Saturday, December 31, 2011

The rich painterly traditions showcased in full glory

A new show that celebrates India's rich painterly traditions marks the inaugural rotation in the new Asian Paintings Gallery. The new thematic presentation, entitled ‘Gems of Rajput Painting’ that takes place courtesy MFA, Boston, showcases the magnificent art tradition in its full glory.

It's divided into four themes of particular interest to Rajput painters: romance, devotion, heroism, and courtly life. They looked to love poetry for romantic inspiration, especially texts that drew upon amorous relationships—heartfelt and even heartbreaking—between courtly men and women, such as Dipak raga, in which a couple’s passion prompts objects all around them to burst into flame.

Ragamala paintings illustrate the mood of particular modes of North Indian classical music (ragas), very often in the form of romantic scenarios. Another example of romantic love is seen in The hour of cowdust, where the god Krishna, as a youth, was a mischievous cowherd who stole the hearts (and sometimes the clothes) of local milkmaids.

Hindu gods also figure prominently in Rajput paintings as symbols of spiritual purity, or as sometimes meddlesome deities. A notable devotional work is Devagandhari Ragini, which shows two courtly ladies flanking a representation of the god Shiva in the form of a garlanded lingam (phallic symbol). Images of heroism and epic confrontations between good and evil were also favored by Rajput artists.

The exhibition showcases the dramatic Battle between Arjuna and Karna, the central confrontation of the Mahabharata. Similarly, The victory of Kali features the great goddess Devi, who created a frightening creature named Kali to defeat demonic foes. The final theme, courtly life, is expressed in images that reinforce the ideals of kingship, convey political messages, and show whimsical scenes of royal leisure.

Included among them is Krishna celebrates Holi with Radha and the gopis, attributed to Nihal Chand), which depicts Krishna and Radha celebrating the festival of Holi on the terrace of a palace, as though they were royals from the Kishangarh court.

Friday, December 30, 2011

‘Cultural Olympiad’ before the 2012 London Olympics

Works by David Hockney, Damien Hirst and Lucian Freud will headline the mega ‘Cultural Olympiad’, a series of significant arts events in the run-up to the keenly awaited London 2012 Olympics, while JMW Turner and Pablo Picasso will be the subjects of two landmark shows.

Over 150 works by David Hockney will be on view at the Royal Academy in the first major exhibit from January 21 next year to showcase his landscapes. After spending time in Los Angeles for three decades, the artist has returned to Bridlington, east Yorkshire, an area that has inspired several of his large-scale landscape works, like his giant painting of Woldgate Woods.

The show will feature drawings, paintings, and some ‘new technology’ pieces by the 74-year old artist, who has seamlessly embraced the digital age, with artworks on iPad and iPhone. For the first time, his films will also be shown. He has often revealed of having been inspired by Picasso. And co-incidentally, the Spanish artist will form the subject of a show at Tate Britain in a couple of months’ time.

‘Picasso and Modern British Art’ runs from at the gallery from February. It will feature over 150 works from the various public and private collections across the globe. The exhibit will chart his emergence in Britain as both a celebrity and a controversial figure. February will also witness the launch of a highly anticipated show in recent years; it’s Lucian Freud Portraits showcase at the National Portrait Gallery, including 100 of his works on paper and paintings lent by private collections and museums around the world.

His final unfinished work just before his death ‘Portrait of the Hound’ (2011) - an unfinished nude of his assistant with his dog, will be shown for the first time. Later in March, the National Gallery and Tate Britain collaborate on an exhibit of works by JMW Turner and Claude Lorrain, the 17th-century French landscape artist.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A spotlight on India’s most accomplished contemporary photo artist

Born in New Delhi in 1960, Dayanita Singh is recognized as one of India’s most accomplished contemporary photographers.

Making books is now her passion and she has collaborated with the prestigious Steidl press to create a number of titles, including the seven-volume ‘Sent A Letter’, named one of the 200 pivotal artworks produced in the past 25 years in Phaidon Press’s ‘Defining Contemporary Art’.

She reveals: “Many writers have influenced my work greatly. Some I could only read, some that I had the privilege of traveling and conversing with. They have influenced the shifts in my work and often my work has been addressed to them (in the book 'Sent a Letter').”

Her works have been presented in exhibitions throughout the world, most recently as a solo show at the Shiseido Gallery in Tokyo. In 2009, the Mapfre Foundation in Madrid organized a retrospective of her work that subsequently traveled to Amsterdam and Bogota. Her images of ‘File Rooms’ were featured prominently in the exhibition, entitled ‘Illuminazione’ that formed the centerpiece of the Venice Biennale earlier this year.

The celebrated artist has received many awards like the Prince Claus Award by the Netherlands government in 2008 for ‘her image of outstanding quality, providing a well-articulated view of contemporary India, and for introducing a new aesthetic into Indian photography’.

Her new body of works, entitled ‘House of Love’, is on view at Nature Morte, Gurgaon. Excerpts from it have been exhibited at the Peabody Museum, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Frieze Art Fair, London. The book by the same name (with texts by Aveek Sen; Publisher: Peabody Museum Press and Radius Press) is available at the gallery during the exhibition. This is her fifth solo with Nature Morte, the first being the exhibition 'Family Portraits' in 1998.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sudarshan Shetty’s ‘Letters on the floor’

An internationally known artist, Sudarshan Shetty, employs a deft mix of traditional and contemporary imagery and motifs like ancient symbols, political graffiti and cinema posters in his work. His work can be, simultaneously, mischievous and ironic.

Born in 1956 in Kerala, he did his 1981 Diploma in Painting from College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum; a Post Diploma (Printmaking) from Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda; and a degree in Fine Arts (Painting) from College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum. A recipient of Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship, Perugia, Italy (2004); he has served residency programs courtesy the Noosa City Council Gallery, an Indo-Australian Exchange Residency; Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Arts, Oxford on a Charles Wallace Grant.

Sudarshan Shetty’s new solo takes place at GallerySKE, Bangalore. Entitled ‘Listen Outside This House’, the works are woven around words too. Penned by the artist himself, the fictive texts are essentially rooted in his own past and specific context. In fact, these pithy narratives act as the launching point from where he initiates a deep evocation of objects.

There are total eight installations on view. There’s, for example, a dilapidated monument’s replica delicately carved in wood. The structure is apparently on the verge of collapse. It has some text written on its floor. In another installation that forms part of the display a photographic slide is shown. In it the artist searches for words in the city, whereas yet another work incorporates passages drawn from the mythological epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Though inherently personal in nature, the writing form is in third person. Everything is charted out almost purposefully, from a neutral perspective, from a distance. At times mischievous and at others inquiring, his work can be both thought-provoking and entertaining. Thanks to the layers of meaning in each canvas, his oeuvre is often looked upon as a cultural encyclopaedia.

His latest solo continues at GallerySKE until January 28, 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An exploration of works made in sequences or as sets

Nature Morte presents a new group show, entitled, 'Serial Pursuits’, at its Berlin venue. It includes works in various media by artists David Mabb, Manisha Parekh, Dayanita Singh and Audiobombing Crew.
In Manisha Parekh’s new gouache paintings and graphite drawings on paper, her imagery is bio-morphic and seemingly automatic. Successive images build into a canon of identity and cultural inheritance, both Indian and international.

Audiobombing Crew, founded by Markus Zull and Stephan Ebersthäuser in 2003, creates serial sound loops, which are collaged together from analogue sources. The duo works with technical defects and their dynamic manipulation. By mixing Indian pop songs sourced from Bollywood musicals and spoken audio materials, the artists develop sound loops whose repetitive nature resembles the tone of ancient mantras.

Dayanita Singh's work 'Museum of Innocence (The Madras Chapter)' is a photographic portrait of the MGR Memorial House in Chennai, India. The former private residence of M.G. Ramachandran is now a museum that commemorates the beloved Tamil actor and politician, where his personal belongings are displayed as relics. Singh uses the camera’s special ability to capture loss to create the memory of a memory held up by a lattice of formal repetition.

In David Mabb’s works, namely 'Rhythm 69' and 'Two Squares', various wallpaper and fabric designs of William Morris are spliced together with the avant-garde art of El Lissitzky and Hans Richter. Presented as paintings arranged in formalist grids which mimic the regulative practices of industrial production, his smash-ups of the now haute-bourgeois decorative motifs and the once radical but now sentimentalized utopian experiments are steeped in the irony implicit in negotiating a politicized art practice today.

The London-based artist has exhibited widely in both solo and group exhibitions at venues like the Liverpool Biennial, the Delaware Centre for the Contemporary Arts, and Leo Kamen Gallery in Toronto.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Favorable wind blowing in the art markets

Amidst all the gloom and doom around, a big boost to the world art market came in the form of Sotheby's rounding out New York's major fall auctions with a sale that fetched 315.8 million of contemporary and postwar art -well over its high estimate of $270 million. It was the third-highest sale total achieved by its contemporary art dept. (Its peak is at $362 million evening sale in 2008.)

"The sale blew every expectation away," said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art who also served as auctioneer. Art market observer Adam Lindemann’s take on the stratospheric prices achieved was something like this: “If it (the art market) could speak, it would have cackled and then quoted Mark Twain by stating, ‘the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’ Most of the artworks successfully found new homes at reasonable if not modestly bullish prices.

"So what’s my advice to those intrepid collectors committed to moving forward? These days I’ll take my cue from the wisdom of old Ben Franklin, who once said, Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see...” An article by The ET Bureau, emphasizing the growing faith in contemporary art in billionaires, pointed out: “The reasons are as abstract as the subject on sale but millionaires, billionaires and collectors with ready cash seem to be racing to the art market to buy what they think is more tangible than any other available investment options.

The article quoted Associate Vice President (Specialist, Post-War and Contemporary Art and Head of Evening Sales), Koji Inoue, as saying: “This strong trend will continue in the market," over phone. "I think it is has been spurred by collectors who are not really looking at art as an investment. It is more buoyed by a powerful store value. They weren't necessary speculators and as they were offered with a once in a lifetime opportunity, they could not let it pass on, no matter what the economic standards are."

Growth trajectory of Indian and Chinese art

Leading art research firm ArtTactic’s market confidence on the eve of 2011 report had given a thumbs-up to Indian modern art, albeit expressing a touch of caution about the contemporaries. The analyst firm’s Indian Art Market Confidence Indicator then had shown a good recovery largely on the back of stronger secondary/ auction market for Modern Indian art. What does its latest report indicate?

According to it, the confidence in the Indian Modern art market still remains reasonably high, in spite of negative economic outlook globally. The overall Indian Art Market Confidence Indicator of ArtTactic is down by more than 25% (28%, to be precise) from six months ago. But this is more to do with macro-economic factors and the waning confidence in the Indian economy, which drops by a significant 69%.

However, most experts are still strongly positive about state of the Indian Modern art market, with a streak of confidence gradually creeping back into the strength of contemporary Indian art market, as well. Giving an overview of the auction scene, the report mentions: “The last round of Indian art auctions (in September 2011) was a lackluster affair, with the final sale figures coming in 17% below the low-end of its pre-sale estimate range of 885,120 to 989,475. However, the total (although it failed to reach the pre-sale expectations) managed to halt the steady decline in sales volume that the market has experienced for more than a year.”

On the other hand, the broader Chinese Contemporary Art Market Confidence Indicator maintained a positive bias, in spite of the drastic drop in the contemporary art market confidence level, internationally. The Contemporary Art Market Confidence indicator of China presently stands at 80. It’s the highest reading of all the Market Confidence Indicators released by ArtTactic Art; that of US and Europe is 35, whereas India is doing much better (though not as well as China) with its the Market Confidence Indicator reading at 53.

However, this market confidence as far as China is concerned, might face a stress test, so to say, in the next 6 months. Experts are a bit concerned about the sustainability of the present growth rate. Close to half of those (49%) surveyed (up from just 17% of in April 2011) feel the Chinese contemporary art market will be flat in the next 6 months.

Corroborating this undercurrent of thought, Colin Gleadell of The UK Telegraph suggested in a recent news report, tracking Asian art (that of China in particular) sales figures attained by Bonhams and Christie’s London that some steam sure has gone out of the Chinese market as quite a few of the higher valued lots were unsold in November 2011.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Top 5 over-hyped or international artists

“Contemporary artists are more ‘collectible’ than old masters: there’s more of their art out there, you can party with them, you can even hope to discover geniuses before they get ‘hot’. One downside is that, because the competition’s so stiff, prices can lose all touch with reality.

Here are five highly touted artists as listed by that won’t turn out to be great investments,” observes art market analyst Blake Gopnik who also lists the top 5 over-hyped or international artists. Here’s a quick look at them courtesy The Newsweek and The Daily Beast:
    • 1. Neo Rauch: This German painter, a founder of the so-called Leipzig school, makes perfectly sweet, semi-surreal canvases with a dab of fifties nostalgia. They’d make great greeting cards. Rauch’s ‘Suche’ sold at Christie’s for $1,082,500 in May 2010.

      2. Wangechi Mutu: A minor collage artist, he who glues up fragments of magazines, sometimes with sequins thrown in. The results look splashy and have the hint of an edge, but the work will never be important, despite her prices. ‘A Little Thought for All Ya’ll …’ sold at Christies for $400,002 in 2008.

      3. Damien Hirst: He is truly one of the greats of our time, but his greatness lies in his entire career, and the way he’s turned selling out into art. A few of the sculptures
      have significant presence, but any single painting—one ‘spot’ picture, for
      instance, among the scores that he’s made—counts as closer to a memento than a
      masterpiece. A Hirst spot painting called Dantrolene sold at Sotheby’s for
      $1,105,250 in June 2011.

      4. John Currin: He makes cartoony figures that sometimes have a hint of pornography. He’s praised for his skills with the brush, but it won’t be long before it becomes clear that he’s just one more realist illustrator. Currin’s ‘Nice ’N Easy’ sold at Sotheby’s for $5,458,500 in November 2008.

      5. Richard Prince: Long ago, in the 1970s, he was a great artist. The ads that he copied and presented as art helped change the course of art history. Since then, he’s made absurd numbers of splashy paintings—the Nurses, the Jokes, the Checks—that only a collector could love and that will soon be forgotten. Prince’s ‘Country Nurse’ sold for $2.9 million in June 2009.

‘Passageway’ concerned with the concurrence of the material and the immaterial.

Mumbai-based Chemould Prescott Road - in association with Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, IFA, and the Goethe Institut Mumbai - presents passageway, the first solo of internationally renowned German artist Wolfgang Laib in India.

Several iconic, almost mythic, identities define Laib: his training to be a doctor, his hermetic living and working practices, and his serious study of Eastern and pre–Modern religions including Buddhism, Jainism, and medieval Christianity.

Born 1950 in Metzingen, Germany, Wolfgang Laib studied Medicine at the University of Tuebingen, before choosing to become an artist. His work has been exhibited extensively at leading galleries and museums worldwide. A solo exhibition is scheduled for 2013 at the MoMA in New York. Wolfgang Laib lives in Biberach an der Riss, Germany.

The exhibition includes several important works, including his monumental beeswax boats which bear the title of the exhibition and the minimalist black sculpture titled ‘Stairs’. All his works, says Laib, are concerned with the concurrence of the material and the immaterial. His forms and his artistic process are extreme in their concentrated quietude.

The artist has been quoted as saying: “I am not afraid of beauty, unlike most artists today. The pollen, the milk, the beeswax, they have a beauty that is incredible, that is beyond the imagination, something which you cannot believe is a reality–and it is the most real. I could not make it myself, I could not create it myself, but I can participate in it. Trying to create it yourself is only a tragedy, participating in it is a big chance.”

His work – although it concentrates on a few select materials which are sourced from nature such as rice, pollen, milk and beeswax – is not about naturalism. It is about the material itself, about the intense experience of the material in a neutral environment. The intensity of the artist’s materials not only has to do with their color and substance, but also with their intrinsic quality as a source of vital energy. The Milkstone is one of the seminal works that establish the tone of his practice.

‘Words: A User’s Manual’ at Exhibit 320

The French novelist Georges Perec, in playing out a lipogram, penned a novel ‘La Disparition’ in 1969, sans the letter ‘e’. Anton Vowl, his protagonist cannot blink an eyelid and sleep peacefully until he actually discovers a missing link. A new group show, entitled ‘Words: A User’s Manual’, sets out to address a similar quandary.

In a meticulously put together exhibition, curator-writer Himali Singh Soin tries to elevate text from its mundane functionality to be the eclectic work of art. Soin has brought together an interesting mix of artists to present a pleasantly surprising range of creations by the Raqs Media Collective, Sarnath Banerjee and Zuleikha Chaudhari to young practitioners like typographer Hanif Kureshi and Prayas Abhinav, one who has been employing experimental media arts in engaging ways.

Each of the participating artists aptly and uniquely responded to the curatorial theme to create works over the last six months or so. For example, a four-panelled Flux machine by Hanif Kureshi is changing constantly, tricking viewers as it does. An array of peculiar four-letter words pop up, starting from ‘cure’ to ‘pose’ and ‘fare’, apparently ridding the words and the things they stand for of any inherent meaning.

Sarnath Banerjee’s, ‘I Lost My Wedding Ring Behind Harrod’s’, drawings of memories of those lost objects, is probably pièce de résistance of the show. He and the curator asked their friends to revive and respond with the nagging memory of any lost object. More than twenty such written testimonials are there on view - from lost lovers to lost cardigans —with illustrations accompanying them.

On the other hand, ’The Philosophy of the Namak Haram’ by Raqs Media Collective makes a rather silent statement. The installation is a secluded reading room carrying books with the ‘unwritten word’. However, they don’t really exist (a photograph does!). The wall texts form an intrinsic aspect of the whole exhibition experience. Just like for the ‘Flux machine’, the curator notes, “Your timing is perfect: everything’s about to change...”

‘Words: A User’s Manual’ is on view at New Delhi-based Exhibit 320.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Artistic reinterpretation of strong feminist icons

Contemporarily seen as one of the most respected female painters of the Baroque, the majority of Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintings feature women as the principle figures and protagonists, which she borrowed primarily from biblical allegories like ‘The Book of Judith’. A new group exhibition at New Delhi-based Latitude 28 is inspired by her key boy of work.

Elaborating on the display, a press release states that it’s a representation of the reinterpretation of strong feminist icons through the use of historical and religious iconography to convey female empowerment in contemporary society. The distinctive use of ‘promiscuous imagery’ and violence symbolize a positive rebellion against the suppression of women as sexually and politically empowered beings. It adds:

Gentileschi’ post-Caravaggio depiction of ‘Judith and Holofernes’ is one of the most iconic early images associated with Feminism. The painting illustrates the Old Testament parable from the Book of Judith. It’s a classic tale of heroism at its core, but what makes this work particularly unique is the autobiographical elements.

Her depiction of the biblical, Judith represents her own struggle with her rapist, Agostino Tassi, as well as the lack of subsequent charges brought against him. Tassi was sentenced to one year in prison, time which he never served, and the events of her abuse culminated in lifelong inspiration for Gentileschi.

All the works in the group show is dually inspired by a female heroine and the artist herself as a strong female figure within the context of her own society. For instance, Anjali Bhargava’s work (Suffocation Series 2010) explores the different portrayals and physical attributes associated with Devi. The use of sensuality and seduction to convey divine beauty is representative of the somewhat confused societal expectations of mortal women.

Chitra Ganesh’s work pays homage to Rani of Jhansi - the warrior queen of India, and the counterpart to western heroines such as Judith and Joan d'Arc. Divya Mehra’s PANTS demonstrates the dominance and suppression of women in historically patriarchal societies. Samira Abbassy and Sangeeta Sandrasegar's works explore the power of femininity and strength in goddesses such as Kali and Durga within the Hindu context, while applying autobiographical elements to their illustrations.

An expression of suppressed female sentiments and sensuality

A thought-provoking show at Latitude 28 in the capital city of India has a strong feminist undertone to it, as explained by curator Jasmine Wahi as follows:

With respect to women, as one can see through a wide range of diverse cultural outlets, there has been an overvaluation of chastity, virginity, demureness, and subdued behavior. Freedom of sexual expression, aggression, intelligence, and creativity have been stifled and smothered. Women who are overt and expressive have been (and are often today) frowned upon, if not shunned and rejected.

Divya Mehra's video piece ‘PANTS’ (2006) is the only piece in the show that exemplifies the not-so-long-ago suppression of women as independent beings. Although it is darkly humorous in execution, the piece explores the negative perception and fear borne by a woman acting like a man (wearing pants, drinking, venturing out alone).

The chastity belt was not a practical means for population control or to maintain 'purity,' which is itself an arbitrary concept. In fact, this stylish and popular contraption was merely a way to control a woman's physical freedoms. Shweta Bhattad's multimedia chastity belts, particularly ‘Releasing Suppressed Emotions 1’, utilize the shape of the vaginal prison; they, however, subvert the original intention of the object into a platform for personal expression and conquering that which suppresses us, through our own inner strength.

The prevalence of mixed-gender attributes in the divine is quite common, not only in Hinduism, but also among several other religious factions. The glaringly obvious examples being Judith, Athena, and Kali- as depicted in both Samira Abbassy's painting ‘Kali's Mirror’ and Sangeeta Sandrasegar's circumambulatory work (2011). Abbassy's ovular work again reverts back to the depiction of a violent and vengeful wrath. The braided youth to the left of the guillotined figure holds up a mirror, indicating either self-admiration or self-reflection. Sandrasegar's work is also a tribute to Kali and Durga.

Anjali Bhargava's ‘Suffocation Series’ (2009) also alludes to the goddess, as an homage to the sensuality and perfection of the divine. This feminist rebellion is expressed through blatant displays of eroticism reinforced in ‘And the falchion passed through his neck…’ with Samira Abbassy's ‘Mother of Silences, Seer of the Unseen’ - in which there is clear female dominance, and perhaps an allusion to sexual sadism. Hamra Abbass' series of nine performance photographs, ‘Paradise Bath’ (2009) also alludes to power play through the act of washing or cleansing a woman in the ritual of bathing.

Artemisia Gentileschi's work inspires a new show

‘And The Falchion Passed Through His Neck’, a new group exhibition curated by Jasmine Wahi, takes place at New Delhi-based Latitude 28. Here are excerpts from the curatorial essay:
When I was still in the nascent stages of my art history love affair, I encountered Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian artist from the early seventeenth century who inspired me not only as a student hungering for controversy in art, but also as a budding women's activist.

Though there are still many areas where women are denied these basic rights, we have come far from where we were several centuries before. The matriarchs of art have brought us where we are today, and drawing from their strength, today's creative and empowered women are able to continue pushing forward for universal practice of freedoms for all.

This exhibition is an acknowledgement of progression from the social confines of the past and a look at the 'rebellious' imagery that continues to push us forward. It is a reinterpretation of the historical, religious and social views of women. Each work approaches overtly sexually suggestive or pugnacious imagery as a means to convey female empowerment in contemporary society. The distinctive use of ‘promiscuous’ symbolism and violence serves as a positive rebellion against the suppression of women as sexually and politically empowered beings. Gentileschi's 'Judith Beheading Holofernes' (circa 1612), has served as the springboard for this exhibition.

Samira Abbassy's ‘Infidelity’ (2009), is another pseudo-self-portrait that takes a page from Gentileschi's justifiably vengeful painting. In Abbassy's image, an unidentified, yet remarkably Holofernes-like figure's head rests haphazardly on the floor. Abbassy's aesthetic draws from ancestral techniques employed by miniaturists. She rejects conventional perspectives of foreground and background and instead ranks the prominence and power of each figure by size. The employment of size variations is subtle fodder indicating the dominance of the female figure.

Chitra Ganesh's self portrait as Rani of Jhansi (2005), the woman warrior of India who led a siege against the British, is another exemplification of a 'hurrah!' moment in women's history. Although she is slain in this image, I see it not as a tragic print, but as an empowering instance of dynamic perseverance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Indian art shows in 2011- I

Many of the world’s leading and most prestigious modern art museums hosted ambitious exhibitions that threw light on complexities and subtle undercurrents of contemporary Indian society, now more dynamic and creative than ever, still full of contrasts.

The year started on a near-perfect note as far as Indian art is concerned with several solo and group shows by several renowned artists. In fact, the momentum for dazzling art displays was carried over from the previous year’s shows extending into 2011 like ‘ Samtidigt (Concurrent)’ courtesy Kulturhuset, Stockholm that gave a sense of the atmosphere and situation in India today while simultaneously revealing strong connections to its history.

‘India Awakens - Under the Banyan Tree’ (Curator: Alka Pande) at Vienna’s Essl Museum presented 34 young artists with a focus on contemporary currents and tendency. ‘Concurrent India’ at Helsinki City Art Museum in Finland featured works, dealing with power structures that govern the actions of the individual.

California based-San Jose Museum of Art presented a landmark show of modern & contemporary art from India, entitled ‘Roots in the Air, Branches Below’. A meticulous survey of recent art from India, it showcased works that mapped the dramatic economic and social transformation of the country since its independence.

The grand traveling exhibit, entitled Indian Highway IV’, continues its journey across 3 continents: Europe, South America and Asia. After London (Serpentine Gallery), Oslo (Astrup Fearnley Museet), Herning (Museum of Contemporary Art) it now comes to Lyon.

Artist TV Santhosh’s first solo exhibition ‘The Land’ in Berlin was held at Nature Morte in collaboration with The Guild. A solo by Rashid Rana at London-based Lisson Gallery highlighted large-scale photographic works that he considers ‘unpacking abstraction’. Sara Hildén Art Museum in Finland hosted by Subodh Gupta, whom it described as ‘the superstar of India's contemporary art’, and also among the most important names in international contemporary art, at present.

Indian art shows in 2011- II

As we moved well and truly into 2011, contemporary Indian art continued its march with a series of significant shows. '21st Century: Art in the First Decade' at Queensland Art Gallery marks the end of this millennium’s first decade. The ambitious project at renowned art space in Brisbane focuses on works created and acquired specifically in this period.

Chicago based Walsh Gallery hosted a ‘Monumental’ show, involving top contemporary artists, true to its title. Largely a collection of founder Julie Walsh, the showcase divided into three major categories: personal narrative, specific historical events and current events through works by Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Atul Dodiya and Ravinder Reddy.

The idea behind ‘Paris-Delhi–Bombay’ courtesy The Centre Pompidou was to create awareness of the Indian art and culture scene to the people of France, and to bind two contrasting streams of thought, in the process. Curated by Sophie Duplaix and Fabrice Bousteau, it presented a new, exciting image of an emerging India, moving away from the stereotypes, to witness rapid transitions and transformations.

A host of talented female Indian artists seemed to be flavor of the season, in the second half of the year. Bharti Kher’s solo ‘Live Your Smell’, takes place at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris was based on the premise of allegory.
Simultaneously ‘In Transit’ by Mithu Sen was hosted at Espace Louis Vuitton, Taipei.
Galerie Dominique Fiat in Paris presented a solo show of new works, entitled ‘Babel’, by Anita Dube, an artist known for extending the visible thin line wherein words tend to act as corporeal manifestos to comment on the world around, as seen and perceived by her.

The Musée Guimet, also based in Paris, presents recent works by Rina Banerjee as part of its ongoing spring-summer 2011 Indian Season. ‘There is a spider living between us’ at Montreal’s La Centrale marked Tejal Shah’s debut solo in Canada. Meanwhile, another significant show at Hauser & Wirth (New York) incorporated recent works by Subodh Gupta, who turned his attention to instruments of measurement - those related to the food & drink– as metaphors in a chimerical visual poem about global appetite.

Indian art shows in 2011- III

In another indication of its growing stature in the domain of art internationally, the special Pavilion of India at the Venice Biennale represented diverse visual idioms, ideascapes and constituencies, reflecting immense plurality of the world’s largest democracy. Praneet Soi, Zarina Hashmi, The Desire Machine Collective (Sonal Jain & Mriganka Madhukaillya), and Gigi Scaria, selected by curator Ranjit Hoskote stood for a gamut of aesthetically rich and conceptually rigorous practices staged in parallel to the mainstream art market.

The 2011 Prague Biennale comprised a ‘Crossroads: India Escalate’ segment curated by Kanchi Mehtam, who wanted to represent the way contemporary Indian art scene is shaping up, imbibing an array of influences from the life and people around, to analyze them with an open mind. ‘The Word of God Series’ at The Andy Warhol Museum located in Pittsburgh, which examined major world religions and their texts through contemporary art, featured Chitra Ganesh.

Even as the year drew to close, global galleries and museums continued to host exhibitions, striving to redefine Asian consciousness in context of both individual and collective identity as well as investigating philosophical and cultural concerns.

‘Window in the Wall: India and China – Imaginary Conversations’ courtesy Shanghai-based Pearl Lam Fine Arts curated by Gayatri Sinha and Gao Minglu incorporated thought-provoking works of art by several established and talented artists from India. ‘Generation in Transition: New Art from India’ at Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warszawa, Poland included works by several noteworthy artists.

A series of meticulously curated and thoughtfully conceived showcases all through 2011 refer to an intriguing mix of media and themes, forms and subject matter explored by emerging as well as established artists, to signify the spirit and ethos of new-age India, laced with a touch of tradition. During the whole year, they have been increasingly prominent in the global spheres of contemporary art. It witnessed a series of quality shows right through; here’s a quick wrap-up!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ram Kumar to be honored by LKA, Delhi

Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, is organizing a special function to honor eminent artist Ram Kumar on his being elected as Fellow of the Akademi on Saturday, 24 December 2011 at Sahitya Akademi Auditorium, Rabindra Bhavan, Delhi.

Among the top names from India’s modern art movement, Ram Kumar is well-renowned for his ephemeral landscapes.The extreme irony in the life around reflects in his paintings. If his Benares series is a haunting meditation on death, the landscape paintings focus on brighter side of life. The vibrant colors and shimmering surfaces exude a sense of restless vitality. His paintings denote the desolation or sense of loss.

In his early works, the painter opted for an elegiac figuration, exuding the excruciating spirit of tragic Modernism. Infused with a great ideological fervor, he dedicated himself to constructing an iconography of victimhood and depression. The paintings imbued with a touch of melancholic Realism not only reflected his acute disillusionment with the anonymity and monotony of urban existence, but also alluded to the dejection with unfulfilled promises after India’s Independence.

He was greatly inspired by its mystical imagery of day-to-day life in Varanasi. When he first went there almost five decades ago, he felt a haunting sense of hopelessness and desolation in the dimly lit, deserted lanes of a dark night. The starkness of this haunting experience only grew with every subsequent trip to the holy city. These impressions marked a major transition in his thought process and practice.

Prayag Shukla and Yashodhara Dalmia will speak about the artist. A documentary film ‘Ram Kumar: Nostalgic Longing’ produced by Lalit Kala Akademi and Directed by Laurent Bregeat Will be screened.

The Lalit Kala Akademi (National Academy of Fine Art) is the premier fine art institution of the Government of India to promote, spread and develop Indian fine art culture. In pursuance of its role, LKA holds exhibitions, institutes scholarships, fellowships, Lifetime Achievement Awards, and publishes documentary material. It also conducts Trienale India, and the National Exhibition of Photography and Art.

What does influence the way we see art?

Art lovers viewing a painting they believe is fake have a wholly different response to it from those who (are made to) believe it’s genuine, researchers have found.

The neuroscience and aesthetics based experiment compared how the human brains would react to works people thought were genuine with their responses to works they were informed were fakes. The researchers scanned the brains of viewers as they saw Rembrandt portraits - some imitations and fakes and a few others which were authentic.

A series of brain scans revealed the enjoyment of art was largely based on the background given. The measurements were done with a ‘functional magnetic resonance imaging’ (FMRI) system, which mapped the parts of the brain used in a specific mental process.

It was concluded that the pleasure recorded in brain activity of the viewer depended on their thinking that a painting was authentic. The study established the strength of suggestibility in our artistic responses.

The pretension-puncturing, novel experiment suggests that art appreciation is linked strongly to the accompanying information – and not an objective judgment. The pleasure derived from a masterpiece is essentially shaped by someone being told that it’s an authentic work. A sense of aesthetic pleasure was not there when the viewers watched a ‘fake’ work. The brain indulged in strategy and planning, s trying to find out why this painting was not an authentic one.

Prof. Martin Kemp of Oxford University concludes it goes to show ‘the way we view is not rational’. He added: “Even when we can’t distinguish between two artworks, just the knowledge that one of them was done by a renowned artist makes us respond differently”

Once told a painting was fake or authentic, the responses were shaped on basis of this assumption, irrespective of the actual authenticity of the image shown. The brain activity mirrored their suspicions rather than reflecting their pleasure, even if the viewer was made to watch an authentic masterpiece.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Exotic India and South Asian art at MFA, Boston

The South Asian collection, comprising some 5,000 objects, is among the most important segments in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. “The collections of South and Southeast Asian art are among the best in the world, in part because they were begun at a time when few other institutions were collecting.

The Chinese, Japanese, and Korean collections are also outstanding, and one by one the MFA will be renovating these galleries over the coming years,” claims Jane Portal the Matsutaro Shoriki Chair, Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa. The first Indian objects arrived at the Museum around 1900, but focused collecting in the area did not begin until about 1910, when Denman Waldo Ross, a Harvard professor of design and long-time supporter of the Museum, began to give objects to the MFA from his eclectic collection.

Many of the Museum’s finest Indian sculptures, including the Yakshi figure from Sanchi, were originally in Ross’ collection. In 1914, Ross facilitated the MFA’s purchase of the private collection of Victor Goloubew, a Russian-born Orientalist living in Paris, who in his youth compiled one of the world’s greatest collections of Mughal and Persian manuscript pages.

Ross continued his generosity with the 1917 purchase of the private collection of Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy. Ross immediately donated the collection — which consisted primarily of Rajput paintings, including a number of celebrated masterpieces — to the MFA, and arranged for Coomaraswamy to become the Museum’s first Curator for Indian Art in 1917.

Since these early years the MFA has continued to acquire important works of Indian painting and sculpture. In the 1960s, collector John Goelet donated many Indian paintings, ranging from a page from the earliest known illustrated Bhagavata Purana to a famous study of the personal harem of the Mughal emperor.

Additions to the sculpture collection include a North Indian sandstone sculpture of Ganesh with his wives and an exquisite Pala period sculpture of Avalokitesvara on view in the new South and Southeast Asian Sculpture Gallery.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Starry images from silver screen draw a new aesthetic and cultural meaning

Artist Vinita Dasgupta has dedicated herself to a quest for a surrealist imagery that can carry the freight of her early memories, cultural space, realism, of living in a city, a politico-social conditioning, a politics of identity, culture and language and above all an inner silence that pervades our existence.

And yet, her works have never been nostalgic hymns to an existential epoch rather her aim has been to inhabit, and share with the viewer, a pictorial space that is ever-renewed. Her new body of work on view at New Delhi-based Art Konsult has resulted from a piling up of images from a huge corpus of Indian Cinema bringing in an ambivalent language that facilitates the seizure of aesthetic and cultural meaning.

The series, entitled 'Rustic Reveries of Bollywood' communicates the parable of a world where the close-ups of its members are mere overlapping of an individual’s close- up but an overview of a situation – a rare gesture. Here, Vinita Dasgupta pays tribute to film noir.

The subjects of this series are the glamorous actresses of popular films made in Bombay that is crucially located in the terrain of culture that the nation, as an imagined community in these spaces, is most powerfully articulated into existence. The significance of Mumbai’s cinematic idiom, from this perspective, lies in the fact that it represents the hegemonic vocabulary of cultural terrain in Indian.

Through portraits of leading actresses of mainstream Hindi cinema and image from pin up girls of yesteryears and those today, along with movie posters, she focuses on cultural icons that cut across regional and national boundaries resulting in a new class of popular cultic, eclectic and visual imagery. On the other hand, posters of popular films that is crucially located in the terrain of culture that the nation, as an imagined community in these spaces, is most powerfully articulated into existence.

Her work is figurative and illuminated; it never gives itself away though as external sign- rich in privacy and inwardness. Some of the digital photographic images transferred on to the canvases here are replete with images of a world that substitutes the external one translating feeling and emotions into a visual language.

How to look at art?

During her insightful interactions with one of India’s foremost art historians, Brijendra Nath Goswamy, The Mint columnist Shoba Narayan gathered the secrets of viewing and appreciating art. She shared some of them in her new essay ‘Look at art intently, and with patience’. Here are excerpts from it:

“I have been allowed to take him (Brijendra Nath Goswamy) out for an hour. Where does one take a man who is arguably? I take him to The Taj West End, mainly because it is close to art collector Abhishek Poddar’s house, where he is staying; and because it has an ‘Art Corridor’. Over cups of cappuccino, we talk about his lecture on rasas or aesthetic emotion that the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) has helpfully uploaded on YouTube.

How can my readers learn to be connoisseurs like you, I ask. Professor Goswamy spells out a few Sanskrit words in explanation. To appreciate art, you have to be an adhikari, he says; an adequate viewer. You have to be sahruday, or of the same heart as the maker.

“It is not just empathy but much more than that,” he says. If you are able to cultivate this sensibility of “looking intently and with patience” at a work of art, it will speak to you. Look at all parts of a painting, he says. You never know where the artist has slyly left his stamp. Be aware of your reactions when you observe a work of art: What emotions does it evoke? Perhaps it brings to mind a piece of music, or poetry.

I then take him on a walk through The Taj West End’s Art Corridor, where a number of contemporary paintings are displayed. I want to see art through his eyes and he obliges. He stands before a Shuvaprasanna owl drawing that he likes. “The artist sees something in birds that you and I don’t ordinarily see,” he says.

“There is something sinister and wise about this owl, and I like the fact that he hasn’t covered the entire painting with black and allowed some room for the painting to breathe.” Thota Vaikuntam’s three paintings are dismissed with a “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It’s too labored; all surface.” Before we know it, we have an audience which trails us…

(Courtesy: The Mint)

‘Why are we Indians disconnected with our artistic traditions?

Professor Brijendra Nath Goswamy just visited Bangalore to deliver an inaugural lecture of Tasveer Foundation. Shoba Narayan of The Mint had an opportunity to spend some time with the veteran art expert. We present the crux of her talk with the scholar in her own written words (‘Look at art intently, and with patience; The Good Life):

“As someone who loves abstract and contemporary art, I am a little rattled by Prof. Goswamy’s obvious love for ancient Indian art. What am I missing? Why can’t I enjoy miniature paintings or Chola bronzes as much as him? Why are today’s Indians so disconnected with our ancient artistic traditions?

Two collectors—(Abhishek and Anupam) both sharing the last name, Poddar— have talked to me about how Prof. Goswamy has infused his love of ancient art in them. If he has managed to convert two of India’s top contemporary art collectors, who am I to fight his evangelism?

I think of this as I stand before the beautifully curated artworks at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai. It juxtaposes ancient replicas with contemporary originals by marquee names—Jitish Kallat, Anju and Atul Dodiya, among others. But the contemporary pieces don’t appeal to me today. Instead, I am drawn to a beautiful Ardhanari bronze sculpture tucked away in a dark corner. I have seen such images countless times in temples.

Their symmetrical limbs and serene faces are part of my subconscious. I take them for granted. Today, I observe the quiet figures of Nataraja and Ardhanari through new eyes. These bronze sculptures don’t surprise and jolt me, particularly when compared with the nearby Anju Dodiya installation. Contemporary Indian art can be stunning. When viewed through Prof. Goswamy’s eyes, it can also be shrill, emphatic, in-your-face, fighting for your attention amid a barrage of visual stimuli.

Prof. Goswamy’s refined aesthetic belongs to a quieter pre-YouTube time but can be cultivated even today. He is drawn to lightness and subtlety. Rasa or aesthetics is a topic close to his heart. I envy his artistic sensibility. I think of him as I walk through the Chennai museum’s superb bronze gallery, containing rare Chola and Pallava bronze originals.

Speak to me, I tell the Parvati image. What am I missing? What am I looking for? I peer hard. A certain chamatkar happens. As I watch Parvati unblinkingly, she winks and gives me a Mona Lisa smile. I swear it. I was not tripping on anything. I was merely high on art and glorious magical flowers blossomed. Adbuth Pushpaani!”

(Courtesy: The Mint)

Friday, December 16, 2011

‘Notes on Astaticism’ puts forth an oft-shifting social and political ground

A new solo at the New Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery, entitled ‘Notes on Astaticism’, features unconventional works spread over three floors of the venue by Praneet Soi.

An accompanying note to the exhibition mentions: “Astaticism suggests rupture on the one hand and on the other hand it paves a way for emancipation. The word astatic is derived from Greek 'astatos' that literally means unstable; something that has lost its presupposed equilibrium and can no longer sustain a fixed position.

‘Notes on Astaticism’ is a part of an ongoing visual research project in which Soi proposes a constantly shifting social and political ground that defies easy pigeonholing. The works are strategically displayed on all the three floors to allow the viewer a entry into this proposition.

The ground floor consists of three rooms; in room no.1 a series of four paintings are put in relation, the paintings are monochromatic, formally constructed, and pertaining to different scales of representation. In the next room, a large painting is created on a specially prepared wooden surface. Third room functions as the archival space. This consists of a collection of images that are found, constructed, drawn, fragmented and collaged, a process that forms the backbone of the artists practice.

The First floor comprises of one large and a small room, images from Kumartuli Printer and the photographic work ‘Okhla Mandi’ are exhibited in the large room (no.4) whilst the small room (no.5) is used for the projection of the Kumartuli Printer slide-show. The Second floor (room no.6) is used for developing a project that involves two mobile 'astatic machines', through which the public can actively participate and enter into a dialogue within the artistic process.

Here images from the archive are made available to the audience public in order to overlap, impair, project, outline, blur and finally render in the making of their own astatic. ‘Notes on Astaticism’ is on view until December 24, 2011.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Peeping in the minds of art’s megabuyers

As money piles up in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), their oligarchs are buying into the wealthy Western mainstream by forking out for its art. Eli Broad, a billionaire himself, says that for these new buyers “it seems money is no object.”

It has come to the point where such ‘artigarchs’ are pricing the normally rich out of the game. Trying to analyze the phenomenon, Blake Gopnik of The Newsweek and The Daily Beast spoke to several collectors and market players.

Art-pricing expert Velthuis says that collectors speak of their purchases as a kind of gift to the artist, or even as a sacrifice they’ve made for the sake of the higher values of art. And there can be close to a taboo on undoing that sacrifice by selling what you’ve bought: Gund, a collector famous for her rectitude, insisted that she will only put works on the market to raise funds for her charities. One veteran collector says that he used to be able to buy a Gerhard Richter painting for “six figures, or in the low sevens.”

But now, with so much new money pouring into that market (the Russians are crazy for Richter), you’d be lucky to pay 10 times such amounts. “I’m finding that the art that I love I can no longer afford, and the art I can afford I don’t know if I love.” One colleague of his from New York explains that to get a new work by a popular artist such as Jeff Koons even most billionaires have to wait in line and jump through dealers’ hoops.

Anyone out of time or out of favor—or just new to the whole system—will have to head to the auctions and spend whatever it takes. “Eli Broad wants to get it ahead of (François) Pinault who wants to get it ahead of (Bernard) Arnault,” he says, rattling off the names of some of art’s megabuyers. Like those American Indian potlatchers trying to use up as much wealth as possible, rich collectors have all kinds of incentives to ‘translate’ as much spare cash as they can into culture.

Conversations between British post-war painters

London-based Haunch of Venison presents an exhibition of ten of Britain’s most important post-war painters, entitled 'The Mystery of Appearance', revealing the story behind their art. It’s an appraisal of artists like Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield etc.

The aim, as an accompanying note states, is also to examine the influence of the personal relationships between these artists - William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow through a display of over forty paintings and drawings. The exhibition includes major works by each of them, several borrowed from public collections, many not seen in public for many years.

Supported by a catalog essay in which the curator Catherine Lampert discusses their habits and methods and introduces previously unseen writing by the artists, it looks at the way their conversations impacted on the development of their work, demonstrating that despite their wide-ranging styles they are each linked by a desire to catch what Bacon describes as ‘the mystery of appearance within the mystery of making’, and in doing so broke new ground in contemporary painting

'The Mystery of Appearance' is displayed across the four galleries in Haunch of Venison’s newly renovated space. The first gallery shows a selection of nudes by Auerbach, Coldstream, Freud, Hamilton and Uglow. They range from the heavily worked and abstracted to the finely calibrated and delicate and offer varied approaches to the observation and description of nudity.

The second gallery presents landscapes and portraits demonstrating how the group experimented with the materiality of paint. This is followed by a room that focuses on the special significance of the Old Masters to these artists, most of whom selected one of the ‘Artist’s Eye’ exhibitions at the National Gallery.

In the mid-20th century these artists revived portrait and landscape painting at a time when abstract painting dominated. Their continued influence on a younger generation of artists is demonstrated by the powerful hold figurative art has today. Given only three of these artists are still alive the exhibition is timely and poignant, setting out to re-evaluate a group of ten connected and hugely influential painters, exploring the motives, conversations and stories behind their art.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Price paid for a work. the trophy itself.'

A pile of stools for $575,000. A cabinet full of surgical instruments for a cool $2.5 million. The global economy’s in a tailspin, but among the world’s elite collectors, works are selling for record prices. Columnist Blake Gopnik (Newsweek and The Daily Beast) tries to explain the phenomenon:

“Walking around Miami Beach, taking in the 10th edition of its extravagant Art Basel art
fair, you sensed something strange in the air. Patou’s “Joy” drifting off the pashmina? Polished walnut wafting out of the Bentleys? More basic than either: the ineffable
aroma of money itself, rising from the art out for sale.

There’s scamming: The veteran New York dealer Arne Glimcher speaks of the “scuzzy” people who keep the Warhol market hot by manipulating his auctions. Some people actually prefer to pay more than makes sense. As social scientist explains that, in all walks of life, we treat the biggest sums -differently, with special respect or even awe,
than more-everyday money. “I think very often the price paid for a work is the
trophy itself,” says Glimcher.

In 2006, the crowds lining up to see a portrait by Gustav Klimt in the private Neue Galerie in New York weren’t there out of any fondness for the artist. They were there because they’d heard that the museum’s founder, cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, had paid a record $135 million for it.

The people who are spending record amounts on art buy more than just that glow.
They’ve purchased boasting rights. “It’s, ‘You bought the $100 million Picasso!” says Glimcher. Olav Velthuis, a Dutch sociologist who wrote ‘Talking Prices’, the best study of what art spending means, compares the top of the art market to the potlatches performed by the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, where the goal was to ostentatiously give away, even destroy, as much of your wealth as possible—to show that you could.

In the art-market equivalent, he says, prices keep mounting as collectors compete
for this ‘super-status effect’. The crowds lining up to see Lauder’s Klimt in 2006 must have figured that looking at the most expensive work in the world would also expose them to one of the greatest. They were wrong. Almost no one would say that Klimt is crucial to the history of art.

As Glimcher put it, “all you need is two people to make a market”—and he doubts that, in another 50 years, we’ll find two more Klimt fans willing to break records for his art.

India’s contemporary photographer Gauri Gill wins $50,000 Grange Prize

India’s Gauri Gill has won the prestigious $50,000 Grange Prize for excellence in photography. The New Delhi-based photographer was lauded for her work that looks to address ordinary heroism within challenging environments.

The Grange Prize, started in 2008 by the AGO & Aeroplan, aims at fostering both development and appreciation of contemporary photography. Four talented photographers are chosen as nominees each year by the elite jury members. This year the finalists were chosen by Michelle Jacques, AGO acting curator of Canadian art; Wayne Baerwaldt of Alberta College of Art + Design; photographer/ writer/ curator Sunil Gupta as well as Delhi-based critic/ curator Gayatri Sinha.

The only major Canadian art award selected on basis of public vote had over 12,000 people casting their votes online and at a polling station at a gallery of Ontario where the nominees’ works were on view. Gill prevailed over the other three finalists to take the award. The other finalists were Vancouver-based Althea Thauberger Winnipeg native Elaine Stocki and Nandini Valli of Chennai. Each of the finalists has been awarded an international residency. While Gill and Valli were as artists-in-residence at the AGO in Toronto for three weeks earlier this year, Stocki and Thauberger are likely to visit India next year.

Having studied at Parsons School of Design, New York and California’s Stanford University, she works in the documentary tradition. While the artist has taken photos of Indo-Americans in diverse locales like Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., Gill is perhaps more renowned for her decades-long exploration of issues related to marginalized people of India’s desert state, Rajasthan.

In a video that accompanied her AGO exhibition, the artist stated that she opted for photography as an art form since it can serve as a powerful medium “to take you out into the real world’ and can well be ‘deeply personal.’ In an unequal world, it has the kind of reach and power to let individuals offer their personal interpretations’ and analyze their stature.

The Grange Prize exhibition was recently on view at the AGO . Works by the finalists can be viewed at

‘Are today's artists more driven by the market than innovation?

‘Can you recall a single innovative show during the year? Anything that broke the mold, invited fresh thinking, enchanted art-lovers and showed the world that India counts for something in the global firmament of art?”

Columnist Kishore Singh of The Busines Standard asks in his essay, titled ‘A lacklustre year’. He notes: “Sure, there were some interesting retrospectives, we got to see Gulammohammad Sheikh’s work after some length of time, Anish Kapoor’s homecoming exhibitions in New Delhi and Mumbai were welcome (and made him an instant icon), Pundole’s joined the list of auction houses in India, but was there anything that was unexpected, surprising, that bowled you over?

Not that the promoters were able to supply us with works to make us sigh and say, ‘that’s genius,’ either. But if the masters had abdicated in favour of second and third generation followers, it was a poor bargain. In a year when India’s presence internationally was dismal (despite a pavilion at Basel), where was the cutting-edge art, the boldness, the ideas?

Market sentiments might have contributed to making promoters risk-averse, but what of the artists themselves? No one artist came out to protest that galleries were unwilling to support their experimentation. The pity is that the new generation, hanging on to the tails of the old, has taken to falling back on clichés in the guise of high art.

It’s a betrayal made all the more acute because it has sought the safety of the bazaar which, in recent years, has provided it with creature comforts beyond the imagination of most senior artists - well-deserved, surely, but earned on the laurels of that past generation.

The new age artist is in danger - hardly of extinction but, alas, of morphing into a drawing room clone driven by the market - providing once again a setback to art at the cost of questionable, even immoral, aesthetics. As 2012 nears, it’s time to ask whether the culpability now lies with collectors, promoters or, more unfortunately, the artists themselves?' the columnist concludes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tracing SG Vasudev's artistic journey

Depicting SG Vasudev's artistic journey is no mean task. And to capture it on screen is an even challenging one. Filmmaker Chetan Shah though decided to take it up...

He has conceived ‘Open Frame’, a film that tracks the celebrated artist’s personal and artistic journey - right from his formative years up until the phase in which he became famous for a larger than life fantasia on his captivating canvases. It's interspersed with interesting insights from SG Vasudev's friends and colleagues, plus some bytes on the Cholamandalam Artists Village formed by him.

It also focuses on his creative processes, and his effort to nourish the art world through his collaboration with craftsmen. SG Vasudev's himself is very forthcoming about the enduring struggle in the early days, stating, "It was then very tough, very hard; working for long hours, and illustrating for magazines just to buy material for art. This went on till I secured the National Scholarship. My paintings also started to sell."

As one of the contemporary art movement stalwarts of his times, he took part in discussions on different kinds of art, and on their intrinsic philosophies prior to the formation of the art institution in 1964. These debates revolving around contemporary Indian art proved to be pivotal in shaping his artistic future. He has stated, "With the rigorous life we led at the time when we launched Cholamandal, we learnt how to survive in any given situation."

Some of his noteworthy series inspired by native art forms and philosophies include ‘Fantasy’, ‘Maithuna’, ‘humanscapes’, ‘Earthscapes’, ‘Theatre of Life and Rhapsody’, and ‘The Tree of Life and Death’. He feels that Indian art is full of fantasies, and fantasy is the very core of his style. He was also greatly inspired by been Kannada literature, poems and theatre. His association with literary doyens such as Girish Karnad, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Shivaram Karanth, who played a major part in his life and art.

The film traces the different influences and inspirations that drive SG Vasudev's thinking and his creative processes.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What and why are world’s top art collectors buying?

Just as investors closely monitor Warren Buffett’ moves for clues about the stock market direction, art buyers seeking an insight try to track the buying and selling patterns of a handful of top collectors. The Wall Street Journal writer Kelly Crow recently interviewed these taste makers to get an inside look at their strategies to navigate the fluctuating market. This is what they divulged:

  • Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, a collector based in New York, hews closely to her collection's focus—Latin American art—and rarely blows her budget. She said it's possible to get brand-new Latin American artworks for under $5,000 and older, marquee pieces for under $100,000. The New York collector and her media-mogul husband, Gustave, have amassed a renowned group of Orinoco artifacts, including this feather adornment, from the dozen indigenous groups living in southern Venezuela.

  • Chicago hotelier Tom Pritzker is buying up 700-year-old Tibetan paintings but says he ‘can't compete’ with Chinese buyers for gilt-bronze Buddhas. To better understand the imagery and history of Tibetan art, Mr. Pritzker and his wife, Margot, have hiked the Himalayas.

  • Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad is passing on Damien Hirst these days but chasing after abstract paintings by rising star Mark Bradford. Emotions sometimes win out, however. Twenty years ago, Mr. Broad lost out on an auction bid to win a geometric steel "Cubi" sculpture by David Smith.

    Over time, his loss became the collecting equivalent of the fish that got away, so he pounced when another "Cubi" came up for sale six years ago. To win it, he had to pay $23.8 million—then the highest-ever price paid for a work of contemporary art. He doesn't regret the splurge, but he said, "We normally are not proud of paying a record price for anything."

  • J. Tomilson Hill, Blackstone Group's vice chairman, is going after works by Ferdinando Tacca, a Renaissance sculptor of bronze gods. (The Medicis loved Tacca, too.)

  • Rather than compete with his peers for trendy new art, hedge-fund manager Michael Steinhardt and his wife, Judy, are building several collections around comparatively obscure niches like ancient Peruvian feather ponchos, Cycladic stone figures and 15th-century rugs. Buying artists like Zhang Xiaoganag (above, his 'Bloodline Big Family No. 1') means spending heavily to outbid wealthy Chinese collectors. Collector Michael Steinhardt prefers less trendy niches.

‘Adbhutam – rasa in Indian art’

Kolkata-based CIMA Gallery had previously taken a show to London, entitled ‘Chamatkara: Myth & Magic in Indian Art’. It was probably for the first time that an exhibition presented art-historical perspective to contemporary Indian Art, exploring its roots and revealed its connections.

Chamatkara’ offered an element of surprise to viewers in London, attracting almost 36,000 visitors in 18 days. The idea of Chamatkara – Myth & Magic of Indian Art and Adbhutamrasa in Indian art emerged from the Hindu classical theory of the rasas (sensory experience), of reality being experienced through sight, taste, smell and perception. Reality was understood to be illusive.

The series resurfaces in another context with another thematic exhibition based on this concept. An accompanying note states: “The show is daring in the current scenario because it concentrates on the relevance and the politics of the art of making and the enormous legacy of philosophical thought, mythical thinking (the original conceptual art) and fine art practice that contemporary Indian art is based on...”

The group exhibition features works by talented artists like Abir Karmakar, Arjun Swaminathan, Arpita Singh, Baiju Parthan, Bandeep Singh, Chintan Upadhyay, Clare Arni, Ganesh Pyne, Gigi Scaria, Jagdish Swaminathan, Jogen Chowdhury, K G Subramanyan, Kingshuk Sarkar, Kristine Michael, Madhu and Hazra Chitrakar.

Among the other participating artists are Manisha Jha, Mayank Kumar Shyam, Nandini Chirmar, Prabhakar Kolte, Rajan Krishnan, Ravinder Reddy, S Nadagopal, S H Raza, Sanam CN, Shreyasi Chatterjee, Sumedh Rajendran, Sumitro Basak, Surekha, Thota Vaikuntam, Tarun Jung Rawat, Thota Tharani, Uday K Dhar, V S Gaitonde, Viren Tanwar and Roul Hemanta.

The unconventional subject is bound to attract viewers. Each artist has tackled the theme from a unique perspective, to give a compelling visual treat. ‘Adbhutamrasa in Indian art’ has opened at the gallery’s Kolkata venue on 2 December and will travel to New Delhi in January 2012. The show is indeed a must watch…

A peep into American folk art collecting history

An interesting research-based book that peeps into the glorious past of American folk art, also explores some of its negative aspects. On the one hand, it takes us through the wonderful world of folk-art collectors who had the vision to see the hidden beauty and value of the fascinating folk-art portraits, carvings etc, hitherto relegated by mainstream America to barns, dustbins and attics.

On the other hand, it rekindles debate over the apparently ‘seamy underbelly’ of the process of folk-art collecting, as The New York Times columnist Eve M. Kahn, testifies to the ‘Carousel of misbehavior in the folk art world, wherein owners have somewhat muddied the attributions of works over the past century or so; added irrelevant flourishes to those quaint, old woodcarvings, and inadvertently let paint spatters gather on carelessly stored canvases.

Providing a backgrounder to , ‘A Kind of Archeology: Collecting American Folk Art, 1876-1976’ (Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press; October, 2011; 464 pages; 223 color illustrations; 139 b & w illus.; Price: $ 65), an accompanying note elaborates: “It begins by examining the evolution of the concept of folk art, relating it to 19th- and early 20th-century movements like romanticism, nationalism, arts and crafts, and colonial revivalism.

Four sections follow, each presenting a category of collector-antiquarian and ethnologist, modernist, decorator and aesthete, and patriot and nationalist-and offering portraits of individual collectors and dealers. In fact, going beyond merely encapsulating the timeline of collection and collectors, the art historian has painstakingly pinpointed the fallacies of certain culture culprits in her detailed documentation, based on an extensive research for over decade and a half. For this, she pored through museum and several family archives.

It was possible for Ms. Stillinger to report on owners’ misdeeds, intentional or otherwise since ‘a majority of them are no more alive,’ she stated in a recent interview, adding, ‘you only hope you will not offend their descendants.’ The author also notes of museum administrators’ bad behavior. The American Folk Art Museum was so haphazardly managed in the mid-1970s that the institution had to pay off a pile of debts by disposing large part of its permanent collection.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Highlights of latest Christie's auction in London

Among the world’s leading global auction houses, Christie's, just held a much anticipated and keenly awaited sale in London. It consisted of some exquisite old master paintings, Conducted amidst high expectations, it witnessed one of the star works fetching over $3.12 million (2 million pounds; ($1 = 0.6410 British pounds) above its pre-auction estimate.

Pieter Brueghel II’s ‘The Battle between Carnival and Lent’ went to an anonymous buyer for almost 6.9 million pounds, Christie's said on its site. The sale price easily exceeded the pre-auction estimate set at 3.5-4.5 million pounds, In the process, it set the world record price for the famous artist at auction, according to Christie's.

Summing up the auction results, a detailed news report from Reuters mentioned that the second highest-priced painting on the Christie’s auction night was a work by Willem van de Velde II, curiously titled, ‘Dutch men-o'-war and other shipping in a calm’. It was grabbed for nearly 6 million pounds by a European private collector. This again was a new world record price for the legendary artist at auction.

Perhaps real star attraction of the auction was Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s ‘Portrait of Juan Lopez de Robredo’. However it was listed as unsold on the auctioneer's site, with 6.2-9.3 million pounds of an estimated sale tag. Nearly 24 million pounds in the total sale (for all the lots of nearly 26 million pounds) did not comprise a sale for the Goya painting and also a Nicolaes Maes work, which had an estimated price tag of 1.5-2.3 million pounds, just shy of its pre-sale estimate.

Much of the hype in the latest series of old master & British art auctions was primarily centered around a Velazquez original first valued at mere 300 pounds ($470). This portrait of an anonymous later went under the hammer and fetched an astronomical price of around 3 million pounds at Bonhams.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Martin Boyce references design history and text

The Turner prize winner for 2011, Martin Boyce, engages with the historical legacy of Modernist forms and ideals to create deeply atmospheric installations drawing upon text and elements of design. His investigations will often re-stage the outside within the gallery space, evoking the urban landscape through precisely explored sculptural details.

His work combines references to design history and text and is marked by a subtle attention to detail. Steeped in an understanding of the concepts of Modernist design, his work draws upon its visual language with a complex repertoire of forms.

Noted for his engagement with how these objects are produced, the talented artist is interested in how their original political or aesthetic ethos changes over time. His meticulous sculptures bear out his imaginings for the alternative lives these objects might lead if created at a different moment.

Martin Boyce was born in Hamilton, Scotland in 1967. He was awarded a BA in 1990 and an MA in 1997, both from Glasgow School of Art. His solo exhibitions include ‘A Library of Leaves’ at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich (2010), ‘No Reflections’ for the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009) and ‘That Blows Through Concrete Leaves’, The Modern Institute, Glasgow (2007). For his solo at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, which built upon his project for the 53rd Venice Biennale by holding the viewers within an atmospheric sculptural installation.

Other solos include ‘Out of This Sun, Into This Shadow’, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2008), ‘For 1959 Capital Avenue’, Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2002), ‘Our Love is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours’, Tramway, Glasgow (2002) and ‘When Now is Night’, Fruitmarket, Edinburgh (1999). His work has been included in numerous group exhibitions such as ‘Modern British Sculpture’, Royal Academy, London (2011), ‘The New Décor’, Hayward Gallery, London (2010) and ‘We Burn, We Shiver’, Sculpture Centre, New York (2008).

(Information courtesy: The Turner)

A spotlight on the Turner Prize nominees

Turner Prize, for record, was founded by a group known as the ‘Patrons of New Art’. Formed in the year 1982, they were keen to help buy new works of art for the Tate's collection, and also to build interest in contemporary art.

Obviously, the Patrons sought a name associated or identified with great British art tradition. They rightly chose the name of artist JMW Turner (1775–1851) to an extent for his desire to establish similar such prize for young and talented artists from the country. His work was considered controversial and unusual in his own times.

Among the artists shortlisted for this year’s Turner Prize, Karla Black, is known to adopt a highly innovative approach to sculpting. The artist makes substantial pieces created in otherwise temporary spaces as well as materials. On the other hand, Martin Boyce is renowned for his ability to hold the viewer’s attention with his atmospheric sculptural installations that deftly combine references to design history and text. His works are marked by a subtle attention paid to each minute detail.

The third nominated artist Hilary Lloyd combines both moving and still images, sound as well as the three-dimensional forms of AV playback accessories/ equipment. She does so to portray the ubiquitous urban environ. Last but not the least, George Shaw makes paintings, infused with a very deeply personal juxtaposition of sensitive subject matter and material. Contemporary in approach, they intriguingly lie on the edge of tradition.

There were two renowned painters on this year's shortlist. The traditionalists though, should take a pause for a while before sighing with a sense of relief because one of them happens to paint landscapes soaked in the type of enamel paint generally used for the purpose of decorating planes and model trains; the other counts bath bombs, bronzing powder and lipstick among her unusual materials.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Auction circles are abuzz...

Booming art prices have managed to produce quite a few ‘treasures in the attic’ recently, and we could soon see another as a painting originally valued at $470 (300 pounds) is likely to fetch up to 3 million after Bonhams discovered it was actually by Velazquez, a Reuters report states.

The portrait of an unknown gentleman goes under the hammer, as London hosts a series of old master & British art auctions featuring precious works worth tens of millions of pounds. While the newly-discovered Velazquez work is not among the most valuable lots on offer at Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams, its story is the most arresting.

The painting of a balding man in black tunic and white ‘golilla’ collar was part of a collection of works attributed to 19th century British painter Matthew Shepperson which was consigned for sale at Bonhams. But the auctioneer suspected the portrait was by a different artist and had it sent to the Old Master Paintings department for further analysis.

Consultant Brian Koetser was brought in and their suspicions were confirmed by Peter Cherry, lecturer at the History of Art department at Trinity College Dublin. After studying the painting, including with x-ray technology, he decided it was by 17th century Spanish master and dated from 1631-1634 when Diego Velazquez was in Italy or shortly after the artist returned to Spain.

"The discovery of this lost treasure is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; it's exciting to be able to bring it to the world's attention," said Andrew McKenzie, director of old master paintings at Bonhams. Sotheby's also holds its main London sale of old master and British paintings, and expects a work by 17th Dutch artist Jan Steen to be the top lot at 4.5-6.0 million pounds.

A pair of works by 18th century painter Johann Zoffany, being offered as a single lot, have a combined value of 6-8 million pounds.Sotheby's expects to raise over 21 million pounds from the main auction and a smaller day sale. Christie's holds its main old master auction and has set a pre-sale estimate of 18-26 million pounds.