is not necessary that they have food.

What determines your choice of medium for sculptures?
Subodh Gupta: Steel is a part of my life; it is my signature. But I am fascinated by other mediums too (such as) marble. It’s like watercolour—every artist finds it beautiful and dreams of drawing in it, even if he can’t really draw. And now every middle-class Indian home has marble. That attracted me too. No matter what I do, I have to connect with the people. I love utensils and I still have a long way to go. It is a discovery each time I do something with it.

How important is it for you to retain your Indian roots in your art?
Subodh Gupta: I live in this country and I have to react to my own life and environment. Artists react to their own culture and their own lives. By speaking the language of art, you can make anything. And it will fit anywhere. The subject doesn’t have to be American or Indian. When the (American artist) Jasper Johns drew the American flag no one asked him why.

Should art have a social message?
Subodh Gupta: Not necessarily. But 99% of good art has something strong to say. It speaks its own language, but it is not necessarily social—it could be something absurd too. The beauty of art is that you are not able to pinpoint things. It is not an essay that can be read word by word. People come and make their own meaning.

(Interview courtesy: The Mint publication)

Friday, December 17, 2010

A quick glance at international shows of contemporary Indian art

Several talented Indian artists are coming up with work that responds to the present complexities and realities. Here is a recap of contemporary Indian art shows this year

‘Bring me a Lion’, ‘A Wild Gander’ ‘Have I Ever Opposed You?’, and ‘In Transition’

‘Bring me a Lion’ at Cecille R. Hunt Gallery (St.Louis, USA) featured Dhruvi Acharya, Chitra Ganesh, Tushar Joag, Jaishri Abichandani, Bari Kumar, Jitish Kallat and Reena Saini Kallat. The idea was to map the contours of the recent art practice of India to underline the theme. ‘A Wild Gander’ at Brooklyn’s BRIC Rotunda Gallery courtesy the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) featured Jesal Kapadia, Yamini Nayar, Divya Mehra, Mala Iqbal and Chitra Ganesh. They all reflected on the complex issues, which frame South Asian identity, based in a gamut of social-personal spheres - gender, media representations, or politics.

Geneva based Faye Fleming & Partner hosted talented emerging artists from India and Pakistan, entitled ‘Have I Ever Opposed You?’ (March– May). On the other hand, ‘In Transition: New Art from India’ (May- June) at Richmond Art Gallery in Canada featured TV Santhosh, Sudarshan Shetty, Shilpa Gupta, Thukral & Tagra, Reena Kallat, and Hema Upadhyay.

Art Basel 2010

It was a celebration time for contemporary Indian art at Art Basel 41 in June that featured five leading galleries from the country, namely Chemould Prescott Road, Chatterjee & Lal, Sakshi, Nature Morte, and Gallery SKE. They presented some of the best works, reflecting the current trends, to a global audience. Chemould’s curated booth had two artists from different generations: Bhupen Khakhar and Atul Dodiya. Gallery SKE presented ‘Zero Knot’, an installation and publication by Sreshta Premnath. Chatterjee & Lal showcased Nikhil Chopra, known for his performance-based practice. Nature Morte displayed works by Suhasini Kejriwal, Schandra Singh, Thukral & Tagra, Gauri Gill, Atul Dodiya, Aditya Pande, and TV Santhosh.

Indian Highway’ and ‘Indian (Sub)Way’
Indian Highway’ (September- October) at the Reykjavík Art Museum in Iceland traced the impact of early technology stretching to the information superhighway. It also involved reflections on significance of the road for migration, movement, and development. ‘Indian (Sub)Way’ (September- October) at London based Grosvenor Vadehra, dealt with the various facets of challenging day-to-day existence in the country marked by opulence as well as its seamier underside that defines the edgy, subterranean its theme.

Looking back at Indian art exhibitions in 2010

A series of both solo and group shows this year have brought a host of talented Indian artist into international spotlight. Here is a quick recap:

‘The Empire Strikes Back’

The grand show courtesy Saatchi Gallery (January- May) offered a striking and intriguing interpretation of new India through works by both emerging and established artists like Atul Dodiya, Chitra Ganesh, Probir Gupta, Rashid Rana, TV Santhosh, Subodh Gupta, Tushar Joag, Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Bharti Kher, Rajan Krishnan, Kriti Arora, Justin Ponmany, Schandra Singh, Hema Upadhyay, and Pushpamala among others.

‘Where Three Dreams Cross’ and ‘The Self & the Other’

A group show ‘The Self & the Other: Portraiture in Contemporary Indian photography’ (October 2009- March 2010) focused on the photographer’s gaze. Curated by Devika Daulet-Singh and Luisa Ortínez at North Gallery courtesy ARTIUM (Vitoria-Gasteiz) and Palau de la Virreina (Barcelona), it gave an intimate view of contemporary life in India through the lens of 16 renowned photographers.

Another significant show at London's Whitechapel Art Gallery (January- April 2010) offered an insightful view of modern India along with Pakistan and Bangladesh through the lens of artist-photographers like Rashid Rana, Dayanita Singh, Raghubir Singh, Pushpamala N., and Rashid Talukder among others. Over 400 works were drawn for ‘Where Three Dreams Cross’ from important collections and images by leading contemporary artists.

'Burning Flags', ‘Holy Smoke’ and ‘Public Notice 3’

TV Santhosh’s 'Burning Flags' (May- June) at Aicon Gallery in London was a suite of paintings in the burning green, yellow, red, and orange hues, also incorporating a close-up of a figure gazing at the viewer. Ebenezer Sunder Singh’s ‘Holy Smoke’ (May- July) at RL Fine Arts, New York included a group of portraits of famous creative ‘artists’, pictured with their personal accessory, a cigarette. Art lovers in France had an opportunity to discover Rashid Rana’s remarkable talent with some of his most exciting works that formed part of his series ‘Perpetual Paradox’ (July– November) on display at Musée Guimet, a leading museum in Paris.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Works by the modernists draw collectors at a recent auction

Annual Winter Online Art Auction courtesy Saffronart produced strong results, highlighting the continued demand for works with good provenance. The Winter Online Auction featured 100 works by 43 modern & contemporary artists that closed with an impressive total of $7.1 million, including the artists like Arpita Singh, SH Raza, FN Souza, NS Harsha, MF Husain, Subodh Gupta, Shibu Natesan, Akbar Padamsee Jehangir Sabavala, and Manjit Bawa.

Coinciding with Saffronart’s 10 year anniversary, the milestone auction received good response. Co-founder and CEO of Saffronart, Dinesh Vazirani, has been quoted as saying: “Winter Online Auction 2010 was a celebration of our 10th anniversary. An historic event for the online art auction market was Arpita Singh’s ‘Wish Dream’ selling for $2.24 million. We’ve seen a strong demand for art works of the highest quality throughout the year. A,new benchmark has been set in this category, following this sale.”

The following are the highlights of the sale:
  1. A mural made up of sixteen canvas panels by Arpita Singh, entitled ‘Wish Dream’, got a record price of $2.24 million, also the highest ever for an Indian woman artist at any auction, and also a world record price for a work sold at any auction online.
  2. The auction was marked by excellent prices for several modernists like artists SH Raza, Jehangir Sabavala, FN Souza, KG Subramanyan and Husain, indicating the fact that the modern masters still remain highly sought-after.
  3. Works by Souza witnessed great interest, with four of the artist’s painted works making it to the top 10 lots in the auction. These comprised ‘Disintegrated Head’($333,500), ‘Emperor’ ($230,000) and two Untitled works ($218,500 and $201,250, respectively).
  4. KG Subramanyan’s ‘Inayat Khan Looking at Oxford – 3’ (1987) was another landmark, fetching a remarkable $46,635 – almost four times higher than its upper estimate. Another work by him, ‘Inayat Khan Looking at Pastoral Landscape’ also crossed the upper estimate by a whopping 335% to fetch $50,547.
  5. Many other lots also witnessed interest and bidding from buyers across the globe. A majority of them exceeded their high estimates.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The biennale that defines itself as a ‘rehearsal’ - a reflective space of performance

The 8th Shanghai Biennale works on the core theme of ‘Rehearsal’, which is wielded against ‘performance’, ‘production’ and ‘discursive practice’. A curatorial note elaborates: “The exhibition not only reformulates/represents everyday life, but also provides a vehicle for its own representative polity. It is the autonomous region of art, within which artists are also legislators. This is surely the most precious legacy of modernism. But why do artists still harbor doubts about exhibitions, even while they crave the opportunity to exhibit? Why are we still somewhat perplexed by artists’ reliance on them?

For artists, the exhibition is fast becoming the primary venue of creativity, hijacking their work and transforming it into something systematized and automated. On the other hand, if art is indeed ‘an everyday practice’, then where is the need for the exhibition? Art as a social activity is a nexus that connects and shares inter-subjective encounters. It therefore aims to pit the group against the public, neighborhood against propaganda, and the mutating quotidian against ‘pop culture’.

So, can the exhibition be considered the battleground for this antagonism? Or on the contrary, is exhibition, as art’s autonomous dominion, merely a theme park of little import trapped in the much larger and more real everyday space of social communication? But the exhibition is not just a space for networking, release or realization. It is primarily a creative space. The paradox of the exhibition lies in the impossible mission of presenting that which cannot be represented. The ‘representation’ that reveals what was previously invisible is not an act of resistance, but rather one of active construction.

Exhibitions are not all about the releasing of works of art, but rather the creation of a scenario. It is exactly here that the exhibition becomes simultaneously theatre and ‘anti-theatre’. The rupture between ‘drama’ and ‘scene’ is where ‘rehearsal’ can be a venue for self-purging and redemption.

‘Rehearsals’ are not formal performances. They are not repeatable and forgettable experiments; rehearsals can turn any social space into a theatre and vice versa. Rehearsing finds itself in the no man’s land between the onstage and offstage, and hence falls into the limbo between theatre and everyday life.

The biennale defines itself as a ‘rehearsal’, as a reflective space of performance. The ‘rehearsal’ of the Shanghai Biennale this year is a self-performative act by the art world, an attempt at self-liberation. For the 8th Shanghai Biennale, what matters is not the exhibition itself, but what it has brought to us in the past year of preparation. What it shows is the dialogues, arguments, thoughts and practices of artists, curators, and thinkers in 2010.

An art event as a ‘rehearsal’ and as a reflective space of performance

What is ‘Rehersal’? –a curatorial thinking of the 8th Shanghai Biennale:

The last two years have witnessed the latest global crisis. As if on cue, almost concurrently, an unprecedented crisis also befell contemporary art on a global scale. This one is no spiritual crisis experienced by modernists in the depths of their individual creativity, but a malarial torpor endemic to today’s world, or alternatively, a malaise of the system – the fact that the creativity of individual artists fails to match that of the system of artistic production, and by a wide margin. Artists cannot rid themselves of the sinking feeling that they are in the system’s employment, made to order by society at large.

The 8th Shanghai Biennale raises the following question:
  • What is suppressing and constraining the power of the heart in the economic and political context of contemporary art?
  • Is it because of the ‘invisible hand’ of the art world? Or is it because of ‘trends’ in the international art market?
  • Should we blame all the identikit mega-exhibitions worldwide? Or the omni-present mass culture?
  • Artists are becoming more and more constrained and boring and we are dragged into a ‘post-history’ malaise. So how should we describe this state clearly? How can we get out of the dilemma of creation in the context of an art system constituted by seamless and endless international dialogue, mega exhibitions, art fairs and transnational capital?
  • How do we identify the internal frontiers of the ‘art world’ hijacked by global capitalism while we are ourselves part of it? Is contemporary artistic practice capable of generating a new system of production beyond the throttles of institutional critique and social participation?
The 8th Shanghai Biennale defines itself as a ‘rehearsal’ and as a reflective space of performance. The responsibility of the curators is to differentiate, organize and then mobilize. Today many exhibitions are restricted in the theatre, but for this biennale, the theatre and rehearsal are not only spaces for exhibition, but methods of creation, exhibition and communication.

The biennale looks to promote interaction between artists. The elements of venue, narration and social participation have become key concepts in contemporary visual art, so the curators hope that they can explore these areas in the mode of ‘rehearsal’.

(Information courtesy: Shanghai Biennale official note)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reflecting on the relations between individual creativity and the public domain

The theme exhibition of the Shanghai Biennale 2010, entitled Rehearsal’ is on view at Shanghai Art Museum. Focusing on the narrative capacity and site-specificity of contemporary art, it conjures an inter-media theatre, reflecting on time, virtuality and experience.

Performance and intensive interaction among media and formats run in parallel, activating multiple images of time and to spatializing the time experience of the audience. The audience may walk from scene to scene, following an integral narrative context constituted of work from different artists. These ‘biennale scenes’, engaging in memory, maneuvering and construction, present an emotional field with a quirky twist. In this sense, the ‘rehearsal’ of the 8th Shanghai Biennale could be transcendental adventures along the wandering roads between the performance and its stage.

As the Interlude program of the Biennale, the curators have invited the active practitioners in Chinese live art to transform the documentary exhibition ‘The Past Decade of Chinese Live Art’ into a site of performativity in open dialogue with history. What is the VENUE? What is the PERFORMANCE? What is the THEATRE? What is the AUDIENCE? What is SOCIAL PARTICIPATION? What is HISTORY? What is MEMORY? What is REHEARSAL? Though the five Acts, it brings together around 80 thinkers, artists and curators in an attempt to bring about a convergence of discourse and visual production.

What the Biennale aims to achieve is to invite a wide range of participants – artists, curators, critics, collectors, museum directors, and members of the audience – a to rehearse in the Biennale, a fertile theatre to reflect on the relations between art experimentation and the art system, between individual creativity and the public domain.

The biennale defines itself as a ‘rehearsal’, as a reflective space of performance. The ‘rehearsal’ of the 8th Shanghai Biennale is a self-performative act by the art world, a wake up call to itself and an attempt at self-liberation. Rehearsal is wielded against ‘performance’, ‘production’ and ‘discursive practice’. The responsibility of the curators is to differentiate, organize and then mobilize. For the 8th Shanghai Biennale, what matters is not the exhibition itself, but what it has brought to us in the past year of preparation. What the rehearsal shows is the dialogues, arguments, thoughts and practices of artists, curators, and thinkers in 2010.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A major art theft in Madrid that shook the art world

Art thieves drove off in a van filled with works by Pablo Picasso and renowned sculptors Fernando Botero and Eduardo Chillida after breaking into a warehouse near Madrid. The thieves took 22 sculptures and paintings worth an estimated €5m from the warehouse in Getafe at the weekend. They drove off using a key left in the van's glove department.

According to David Fernández of Madrid’s Juan Gris gallery, only about half of the works, which were being returned to Spain from a German gallery, were insured. He was quoted as saying: "I have been furious and upset about this. A day had already been decided for some of the works to be delivered to his gallery and five others in Barcelona and Madrid. Nothing like this has ever happened to us in 40 years."

According to a news report from the renowned UK publication, The Guardian, the van carrying the works had been parked at that point of time inside a warehouse after just having arrived from the Stefan Röpke gallery in Germany. The structure (warehouse) belonged to the Crisóstomo transport company. Three thieves broke into it at midday. The news report elaborated:
“Police suspect that they knew the keys to the truck would be easily found, as they had driven away by the time a patrol car got to the scene. Part of the robbery was recorded by security cameras. The empty van was discovered on Tuesday. At least a dozen of the works were by the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Other works were by the Spanish artists Antonio Saura, Antoní Tapies and Julio González.”
The German gallery had closed a month-long exhibit dedicated to Chillida in the third week of November. It included figurative drawings, sculptures, a range of drawings and etchings and some rare collages. The works were possessed by the six galleries, but it was unclear as which of those had been insured. "Even at a bad time like this some galleries are not insuring their works, which is mad. It never happens until it actually happens," said Fernández.

There’s a lesson to be learnt for Indian galleries…

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Indian art shows that respond to present complexities and realities

In a series of solo and group shows internationally this year, renowned Indian artists have come up with works that pointedly respond to the present complexities and realities.

India’s fast flourishing contemporary art scene coupled with the recent economic upheavals have prompted critical questions related to culture and social structure in a nation caught between a dependence on global developments and an independent mindset. Against this backdrop,

Paris based Galerie Daniel Templon hosted the first ever show of works in France by Anju Dodiya. ‘Face-off’ (September– October) was a series in watercolor and charcoal on paper. Hauser & Wirth hosted a monumental new sculptures and the ‘Cosmos’ paintings by Subodh Gupta in its new Zurich space (September– November).

Jitish Kallat’s ‘Astronomy of the Subway’ (February- March) was hosted at London based Haunch of Venision gallery. The solo encompassed seven rooms of this world-renowned art space. In his first ever major presentation in an American museum, the artist has designed a site-specific installation that connects the First World Parliament of Religions held on September 11, 1893, and the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center on that very date, exactly 108 years later. ‘Public Notice 3’ (September 2010–May 2011) at The Art Institute of Chicago is a trenchant commentary on the evolution, or devolution, of religious tolerance across the 20th and 21st centuries.

As 2010, a noteworthy year for Indian art, drew to a close, international galleries continued to feature prominent artists from the country. New York based e-flux presented an installation by Raqs Media Collective that combines historical photographs (from the Alkazi Collection, New Delhi and the Galton Collection at University College, London).

At Chicago’s Walsh Gallery, artists Vivan Sundaram, Reena Kallat, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, and Sheba Chhachhi explored the way art and water Intersect. A major retrospective exhibition of photographic works by Dayanita Singh was hosted at Huis Marseille Museum for Photography, Amsterdam. RL Fine Arts, New York presented works by legendary artist SH Raza.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sound ‘artist’ wins the prestigious Turner prize

The announcement that ‘artist’ Susan Philipsz had been awarded the prestigious Turner prize for her sound piece comprising her own frailly mellifluous voice reciting a Scottish lament (over Clyde’s black waters) marked a new chapter in her life as well in the award's history.

Philipsz is the first person ever in the history of this award to have actually created nothing that one can touch or see. Instead, she sculpted her amazing prizewinning work in sound, as mentioned above, from the sound of her own voice. Interestingly, she was the art-world favorite to get the £25,000 British art prize, often controversial. The official website notes:
“The Turner Prize celebrates new developments in contemporary art. Over the recent decades the Turner Prize has played a significant role in provoking debate about visual art and the growing public interest in contemporary British art in particular, and has become widely recognized as one of the most important and prestigious awards for the visual arts in Europe. There was no age limit at first, but in 1991 it was decided to restrict the Prize to artists under fifty, so that younger artists just setting out weren't pitted against artists at the height of their careers.”
Nominations for the prize are invited each year, and they are judged by an independent jury. The four shortlisted artists showcase their works in a show at Tate Britain before the final winner is announced. Though the winner is not judged on their Tate show, and the decision is on basis of the work that they are nominated for.

Philipsz's room in Turner prize exhibit at Tate Britain this year comprised no visible and physical work. For record, she triumphed over other shortlisted artists including Dexter Dalwood. His curious contemporary take on captivating traditional history painting made him an early bookies' favorite. Also in the race was Angela de la Cruz. The artist’s mangled, disheveled canvases put her somewhere between sculptor and painter. The Otolith Group’s work, often in film, contains both curating and creating.

Each of the above runners up will receive a £5,000 award. It was also the first time ever that a sound installation was shortlisted for Turner prize since it was first announced in 1984 to encourage modern British art - open only to artists from the UK younger than 50.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Art Basel Miami Beach 2010

Tennis superstar Venus Williams was among the many celebrities and thousands of art lovers from different walks of life who thronged the Art Basel Miami Beach, clearing any doubts about the lingering effect of recession on market for contemporary art.

The art fair was described to successful in comparison to the subdued last year. The hesitation to spend and the extreme caution of 2008 and 2009 were gone, too. Pay rise in the financial world back to pre-crisis levels, brought art back in spotlight, seem as a safe asset to park money.

Galleries like David Zwirner, Gagosian, Pace and Andrea Rosen all registered brisk sales. Major collectors including Steven A. Cohen, David Tieger and Peter Brant were conspicuous by their presence at the fair. The Wall Street Journal reported that the former acquired a Tim Hawkinson work for $180,000 from Blum & Poe and ‘Mappemonde’ by Adel Abdessemad for close to $300,000 at Zwirner. Summing up the mood at the Art Basel Miami, The New York Times Kate Taylor noted:
“The fair is a multiday sprint of buying, looking, socializing, and crucial networking for people not only in the art world but in other industries catering to the very rich, from private banking to private planes. The inaugural day started with a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new $200 million building of the Miami Art Museum on the bay. Its construction had been held up for many years, but Miami-Dade County released $100 million in bond proceeds in May to let the project designed by Herzog & de Meuron go forward.”
Though many collectors and dealers cited a renewed exuberance and optimism, sounding a bit cautious, major Miami collector Don Rubell was quoted as saying: “I guess maybe the art world hasn’t heard about the recession…” He recalled how, he had to come by 9:30 a.m., in earlier years, to sneak through the doors by 11:30. This year, he came at 10:45 and was still the first in line. In some experts’ eyes, a positive outcome of the slower pace is that institutions now have more of an opportunity to buy.

‘Wish Dream’ by artist Arpita Singh set to make history

An auction by online auction house Saffronart will showcase the artworks of several modern & contemporary Indian artists. The showpiece of the annual winter auction is a work by Arpita Singh. It’s estimated at a staggering Rs 8-10 crore ($ 1.9-2.3 million), the highest ever estimate for a work by any woman artist from India to be offered in auction.

The painting ‘Wish Dream’ goes on the block at the auction this week. It’s her biggest painting that is comprised of 16 panels. The work inspired by Buddhist monastic traditions, is strewn with fascinating flowers, fragments of text, numbers, aircraft and cars.

‘Wish Dream’, (24 feet x 13 feet mural) is said to arise out of her complex oeuvre that spans well over four decades. The New Delhi based artist reveals in an interview: “The mural displays the dreams and wishes of a woman (within our society) and how it progresses and the way it’s related to other women through ritual. Wedding is the most important ritual, so you will notice a woman who is standing - and from behind - two hands of a man holding her.”

According to Arpita Singh, she doesn’t like to keep any empty space, and fills it up with ubiquitous objects that she notices around every day. When she gathers and compiles everything together, the whole pattern becomes more meaningful. To her, individual forms are not that important, but their cumulative end effect is!

Elaborating on the work, Saffronart CEO and co-founder, Dinesh Vazirani mentions of its rarity to enhance the value. He terms the work as one of the most significant and also the largest works by any Indian woman artist featured at an auction ever. The monumental mural will in all probability make Arpita Singh India’s most expensive woman artist.

Other highlights of the auction are works by modern masters like Raza, Souza, Akbar Padamsee and Ram Kumar alongside some many other renowned contemporary Indian artists like Subodh Gupta, Shibu Natesan, NS Harsha and Surendran Nair.

Monday, December 6, 2010

‘India Awakes: Under the Banyan Tree’

A significant group show of contemporary Indian art, entitled ‘India Awakes: Under the Banyan Tree’ is currently on view at the Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg in Austria. Focusing on contemporary currents and tendency, it complements last year’s much applauded exhibition, ‘Chalo India’, devoted to the established art scene of India.

The new edition incorporates a blend of photography, sculpture, painting and installations. Curator Alka Pande has selected the works by 34 talented artists, including George Martin, Sonia Mehra-Chawla, Sunaina Bhalla, Gautam Bhatia, Zuleikha Chaudhari, Prajjwal Choudhury, Abhishek Hazra, Manisha Jha, Ayesha Kapur, Shreyas Karle, Abir Karmakar, Sandip Pisalkar, Prajakta Potnis, Antonio Puri, Prasad Raghavan, Sumedh Rajendran, Bandeep Singh, Baptist Coehlo, Vibha Galhotra, Gurdeep Singh, Suhasini Kejriwal, and Riyas Komu among others.

The banyan tree in the title symbolizes ‘the miracle that is India’. Marked by a prolific and tightly interwoven aerial root-system, the tree is said to have the miraculous power to grant wishes. Legend has it that Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment while sitting under it in Bodhgaya. Nowadays, the shade-giving tree is a popular place of encounter or recreation.

Karlheinz Essl notes in her preface: “In the context of the exhibit, the banyan tree symbolizes the innovative power of young Indian artists, who are devoting their abundant creative power to an exploration of the developments and themes of tomorrow, and also the prophetic qualities ascribed to artists in India.”

In essence, the ongoing exhibitions of Indian art showcase works that reveal strong connections to their nation’s history and simultaneously echo contemporary realities. They provide viewers with a realistic sense of the prevailing socio-political conditions wherein traditions and structures are being challenged and values being tested even while, much remains as it always has been…

The show was inaugurated by a spectacular live performance by the artist team Zuleikha and Manish Chaudhari. All works for it have been acquired by the Essl Museum and have partly been created specifically for this exhibition.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

‘Samtidigt/Concurrent’ in Sweden presents artists from the Indian subcontinent

If you are looking for a captivating confluence of renowned and talented artists from the Indian subcontinent, here is an opportunity for you. A major international exhibition now gives an opportunity for the Swedish art lovers to glance at their work.

‘Samtidigt/Concurrent’ presents several noteworthy artists with roots in India and Pakistan, featuring names like Sheba Chhachhi, Chitra Ganesh, Shilpa Gupta, Archana Hande, Rashmi Kaleka, Anita Khemka, Nalini Malani, Pushpamala N, Reena Saini Kallat, Gigi Scaria, Bharat Sikka, Vivan Sundaram, Thukral & Tagra, and Hema Upadhyay.

During recent years, Indian artists have received increasing appreciation globally in spheres of contemporary art. Through diverse forms of expression and perspectives they pose questions about what it means to live in present-day India, a country whose social, economic and cultural development has been accompanied by tumultuous social changes. And this new exhibition is a perfect example of the increasing dynamism of the contemporary Indian art, pushing it to the center stage of the global art stage.

Indian mythology and history are the point of departure in several pieces that illuminate the position of women. Stereotypes and clichés concerning how women have traditionally been portrayed and represented are incisively, albeit humorously exposed. Their condition in daily life and in the wars that are continuously being waged in the name of nation-building owing to the protracted conflict between India and Pakistan since the partition is another recurring theme.

Urbanization and migration leave clear traces; maps are re-drawn and cities grow by leaps and bounds, the boundaries between city and country become fluid and shifting, and the living conditions for many people change rapidly. In this complex context, consumerist society and an expanding global market are often the focus of these artists’ work. They depict the possibilities, the challenges and the risks involved in a new world order in which everything that happens has two sides – simultaneously.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The growing popularity of Indian miniature paintings

One of the most precious miniature paintings from India ever sold at auction was Nainsukh of Guler’s ‘Musicians Playing a Raga for Balwant Dev Singh During the Rainy Season’. It fetched $2.2 million (Rs 9.7 crore) in March 2008. The marvelous work exuded all the qualities that collectors or dealers, yearn for: excellent subject, size and condition.

There was a marked shift in the art market domain in the early 1970s, with the west starting to play a larger role. This was due to the passage of the Antiquities & Art Treasures Registration Act. Sandhya Jain-Pate, an associate vice president at Christie's and a specialist in Indian-South East Asian art, mentions in a recent India Today article:
“Auction prices demonstrate that works which are visually appealing and bought with such passion are likely to do well in years to come, if and when they are sold again. One should also ask specialists lots of questions, decide realistically on how much one has to spend, do research and, most importantly, enjoy. They can make one's heart pound, render one speechless, and even cause one's eyes to well up in emotion.”
Of course, art enthusiasts can always enhance their knowledge and passion for collections. It is important to compare and study major collections around the world. Though, many of the magnificent miniature works are now in the public and private collections, still many beautiful paintings are available at auctions.

Over the last few years not only their richness but also accessibility has been demonstrated. Christie's offered ‘A Maiden with a Toy’, inscribed with painter Ustad Abu Qasim’s name (dated to 1793-94) in September 2008. Christie's again sold a Mughal period painting made in Oudh (1775) in March, 2009. A Mughal painting, ‘The Annunciation’ (circa 1615) went for $684,102 (Rs 3 crore), in October 2010 in London - more than eight times its original estimate. This indicates the growing popularity of Indian miniature painting.

Highlights of the exquisite James Ivory collection

An exhibition entitled ‘Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur’ at the British Museum last year provided a great opportunity to experience the unique art tradition, which flourished in the royal courts (17th- 19th centuries), ranging from monumental artworks to miniatures.

Simultaneously, The Peabody Essex Museum hosted ‘ReVisions: India’s Artists Engaging Traditions’ that presented leading contemporary artists working in tandem with traditional pieces exemplifying their source of inspiration like medieval temple sculpture and Mughal court painting. Earlier this year, London’s National Portrait Gallery hosted a unique show that narrated the tale of the Indian portrait over three centuries, tracking the role of portraiture in Indian art history.

The beauty and grandeur of India’s majestic miniature art form is on display in full glory at a London gallery. Here are some of the highlights of the exquisite The James Ivory collection:

  • There are three 16th century paintings in it. The first of these is done in the early Rajput style form as early as 1491.
  • As the collection reveals, subsequent concept of paintings illustrating stories rather than iconography was perhaps awakened in the Hindu mind by the influence of paintings illustrating Persian texts. The development of this new style broadly coincided with the establishment of the Mughal dynasty in India in 1526 by Babur.
  • Akbar’s (1556–1605) rapid expansion of Mughal power 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. It throws some interesting light on styles allied to that of Mewar that was influential far beyond its borders, particularly in southern Rajasthan and Gujarat. The great shrine at Nathdwara in northern Mewar had its own artistic style.
The James Ivory collection is also comprised of a very interesting group of portraits picked from the late 18th and the 19th centuries. It includes a small, albeit important group of Pahari Rajput paintings from the same period.