Thursday, March 31, 2011

Contemporary Tibetan art comes to the fore

A group show of Tibetan art takes place at Volte Gallery, Colaba, Mumbai.

The show in collaboration with London’s Rossi & Rossi is is entitled ‘Beyond the Mandala’. It looks to reorient the status quo as far as Tibetan art is concerned. Its founder-owner Fabio Rossi states that India is the natural destination for talented Tibetan artists to thrive, with all sorts of past & present connections.

Echoing the view, Volte director Tushar Jiwrajka has been quoted as saying, “Contemporary Tibetan art comes from a culture very much in India’s vicinity, and a socio-political based here is essential to India.”

The mandala represents an ancient tradition. It’s one of the most recognizable symbols of Tibetan art. However, it’s no longer a restriction or a cue. Contemporary Tibetan art has been expanding in its scope over the last couple of decades. While the core thrust of cultural expression has been the preservation of its ethos, the contemporary strain in art is amply visible.

It certainly raises one issue whether art from that country is indeed moving ‘beyond’ in a way that perhaps warrants a reassessment. According to the director of Rossi & Rossi, Martin Clist, the mandala is obviously still there, but it’s not necessarily everything any more! The new-generation artists are doing so by blending traditional imagery, materials and techniques with modern influences, forms and media. They are keen to explore current concerns - personal and social, political and cultural.

The efforts to bring contemporary Tibetan art to the fore have been rather disparate. Galleries like the Mechak Center for Contemporary Tibetan Art in the US, and The Sweet Tea House in the UK are taking some steps in this direction. However, there hasn’t been any major institutional initiative for promoting Tibetan art in the neighboring countries - India in particular.

This is surprising, considering the fact the world’s largest democracy houses the largest number of refugees from Tibet. This new exhibit tries to correct the situation and marks an important effort to encourage contemporary art from Tibet in India.

(Image courtesy: Volte Art Gallery & Seven Art Ltd)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Glancing at the fascinating works of female artists in ‘Concurrent India’

A major group show of Indian art in Finland focuses on the issues and concerns that recur in the new-generation artist’s works. Here is a quick glance at the works of sensitive female artists who form part of ‘Concurrent India’
Curiously enough, artist Rashmi Kaleka is fascinated by the human voice. She spent her childhood in Kenya, where the rhythms and intonations of different languages and dialects were etched on her mind. She did not travel to India until the early 2000s. In New Delhi, she recorded the rhythmic shouts of street vendors. In the video ‘Hawkers ki Jagah’, their voices blend with scenes of the city shot in the early morning. In recent years, however, the street vendors’ situation has become more difficult, as the authorities try to remove them from the streets.

In India, Sita represents the traditional female virtues such as obedience and submissiveness. Pushpamala N challenges this female ideal in her photographic series ‘Abduction’. On the other hand, a video installation by Nalini Malani is based on Galaxy of Musicians (1893), an allegorical painting by the Indian artist Raji Ravi Varma in which female musicians in various costumes represent the languages and religions of India. The orchestra symbolizes ‘unity in diversity’. This political slogan has been used to rouse nationalist sentiments in India.

The photographic series ‘Ganga’s Daughters I’ (2001–2007) by Sheba Chhachhi depicts women celebrating their initiation into the Sadhvi community as they renounce all earthly things, whereas a photographic triptych by Shilpa Gupta tells the tales of women awaiting their husbands, not knowing whether or not they have died in skirmishes between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The social status of women living in uncertainty is unclear and insecure. In India, widows wear white for the rest of their life.

Another young artist from Delhi, Anita Khemka, focuses on marginalized people. Her photographs document people afflicted with HIV, the mentally ill, prostitutes and eunuchs. In her series ‘Laxmi’ she portrays the eunuchs. Her ‘Self-Portraits’ puts the artist herself in front of the camera. The pictures show how the public space in India is populated by men, and how unprotected a woman traveling alone is.

(Information courtesy: Helsinki City Art Museum in Finland)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A look at artists who form part of ‘Concurrent India’

A significant show of some exquisite contemporary artworks from India in Finland, entitled ‘Concurrent India’ is produced in cooperation with Kulturhuset in Stockholm. The exhibition in Helsinki is broader in scope than the one on view in Stockholm.
Here is a look at the participating artists and their works:

Bharat Sikka documents the social and cultural changes in India. He has photographed both rural and urban places where the old is disintegrating and the new just starting. The sites in the Space In-Between series are centers of commerce, new urban residential areas or historical sites, whereas in the ‘Panic City’ video
by Gigi Scaria, New Delhi is seen to rise and collapse again and again.

The soundtrack consists of Western music: parts from Giuseppe Verdi’s (1813–1901) opera La Traviata. The ceaseless undulating movement refers to the varied history of the city. It’s also symptomatic of a metropolis where the old is being demolished to make way for the new.

On the other hand, Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra (Thukral & Tagra) exploit the colorful world of advertising and popular culture in their work. Below the attractive surface, however, topical social issues are revealed. Their installation ‘Escaped! While I Was Cooking’ is about bitter disappointment and sad fates often faced by the women abandoned by Indian youths from abroad. The families of brides are willing to pay a handsome dowry to afford their daughter a better life. After the wedding, many of the men rush abroad, leaving the girl.

Sticking to the same theme, another artist presents an unconventional work. As is the tradition, most marriages in this part of the world are still often arranged. matrimonial ads are published in newspapers and online. The key piece of information in them is the candidate’s religion, caste, profession, height and skin tone. Conflicts in India and elsewhere have inspired Archana Hande to question the very idea of pure blood and investigate her own roots. ‘’ is a quirky installation that makes an ironic comment on the marriage institution.

(Information courtesy: Helsinki City Art Museum)

Artists who work around the theme of partition

An exhibit of contemporary Indian art in Helsinki, entitled ‘Concurrent India’ coincidentally includes artists who work around the theme of partitions and the conflicts between India-Pakistan.

Like millions of those uprooted from their homes post-Partition, Hema Upadhyay’s family had to leave Pakistan in 1947. She associates the experience with the fear of losing one’s home and its demolition that’s also constantly present in the slums. It’s this insecurity that she contemplates in her installation ‘Where the Bees Suck There Suck I’. As her source material, Chitra Ganesh uses popular Amar Chitra Katha comics based on history and Hindu mythology. She replaces the text in the speech bubbles and adds her own drawings to the pictures. The results are often comical, yet they also contain repulsive or violent elements.

‘Light Leaks Winds Meet Where the Waters Spill Deceit’ by Reena Kallat is wrapped in red thread used commonly in temple rituals in India. The threads are tied as a sign of prayer and untied when the wish is fulfilled. The ultraviolet light shining between the gates is the same light used to lure insects in pest control devices. It serves
as a reminder of the tensions and conflicts between the two countries.

After the 1947 war between India and Pakistan, women were abducted on both sides of the border. They adapted to their new country and had families. Many of them were repatriated later. There is an online petition to erect a monument to victims of violence following the war. In her set of photographic prints ‘Crease / Crevice / Contour’, the names of signatories of the petition are stamped on a woman's back. The red stamps create a map of the part of Kashmir that is administered by Pakistan. They show how the size of the contested area changed during the war.

The theme of Supriyo Sen’s documentaries is also often the conflicts between India and Pakistan. The short film Wagah (2009) describes the flag-lowering ceremony on the India-Pakistan Line of Control as seen through the eyes of three children. The ceremony has been repeated every evening since 1959. Sen's film is a statement against walls that separate people from one another.

(Information courtesy: Helsinki City Art Museum)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tyeb Mehta's work fetches a record price at Christie's

Nine years ago, Tyeb Mehta set a new record when his monumental triptych painting ‘Celebration’ fetched at a Christie's auction $317,500 - the highest sum ever for an Indian painting at any international auction, setting a benchmark in a booming market for contemporary Indian art.

Just last week, another painting by the Indian artist, who died in 2009, set a separate milestone, receiving almost nine times the sales price of the 2002 sale. His ‘Bulls’, a diptych, went for nearly $2.8 million at Christie's.

A geometric painting by SH Raza is the only other contemporary Indian work of art that has fetched more. (It went for $3.5 million last June.) Tyeb Mehta and Raza along with a few other artists like Souza and Husain (still painting at 95), are reviving interest in the art of that era after demand was considerably slowed during the recessionary phase.

"It's the same pattern as observed in China, but delayed," states Christie's international director (Asian art) Hugo K. Weihe: "India is geared to be second to China (in Asia.)" He estimates the contemporary Indian art market is ‘roughly half from India, plus a larger chunk of NRIs in London and the US, and to some Westerners.

Behind this rebound are rich Indian buyers - some settled in the US and the UK - who are showing keen increasing interest in the works of art of their native country. Stan Sesser of The Wall Street Journal mentions in a news report (Running of the 'Bulls': A $2.8 Million Record): “At the recent auction at Christie's in New York, many of the collectors bidding in person were ethnic Indians. Many appeared to be no older than their 30s. Out of 133 works on offer, 110 sold, fetching a total of around $9.8 million - just under the auction house's pre-auction estimate for the sale.

Before the recession set in worldwide, Sudbodh Gupta largely dominated the contemporary Indian art market with his pieces that incorporate objects of everyday usage. This time around though, interest is seen building around a talented younger generation of artists in the country.

Highlights of a major Indian art show at Helsinki Art Museum

A group exhibition Helsinki City Art Museum in Finland presents a wide range of works by several talented artists from India. In this series, we peep into the career graph and oeuvre of some of the participants:

New Delhi based Anay Mann even worked as a photographic model for a brief period. Early in his career, he photographed upper and middle-class urban youths, who have been able to adopt alternative lifestyles to complement their more traditional ones with the economic boom, they. His series ‘Equal Dreams – Portraits of Indians’ depicts people from across India of all castes and social classes. The subjects of the photographs are always seated in the same chair. In India, a chair symbolizes power. In his pictures, it emphasizes the equality between individuals.

In his ‘Trash’ series Vivan Sundaram has photographed sorted heaps of waste on his studio floor. The configurations of rubbish resemble urban views or landscapes. As the Indian middle class is growing, so is consumption and the amount of waste. The fate of the poor is to collect, sort and recycle waste around the clock, he suggests.

The sculptures of Valay Shende bear a resemblance to luxury goods, yet their topic is the everyday worries of people in an urbanising India. The shakers on the gaudy table contain soil and ashes. Referring to the suicide of a hapless farmer, the work is a comment on the growing misery in rural areas. Tens of thousands of debt-trapped farmers have been driven to suicide in India in recent years.

Riyas Komu’s practice contains a strong political message. Terror, war, chauvinism and exploitation are all central themes in his work. The portrait series 'Designated March by a Petro – Angel (or Desert March)' is based on 'The Circle', a film by Iran's Jafar Panahi, which describes the suffering of women in third-world countries.

His passion for the game of football is reflected in the series ‘Occupation Stories’, a picture of the Iraqi soccer player Younis Mahmoud and a map of the United States are superimposed. When Iraq won the Asian Cup in 2007, Mahmoud, the captain of the national team, said in the media that he wanted U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

(Information courtesy: Helsinki City Art Museum)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

‘How Long does it take to Complete a Circle?’ at Gallery SKE

New Delhi based Gallery SKE presents a new show, entitled, ‘How Long does it take to Complete a Circle?’ by Susanta Mandal, who continues his curious experiments with structural constructions. The idea is to perplex viewers, intended at subverting set ways of seeing things. Using materials like steel and glass, he comes up with structures that try and offer a visual depiction of the invisible energies running through pipelines. These serve as the latent backbone of modern buildings.

Though hidden, they are equally crucial, as they create multiple powerful pockets of tunnels inside the building space. Signals of light, threads that move & air pressure along with soap solution have been employed in this exhibit, for portraying the visual flow of electricity! Another body of work is evolved from the apparent fear and knowledge of an increasing shortage of resources. Lenses tend to enlarge the clarity of candlelight (akin to a magic lantern), and then project minute details from the architecture that might hallucinate, with images familiar to it, albeit unfamiliar at the same time.

The artist did his BFA (painting) from the Government College of Arts & Craft, Kolkata and completed his MFA from the Benares Hindu University. Trained as a painter, he has shown keen interest in working with a variety of forms and offbeat materials, which have manifested themselves in his mechanized sculptural installations. They make use of low-tech mechanisms, which are almost always exposed.

In his earlier explorations, Susanta Mandal has employed light as an inherent element of his work; not opting to rely on high-tech gallery produced fixtures, instead drawing on a more traditional engagement with the chosen medium. Shadows play a rather crucial role in his artworks as apt symbols of abstract fear- fear of life, or fear of social change, at a broader level. The artist also inserts photo images and video along with objects, which have been mechanized.

Playing with the gallery space for greater visual impact

A few bold steps in the recent years have stretched the boundaries of conventional art display. Curator Gitanjali Dang, for example tries to frill it up. At a show conceptualized by her at Mumbai based Loft gallery in 2009, she tried out a new experiment. An apparent take-off or statement on the Internet obsession with cat images, the curator swamped the exhibit site with wool balls and peculiar paw marks.

Her show entitled, ‘Anxious’, at Mumbai’s Mirchandani & Steinruecke in 2008 had opted to spell out ‘outrageous’ in an altogether different way. Taking a cue from Peter Handke’s play ‘Offending the Audience’, she had paintings put up on the ceiling, upside down and curiously atop a ladder. No titles or date markers were there.

Gallerist Ranjana Steinruecke let her indulge in this experimentation, believing that curators and art practitioners should be given a free hand to create. A recent group show at Project 88, ‘Form & Phenomenon’ was about intense experience within the space and also time continuum. Rana Begum, an artist based in London, creates sleekly lacquered aluminum sculptures that use geometry, form, repetition and color. The core concept is to deliberate over the ways in which viewers engage with objects and the way they view them.

One of India’s most promising artists, Hemali Bhuta, also responds to space through her work. Her awareness stems from the fact that she has studied interior design. For her debut solo, she used the space of Project 88 gallery as inspiration. Her husband and artist Shreyas Karle again tried out a similar experiment at the gallery.

Keeping with the trend, contemporary Indian artists are indeed getting increasingly conscious of playing with available space for greater visual impact. The idea is to transform it into a seamless part of their creation - indoor or outdoor. A case in point is Jitish Kallat’s work ‘Public Notice 3’. It lit up the Grand Staircase at the Art Institute of Chicago - an idea that was critically appreciated.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora in New York

The exhibition, 'Erasing Borders: Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora' explores the contributions of artists whose origins can be traced to the Indian Subcontinent. This will be IAAC's 8th annual Erasing Borders exhibition.

The first edition of the 'Erasing Borders' exhibition in 2004, curated by Sundaram Tagore, focused solely on artists of the Indian diaspora. Due to its enormous success, the IAAC decided to schedule annual exhibitions of contemporary Indian art. Since then, the annual IAAC Erasing Borders Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art has been curated by Vijay Kumar. Following is the curator's statement, elaborating on the motive of the ambitious event:

‘Erasing Borders’ exhibition includes work by 43 artists working in a wide variety of media-from painting, to photography and digital media, video, animation, installation, sculpture, and printmaking. For many of these artists of course, their relationship to the Indian sub-continent plays a major role, not only in terms of images or content, but also in terms of color and materials used. And for many, the issues raised as they straddle two diverse cultures also provide impetus for their work.

Much of the work in this year's exhibition is both literally and figuratively multilayered, with artists combining many different media in overlapping layers to make images intricate yet nuanced, specific yet elusive. Antonio Puri describes his work in these terms: "It is multilayered and complex with veneers, glazes, varnishes of emotions, transgressions, singularity, obsession, and enigma. I am interested in comparing connections between my eastern roots and my western experiences."

Other artists describe their own work in psychological, emotional, or spiritual terms, referencing memory, myth, dreams, imagination of course, cultural heritage, history, time, socio-political and feminist concerns, religious iconography, pop culture, even magic-to which I would add "nostalgia". As Anujan Ezhikode explains, "My work deals with cultural identity, displacement and memory. I am reinterpreting that familiar place which over time can't help but be altered and re-imagined.

As the past unwinds, there is a longing to reconnect. Connections once broken become retied and memories long hidden resurface. Color, images, and time all intersect with an absence of boundaries."

(Information courtesy: The Indo-American Arts Council, New York, NY)

The Indo-American Arts Council presents ‘Erasing Borders’

The Indo-American Arts Council’s 8th Annual ‘Erasing Borders’ exhibition of contemporary Indian art of the Diaspora features work by 43 artists whose origins can be traced to the Indian subcontinent.

This group of multinational and inter-generational artists, chosen by curator Vijay Kumar, reflects a broad range of life experiences and aesthetic values. The artists interpret diverse subject matter—figurative, abstract and conceptual—in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, video, sculpture and installation.

The resulting works often meld Indian and Western ideas about color, form and subject. This traveling exhibition is presented as part of Asian Contemporary Art Week 2011. The curator elaborates to say, “We’re able to showcase work by established artists, as well as introduce work by new young talent to a wider audience. It has been my great privilege to be part of this ever-widening community of artists from the Diaspora.”

Among the participating artists are including: Fasihu Ahsan, Mohammed Bari, Samanta Batra Mehta, Fareen Butt, Amita Chatterjee, Sonia Chaudhary, Nandini Chirimar, Neil Chowdhury, Uday K Dhar, Reet Das, Delna Dastur, Anjali Deshmukh, Anujan Ezhikode, Aaliyah Gupta, Mansoora Hassan, Mumtaz Hussain, Tehniyet Hussain, Samina Iqbal, Nidhi Jalan, Sunita Jariwala-Gajjar, Reeta Gidwani-Karmarkar, Kulvinder Kaur Dhew, Aamir Khan Tarin, Srinivas Krishna, Shaurya Kumar, Shobha Menon, Rahul Mitra, Indrani Nayar-Gall, Kuzana Ogg, Avani Patel, Minna Philips, Antonio Puri, Talha Rathore, Rasika Reddy, Sangeeta Reddy,Pinku Roy-Bari, Tara Sabharwal, Satyakam Saha, Pallavi Sharma, Sara Suleman, Roshani Thakore , MD Tokon, and Prince Varughese Thomas.

Timeline for IAAC Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora 2011 is as follows:

Queens Museum of Art
NYC Building, NY 11368
Exhibition dates: March 19 - April 10, 2011.

Charles B. Wang Center
Stony Brook University, New York.
Exhibition dates: April 23-May 27, 2011

Aicon Gallery,
35 Great Jones St, NYC
Exhibition dates: August 16-September 3, 2011

Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts,
University of Connecticut, Storrs, Ct.
Exhibition Dates: September 19 - December 9, 2011

This year the IAAC is introducing the ‘Artist of the Year Award’ to recognize a young Diaspora artist who displays exceptional talent and creative potential,.

(Information courtesy: The Indo-American Arts Council, New York, NY)

Friday, March 25, 2011

An ambitious ‘watercolour’ exhibition at Tate Britain

‘Watercolour’ is a series on view at Tate Britain that invites viewers to challenge their preconceptions of what the medium is. The world renowned gallery presents a fresh and holistic assessment of the history of watercolor painting in Britain right from its rise in the Middle Ages through to the present times. There are works by William Blake, JMW Turner and Thomas Girtin, as well as by modern & contemporary artists like Patrick Heron, Peter Doig and Tracey Emin.

A press release elaborates: “Drawing out a grand history that traces the origins of watercolor back to medieval illuminated manuscripts, the exhibit reassesses the commonly held belief that the medium first flourished during a ‘golden age’ of British watercolor, from around 1750-1850. It reveals an older tradition, and also challenges the notion that watercolor is singularly British by showcasing key pieces from continental Europe that influenced British artists."

This ambitious exhibit is comprised of works spanning almost 800 years, acting as a boundary-breaking survey that celebrates the full glory and variety of wonderful ways watercolor has been used. From miniatures, maps and manuscripts through to works displaying the expressive visual splendor of landscapes, watercolor has always played a part in visual Art.

The show offers a great chance to check some rarely displayed works in their luminous glory, by artists from different eras. It presents a fresh assessment on the history, present and future of watercolor painting. The aim is to question our perceptions on what watercolor as a medium really stands for, through famous and even lesser-known works presented side by side, to bring this universal and enduring medium back to the center stage.

This is an exhibit that, says its curator Alison Smith, ‘concerns the history of watercolor in the UK and the medium’s association with very British identity.’ Of course, there are artists from other countries as well. Kallat is Indian, Wittwer Swiss; with them, as with Anish Kapoor’s sculptural painting or Black’s cellophane extravaganza, Tate is demonstrating that, both geographically and formally, watercolor can be anything, anywhere.

Carlos Slim Helú’s dream art project

Latin America has just got its probably first ever art museum of true international class. The Museo Soumaya, Mexico City's newest and richest art museum, will house the world’s best and exquisite artworks.

The magnificent museum tends to unfold as an airy white gallery and conveys a real sense of grandeur. It is set to house a captivating private collection of close to 66,000 pieces: Riveras and Renoirs, Picassos and Dalís, Da Vincis and Toulouse-Lautrecs, ravishing religious relics plus a treasure of rare coins courtesy the viceroys of Spain.

Encased in alluring aluminum, the Soumaya rises up 150 ft, before it smoothly canopies just like a slightly oversize mushroom - thought up by Magritte. The sizzling structure has cost roughly $70 million. Carlos Slim Helú, the world's richest man (He is ranked No. 1 in Forbes magazine's 2011 list of the richest billionaires.) The owner of the Soumaya bounty is a fond collector of art. He has showcased some of it for years in a obscure venue in the south of the capital. A new museum writ large in honor of Soumaya Domit, his late wife, will soon house it.

Slim's eye over the thriving contemporary and classic art marketplace is keen to pick spot lucrative deals. In the early 1980s, when Rodins happened to be valued much less than they’re now, he started acquiring them. In later years, as price tags for the sculptures had swelled, and Slim was holding a proud collection of over 100 pieces, many of them prized ones, such as ‘Eve’, 'The Kiss', 'The Thinker', and 'The Shades'.

Slim states the wholesale acquisition was never about the money. Yet a section of critics in Mexico term him more of a savvy bargain hunter than a sheer aesthete. According to some of them, Slim doesn't worry about quality, and simply buys what’s available cheap. Keeping the criticism aside, the fact remains that Slim's art collection has improved over time. The billionaire himself discounts such criticism. Almost all of the works are bough individually from Sotheby's and Christie's.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

‘Nostalgia, Pride and Fear’ at Gallery BMB, Mumbai

“The nostalgia of what we had, the pride of what we have and the fear of what we may not have.”

In spite of practicing in different parts of the world, the artists are working along the concept of nature, the biosphere and the idea of presenting death in the hope of the future.

“We are observing this phenomenon as by-standers, unable to contribute to the cure within our (human) interaction with nature...”

The above lines from a conceptual note give an insight into the core concept of a group show, entitled ‘Nostalgia, Pride and Fear’ at Gallery BMB, Mumbai.
Allison Kudla, Ratna Gupta, Tatiana Musi, Teresa Gruber, and Soazic Guézennec are the participating artists. Allison Kudla presets a set of photographic prints
Manicured Field' from a series that began in 2008.

In this piece, a living natural system takes on the form of a manufactured pattern. Leaves are intricately cut into a bilaterally symmetrical Arabesque pattern and suspended in tiling square Petri dishes that contain the nutrients necessary to promote new leaf growth. Here the cultured leaves are provided with the hormones that cause the cells to produce new leaf tissue. The newly growing leaves are extending the form of the traditionally inspired botanical motif. The process of generation and degeneration is an integral part of the artist’s work.

On the other hand, Ratna Gupta’s work is a documentation of her life and her surroundings. Her latex works that have been cast by the barks of specific trees and the root of the tree that is cast in fiberglass are all frozen moments of passage of time that she has captured and made immortal. She believes that at some point, we will not be able to enjoy what we have now, and therefore she is presenting ‘death’ in the hope of the future.

Tatiana Musi created ‘Mind Fills’ during her residency in Varanasi. The garden there became a part of her everyday life, where she took plants from it to be transplanted into containers that are used by the people of Varanasi in everyday life. Her paintings are a visual, emotional and atmospherical reconstruction of the memory of the garden created in very painterly, but yet minimal style.

Teresa Gruber’s 'Tree Portraits' were taken on site using a white backdrop and natural light – bringing the photo studio into the forest instead of digging up and stirring the protagonists. Soazic Guezennec reflects a deep ecological sensibility, and a concern about our planet future, which she expresses in paintings as well as in video, installation, or in situ interventions. The anthropological boxes are also questioning the relationship between nature and civilization.

‘maximum India’ at Kennedy Center

To celebrate the dazzle and diversity of India, a series of exhibitions and events were just held at the Kennedy Center, NW Washington, DC. ‘Maximum India’, a magnificent event presented a kaleidoscope of many wonderful aspects of the country's rich arts and culture landscape, from folk to modern, and from classical to contemporary.

It was a mix of dance, music, theater and creative visual art by some of the most acclaimed practitioners who shared their insights. On view were incredible and unimaginable crafts from some exquisite collections; jewels from the princely era of the Maharajas and Mughals.

An accompanying note stated: “India amazes all with the majesty and mystery of its rich culture.
Its brilliance is that it’s a place of extremes - intellect, innovation, survival and constant experimentation. We traveled, researched and scoured different corners of the country to present the best it can offer, and India offers the maximum.” The festival was truly ‘maximum India’. Here is a quick at the artists and their works on view as part of the festival:

Jitish Kallat explores myriad topics ranging from family life and ancestry to meditations on the passage of time. His ‘Public Notice 2’ recalls the historic speech delivered by Mahatma Gandhi on the eve of the epic Salt March to Dandi in early 1930 through some 4,500 bone-shaped letters. Each letter of this alphabet, like a misplaced relic, holds up the image of violence even as its collective chorus makes a plea for peace to a world plagued with aggression.

Reena Saini Kallat's Falling Fables is part of a series of works whose title references architectural ruins that are disintegrating and in a state of collapse. Her paintings reference parts of the city of Delhi, where ruins from the past rub shoulders with present-day structures.

Bharti Kher creates works which often incorporate bindis--the traditional forehead decoration worn to indicate the marking of the third eye for women and men in Indian culture. Commissioned for ‘maximum INDIA’, her new work, I've Got Eyes at the Back of My Head was comprised of 5,000 vinyl bindis grouped to form targets on the surface of four windows in the Kennedy Center's Grand Foyer.

‘Hi! I am India’, an interactive playspace for children by Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, presented interesting facts about life in modern India and dispels common stereotypes through a sticker activity station.

Jatin Das, an eminent contemporary artist, has spent decades seeking traditional crafted hand fans from provinces across India. Forty favorites picked from his collection displayed the variety of shapes, sizes, techniques, and materials used to craft this practical day-to-day item.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Artist Susanta Mandal's new series

Gallery SKE presents a new series of works by upcoming and talented artist Susanta Mandal. In a succinct discussion on eve of the show, he explains the various aspects related to his art practice. Here is what an accompanying note and the artist statement mention of the works on view:

"From basements to the top-most floors of multi-storeyed buildings, walls and roofs together break up spaces to create endless small pockets. Behind walls, inside roofs and below the ground, are a hidden zigzag of inter-connected pipelines and connections of other power lines whizzing silently, through which numerous “soft” elements (physically and virtually) move. These pipes create multiple pockets of tunnels inside the solid space.

I have used glass and steel to create structures that attempt to provide a visual depiction of the invisible energies that run through these pipelines. The provoking motif here for me is, ‘How long will they run?’ and so the idea is to expose them and lay them bare. The pipes made of glass allow the transparency of observation and allow the unseen to be seen. This is further reinforced by imagined perceptible depictions of the visual flow of energy using signals of light, threads that move and air pressure along with soap solution; sometimes creating confusion when the threads begin to move in the opposite direction.

These structures are mounted on the wall and in some cases have a photograph of an actual building that has been implanted with the knowledge that the whole will be installed in an unknown place. At the end, this structure becomes an alien part in the existing body of architecture.

The other body of work in the show evolved from the knowledge and fear of an escalating shortage of resources. Here lenses enlarge the clarity of candlelight (like a magic lantern), and project many small details from the architecture which might hallucinate, with ghostly images familiar to it but unfamiliar at the same time."

(Information courtesy: Gallery SKE)

Artists featured in ‘The Narrator, Protagonist and the Other’ show

‘The Narrator, Protagonist and the Other’ is the title of a show at Indigo Blue Art, Singapore. Here is a brief note on the participating artists and their themes:

The central premise of Murali Cheeroth’s paintings is the city architecture, rampant urbanization and its curious interplays with and within urban cultures and ecology. The same is explored in context of the history of visual representation and introspecting the idea of re-construction; technology, speed and change. Local and the global intersect here, unraveling multiple layers of urban identities.

Vivek Vilasini examines the prevailing social structures, adapting various expressions of cultural identity to raise specific questions about the fast changing global scenario, which almost every individual fails to keep pace with. His large-format photos tend to evoke delicate ironies that invariably impact existing ideologies, and also influence the viewer’s socio-cultural consciousness.

Expression of Farhad Hussain’s reality through the process of the ‘comic’ is launched with an apt imitation of the experienced or imagined that translates into the ephemeral moment of happiness; with the neon colors, the satire begins. The protagonist acquires center stage; the surreally perfect settings, the dynamics between the characters then narrate a parallel story. The un-observed, un-seen, the covered elements of human nature in the cultural context are added through a rather unreal perfection in the actors’ action.

On the other hand, Nayanaa Kanodia’s work reflects the changing face of India, through fascinating images of known and unknown faces and public figures, capturing the life of common people on the street and the urban elite. The acute static demeanor of her portrayals deftly lends itself to movement attained through vivacious vehicles, the captivating composition of patterns and the Indian spirit reminiscent of glorious past fusing with the modern advents and amenities. Charged with innocuous humor each depiction personifies the subtle ironies of daily life that lay in a complex mix of harmony and conflict with the collision of West and East.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An impressive showcase of works by India’s prominent artists

Nilima Sheikh, Bhupen Khakhar, Arpita Singh, Atul Dodiya, Sudhir Patwardhan, and Jayashree Chakravarty are among the prominent artists from India, whose work featured at a group show courtesy Grosvenor Gallery, London.

Most of the artists, who form part of 'Narrations, Quotations and Commentaries’, work in an overtly narrative style - whether fully or partially. Bhupen Khakkar’s art works virtually violate that thin socially recognized boundary between what could be termed the ‘decorous’ and the ‘obscene/unacceptable’. His obsession to explore as part of the ‘degenerate’ in art practice prompted the artist to encounter and create a language that comprised an interim between western illusionism and traditional forms.

The late artist's work has essentially archived the lapses, deprivations, desires and repressions - within the society as well as a ‘societal being’ – based on minute observations of the everyday life that plays a key role in them. The artist tends to focus on the ‘typical’ characters the viewer might often notice in the familiar Indian landscape. His idea always had been to represent the marginal, striving to show something which was always there, albeit seldom got looked at…

Appropriating eccentric idioms of pop-culture and kitsch art coupled with and digitally manipulated gloss, Atul Dodiya’s visual idiom is unique. It is different from Sudhir Patwardhan’s style - more corporeal, particularly in terms of space satiation. However, both of them invariably tend towards the revelation of bits of repressed histories.

If the latter’s practice has a continuous narrative structure, which reads almost like a novel, Atul Dodiya’s work speaks through acute aphoristic heavyset statements. Not just a celebration of popular culture, it recognizes the importance of engaging with the field of cultural production, ripe with varied possibilities. Transcending the narrative mode of painting, the latter explores the social milieu we belong to with a touch of humor and irony.

His work often quotes that of other influential artists, such as David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar, while reflecting on the act of painting. His works - well-grounded with specific cultural and textual references – carry a complex structure of statements – never ever meretricious.

‘Narrations, Quotations and Commentaries’ at Grosvenor Gallery, London

The history of narrative painting in India can be traced back several decades in the 20th century, comprising noteworthy artists, such as Abanindranath Tagore, Benode Behari Mukherjee and even Amrita Sher-Gil. This style more recently has been identified with the Baroda School co-founded by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh and Bhupen Khakhar. Sudhir Patwardhan was associated with this School, too.

The artists belonging to Baroda School worked in direct contrast to the PAG - a generation of artists who emerged before them. The Progressives employed symbolic as well as iconic imagery for depicting archetypal subjects or tended to veer towards abstraction. Their effort was to depict history – both personal and contemporary - within a narrative format.

Among the artists who feature in ‘Narrations, Quotations and Commentaries’, a show at London's Grosvenor Gallery that underlines the historical trajectory, is Nilima Sheikh. She can be termed a third generation of artists who is engaged with rich Indian traditions. It’s quite possible to draw a lineage between her practice and that of Santiniketan artists like Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee and Abanindranath Tagore via her teacher KG Subramanyan.

Mid-way in her career, she opted for the repertoire of techniques and more to the kernels of miniatures. The references she draws from pre-modern paintings as well as far eastern art, are well geared toward their visual forms that she manipulates to emphasize her concerns emanating from caste, religion, gender and political discriminations/ suppressions. Jayashree Chakravarty approach in her artistic language is autobiographical.

Her work is intricate and detailed, full of rich narratives, tender memories, vivid childhood images, and those drawn from her many sojourns, and her education in India and France. It essentially records her inner thoughts and melancholic moments. The artist has been inspired by the French impressionists and also Byzantine mosaic design. The question of context gets resolved at the very point where narration and reportage intersect through painted surface.

For all artists featured, the storyteller’s identity is felt through the works. The meticulous selection of the narrative by the respective storyteller indicates his/ her position - often conscious; a subconscious stance, at times by them - to continue their artistic commentaries...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spotlight on a senior artist and her oeuvre courtesy Grosvenor, London

A major group exhibition at London based Grosvenor Gallery maps trajectories of contemporary Indian art where both the ‘conventional’ and the ‘radical’ intersect through ‘Narrations, Quotations & Commentaries’, as the title suggests, ‘within’ artworks as well as ‘through’ them.

Among the artists featuring in the show, Arpita Singh has worked from and around her observations of immediate surroundings and also carrying a universal touch from the broader feminine perspective sans making any virtue of stark feminism. The concurrently suggestive and candid, melancholic still colorful quintessence of her works compel the viewer to pause and wander through a maze of imaginations, ideas and complex conclusions.

Each one seems to narrate and trace a journey from the sensitive artist’s soul to the world outside, encapsulating the little memories of childhood to blossoming of youth to a deeper understanding drawn from age and experience. Just to state that her practice is narrative would be rather simplistic.

Concerned by the problems faced each passing day by women across the world in general and those in India, in particular the artist paints an array of emotions, which she looks to exchange with these subjects –from suffering to hope and from sorrow to joy – offering a kaleidoscopic view of the ongoing communication that she maintains with them.

Her paintings are akin to blueprints of a complex urban experiential map that she charts out of a range of metaphors, myths, conscious stances, subconscious utterances, fantasy, and reality. They can be termed her personal journals, but for the fact that their pages are dotted with vivacious visual anecdotes instead of text. The way in which she employs perspective and the narrative, her practice seems steeped in the magnificent miniaturist traditions and an apt reflection of her background.

Coupled with modernist techniques that she uses, Arpita Singh foregrounds a host of other painterly devices, resorting to skillful patterning, profuse usage of decorative motifs and different historical sources.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Subodh Gupta solo in Finland

Sara Hildén Art Museum in Finland hosts a solo of recent works by Subodh Gupta, whom it describes as ‘the superstar of India's contemporary art’, and also among the most important names in international contemporary art. His paintings, sculptures, installations and performance art - related to Indian tradition and change in the society - present Indian lifestyle in a recognizable visual language. He belongs to the new generation of artists who study and project the Indian identity on a global level.

Themes of economic growth, materialism and emigration are conveyed through ordinary objects. Steel lunch boxes, thali pans or bicycles reflect the artist's personal life and memories, apart from dealing with the Indian way of life and everyday culture. The mass-produced utensils have played a significant role in the artist’s creative processes.

They project an ambiguous symbolism: whilst they are considered as exotic and representative of intriguing Indian culture in the West, to people in India they remain common objects, used almost daily in every household. He intelligently harnesses these hybrid associations, letting them quietly resonate in his viewers’ mind.

Born in the poor Indian countryside in the state Bihar, and now based in Delhi - his journey in a way is an allegory of today's India - the growing middle class that migrated from villages to cities is clearing the path for change, embracing capitalist culture. Before his education as a visual artist, Subodh Gupta, passionate about film, was a street theatre actor. The artist is interested in what inevitably disappears in this dramatic process of change. His monumental sculptures and installations symbolize the transition from ancient Indian culture to the modern way of life.

The exhibition features 10 paintings, a 29 piece bodypaint series, several sculptures and installations by him.

A group show at Bose Pacia, Brooklyn

A new group show at Brooklyn based Bose Pacia Gallery includes works by
Anita Dube, Arunkumar H.G., Raqs Media Collective, Mithu Sen, Suhasini Kejriwal, and Aditya Pande. Here is a brief introduction to each participating artist:

Aditya Pande, born in Lucknow in 1974, graduated from the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad in 2001. His mixed media works combine computer graphics with painting, drawing and collage. Computer generated drawings interact with cartoon-like characters and mythical beings to create hyper-imaginative paintings that subvert traditional processes.

Anita Dube was born in Lucknow in 1958. In 1979, she received a BA in History at the University of Delhi. From 1979 to 1982, she studied art criticism at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India. Trained as an art historian, Dube's work ranges from photography to sculpture.

Arunkumar H.G. was born in Karnataka, India in 1968 and received a BA and MA in Sculpture, Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda in 1989-1995. Arunkumar primarily works in sculptures composed of a variety of found materials, with the addition of some photographic work and wall reliefs.

Raqs Media Collective was formed in 1992 in New Delhi by independent new media practitioners Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. All three members studied at the Mass Communications Research Centre at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. In 2001, they founded SARAI, a reseach center, at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

Mithu Sen was born in West Bengal in 1971. She received her BFA and MFA in painting from Kala Bhavan at Santiniketan, and later, completed a postgraduate program at the Glasgow School of Art in the UK. She produces a wide array of forms - drawings, collages, paintings, video works, found objects and installations – to air her artistic concerns.

Suhasini Kejriwal was born in Kolkata in 1973. She received a BFA at the Parsons School of Design in New York in 1998 and an MFA at Goldsmiths College in London in 2006. Known for her fantastic and elaborate paintings that depict natural vegetation and anatomical forms, she has managed to carve a niche for herself.

(Information courtesy: Bose Pacia Gallery)

Friday, March 18, 2011

‘I observe and absorb things around.’

The vicious materialistic world is portrayed in-depth by a sensitive and observant artist who depicts complexities of relationships; between people and their immediate surroundings.

Metaphorical usage of flying dainty figures, serene colors, the scratches and the realistically done attributes are all skillfully stitched together in his painterly realm that exudes lyrical sophistication, hiding beneath it insecurities of self-existence. He raises a question mark the place and space of the individual lost in a city. Ironically, while on the one hand, individualism is on the rise, one’s identity is under threat, as the artist brings to our notice.

His landscapes refer to the self-inflicted problems arising from unplanned development. They comment in a lighter vein on our tendency to manipulate the surroundings, regardless of the ill effects. Urban growth, resulting from blatant manipulation of natural resources and the resultant changes in ecology is inextricably linked to the very roots of human existence. He prompts the viewer to contemplate over issues that bear immediate significance and future consequences.

The bitter reality of life in a cramped and crowded cityscape has affected the artist deeply. His paintings underline the stark differences between his early life filled with pure joy and the ‘corrupted’ environment that he now finds hard to come to terms with. In essence, the artist expresses his disillusionment with faceless city life through his works that bring out a personal sense of loss. The gritty blocks of identical buildings replicate the sooty monotony of urban life with all its shades of grey.

Elaborating on his creative processes, he quips: “I observe and absorb things around, unconsciously or intentionally, and build my work around an ‘idea’ that serves as the starting point of my creative process. It comes from within and gradually becomes an integral part of me. I sketch and draw quite a bit before I actually begin a painting. One thought leads to another, and so does my painting.

“There’s a definite connection and a progression. As ideas reinventing and replacing themselves, my style and painterly technique may accordingly change. However, the underlying philosophy remains the same. Apart from a touch of playfulness, there is a conscious effort to retain the spontaneity in my work, which prevents it from getting stereotyped,” he states to sum up his artistic inclinations.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A senior artist known for painting street life now depicts nuances of homely existence

Sudhir Patwardhan's fascinating figures are engaged in mundane actions; they reverberate with the pulse of humdrum urban existence with a touch of innate composure built in them. They tend to perform their errands in the highly, crammed, congested and busy city streets, construction sites or Irani cafés.

The senior artist builds in his paintings a realism that embraces the imaginary even as he looks to narrate grossly real and touching tales of survival. The narrative carries certain sameness, attached with the anonymous individual, perhaps a migrant confronted by the challenging existence in the city. The figures might be mundane, yet they are rightfully dignified by the effort they invest in the basic everyday acts of survival.

A new series of 40 paintings and drawings on view at Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) courtesy Sakshi Gallery marks a major departure in his artistic journey. They explore the various nuances of family life, mapping a range of expressions and feelings at various life stages. Many paintings in a new solo ‘Family Fiction’ by Sudhir Patwardhan hinge on a window that plays a key role. It opens the space of the closely-knit home to the outside – often to the city. Its frame is a threshold and the view of the cityscape through it can be alluring.

The feeling of being in one space, and looking out on another - of being well receptive to the outside, albeit secure inside - is depicted in the small ‘Window’ series of his painted works. However, the inside is not necessarily experienced as safe. Conversely, the allure of the outside may perhaps be that of release from too tight or rigid an enclosure. The window tend to allow a conjunction, either way, between the fine spaces of the inside & the outside, keeping the boundaries between them intact. The show also includes paintings (Migrant, Back, Injured, Jogger to name a few) that are closer to his earlier works.

‘Family Fiction’ narrated by Sudhir Patwardhan

Sakshi Gallery presents a solo ‘Family Fiction’ by the veteran artist at Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), Rabindra Bhawan, Delhi. It features about 40 paintings and drawings.

He reveals, “Stories about people remain the main focus but their source has changed. The current series is a (sort of) turning away from the earlier overtly social concerns like street violence and killings. Many of the new works are interiors and also images of people at home – situations quite familiar to all of us. But they also explore impulses one would like to keep hidden below the surface.”

On the eve of this much awaited show, Geetha Mehra, the director of Sakshi Gallery, has been quoted as saying, “This new body of works marks a turn for Sudhir Patwardhan whose engagement in the last three decades or so has been with the common people. The artist shifts his focus to family and relationships with his new series. An array of captivating paintings explore family life and feelings.”

For example, ‘Family’ includes figures held together by crosscurrents of expectations and disappointments. The older couple in the painting, moving off-center, face-up to a discomforting feeling of redundancy, as the younger one starts build their own universe around a new center…Brush drawings like ‘Turning a Deaf Ear’ are about the different ups & downs faced in this journey.

The husband-wife relation often encounters sexual impulses, making it a testing ground on which the relation is played out. It can result in violence or patient understanding. Illness and deaths remain integral aspects of any family story. A few drawings in the series view the sick bed as a site of waiting, anticipation.

Having painted the street of Mumbai at eye level for so many years, this new found pre-occupation on part of the artist with home space, does give rise to a few questions like: “Has the street life lost its relevance or attraction? Has it perhaps become that much more difficult to endure? But as he himself sums up, “The current retraction indoors is in all probability is a phase that will pass.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Looking back at the era and life of the PAG members

The celebrated Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) continues to thrive on the adulation, aura and appreciation that they have enjoyed over all these years. Reputed collectors of Indian art internationally including Rudy von Laden, Emmanuel Schlesinger, Kito de Boer, and Charles Herwitz have preferred them over many next-generation artists.

Even collectors, who have recently arrived on the scene, continue to follow suit. As a result, the Progressives’ hold on the auction market has been rather firm. They occupy a large chunk of the secondary sales market. A series of events and exhibitions only help to retain the spotlight on the PAG. For example, an exhibition at London based Grosvenor Gallery last year featured several significant works by the group.

As if taking a cue, some of their wonderful works were just recently showcased by Delhi Art Gallery. ‘Continuum’ comprised some unseen gems by FN Souza, SH Raza, MF Husain, KH Ara, SK Bakre and HA Gade. In the backdrop of a sustained interest in their works and lives, it is worth relooking at an elaborate documentation of their evolution, entitled ‘The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives’ (Hardback; Rs. 3950; Publisher: The Oxford University Press).

Providing an apt backgrounder, an introductory essay mentions: “Around the time of Independence, emerged a group of artists who were to lead the way for Indian art in the decades to come. This group has given Indian art a new direction, infusing it with their distinctive styles and initiating the modernist movement in India. It’s a portrayal of the formative years of modern Indian art, when its parameters were being established.”

Authored by art historian and independent curator Yashodhara Dalmia, this meticulously researched and richly illustrated book spans their respective life journeys, thought processes and themes, pointing out that the most significant thing about the PAG artists was not merely their unconventional work, but the circumstances under which they joined forces – to make an emphatic artistic statement.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Demystifying ‘dolls’ - I

A new group exhibition at Bangalore's Gallery Sumukha features 12 artists who have created works on the tender world of children and their fascination for dolls in a broader socio-historical context.

Entitled ‘Dolls’, the show has been curated by Marta Jakimowicz who mentions in an accompanying essay: “Our environment seems to abound in all kinds of doll-like representations of people, from toys to schematic or infantilized images in book illustrations, comic strips, animated films, computer games, advertising and graphic design, through which we tend to perceive and handle relationships with others. The phenomenon being commonplace, we seldom question its character, role and origin.

Since childhood we carry the notion of the doll as a human baby, although in various circumstances it may partly assume different manifestations along with their emotive and referential content. Why do we need this intermediary that persists, if embodied in various forms throughout history?” the curator asks.

The classic doll as we know it presently, even if it has not always been so, is the image of a newborn into whose passivity we hesitantly infuse qualities of living being. This image epitomizes the mother’s instinctive, protective tenderness. Children internalize the mother’s feelings and actions by imitating her behavior towards their toys. Acquiring domestic and social skills, they in an intimate osmosis with dolls, absorb their passivity and malleability.

Ours is an era that recognizes and respects the innate nature of the child with its autonomy and individuality, as we, in particular artists, cherish and preserve in us its innocence and the powerful freshness of its first discoveries. On the other hand, the prevailing worship of youth contains both a positive and distorting or dangerous potential. The fulfillment of kindly love may turn into surrogacy that compensates loneliness.

The passive child-doll may also lend itself to psychotic grownup revenge whose roots go back to the earliest deprivations and endured cruelties. Its image mediates layered, confusing trajectories while adult qualities are superimposed on it and grownups appropriate its spirit.

(Information courtesy: Gallery Sumukha)

Demystifying ‘dolls’ - II

Bangalore based Gallery Sumukha presents a group exhibition featuring artists Abir Karmakar, Anthony Roche, Archana Hande, Ayisha Abraham, Barbara Ash, Chintan Upadhayay, Jasmeen Patheja, Jayamma, KT Shivaprasad, Princess Pea, Pushpamala N and Surekha.

Since traditionally girls were perceived to be easier to shape, it is their doll images that display the richest as well as the most disturbing complexity. As gender equations are democratizing now towards a certain androgyny, boys and boy-dolls begin to participate in these mutations. The possibility of affirming the child there has to deal with the possibility of it becoming used and abused by mature purposes, sensibilities and idiosyncrasies, roles, desires and expectations.

The twelve artists in this exhibition, as its curator Marta Jakimowicz notes, relish and play with as well as analyze and critique the phenomenon, supporting some of its beautiful aspects, revealing the density of others, subverting or parodying those, sometimes transforming them into weapons of defiance and protest.

Echoing the layers within the subject, they mediate wonder, tenderness and affirmation, gravity, light humor and sarcasm, exuberance and revulsion, pleasure and sadness, ironic, at times conceptual, retorts and descriptive or narrative suggestiveness, natural and put-on behavior. Reference to the actual and the immediate comes with the recourse to elements of realistic rendering, photography, film and quotations from stylized popular imagery.

The direct and unadorned may bring unassuming, warm elements but also coarse, raw ones. Allusions to classical, folk and contemporary iconography and objects may anchor in graceful qualities, in twisted, shocking ones too. A dose of endearing or disquieting kitsch and commercial cliché surfaces along with the phantasmagoria, contradictions, hypocrisies and conflicts inherent to it.

Since many of the participants in slightly or drastically different ways deal with a number of manifestations and issues associated with the theme, their works together evoke the connectedness and the disjoint among its baffling and lucid traits, its richness and poverty, potentiality and limitations that remain evident as well as suppressed in the real world, ever fluctuating between the stability of ingrained paradigms and their simultaneous transformation towards things intuited but unpredictable.

(Information courtesy: Gallery Sumukha)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Passion of collecting art goes beyond the physical space

A recent survey by EBay, a leading online shopping site with 2.5 million registered users across India, underlines that it’s not just urban centers but also rural hubs of the country that are joining the online rush. Against this backdrop, gallery owners and dealers realize the need to create a niche space online. It’s an economically viable option. In fact, the recession could be considered as a blessing of sorts for the new-age breed of online art-entrepreneur.

Pushing beyond the physical space, exclusive online galleries are now exposing contemporary Indian art to a wider base of buyers globally. A perfect example of a marriage between art and technology was the recent VIP (Viewing in Private) Art Fair. An ambitious art dealer duo of James and Jane Cohan in New York teamed up with two visionary internet entrepreneurs to host it exclusively in the virtual realm. The event featured the best of works by several international artists from over 130 galleries.

There are skeptics though, who think that even 3D image technology cannot replace physical contact with art. Selling art is essentially a ‘high-touch’ business, depending on knowing whom you’re selling to, especially at the top end. In effect, the fundamental issue for online art sales is the comfort level of users with buying something they haven’t actually seen or touched. Pointing to the dilemma or dichotomy, curator-writer Sharmistha Ray states, “We want to hold onto the physicality of the art object in an age when many people are keen to buy high-value pieces (online) by merely looking at illustrative images on their computer screens.”

The internet is a new emerging platform, but it’s still not in a position to compete with major fairs or with the aura of an evening auction. Yet, viewing, buying and selling of art is going online - slowly but surely. Many private equity investors and market players see it as a logical step ahead in an increasingly global world of art. No surprise, some of the biggest players in the domains of art and technology are betting that collectors will spend millions on buying works online in the near future.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More collectors will buy art on the Internet

An increasing number of people now manage their bank accounts, book a holiday, buy books, select clothes, and pick electronic goods online. But then what about art? The UK Financial Times essayist Georgina Adam mentions: “Until now, apart from a few highly publicized sales, the business of high-priced art has remained largely in the ‘real’ world.

“However, many feel it’s just a matter of time before collectors will buy it more vigorously on the Internet. This is not to assume that auction houses and dealers don’t use technology. You can already bid and buy in many online auctions. Dealers now directly sell an increasing amount to clients through their sites.”

Many new initiatives popped up as part of the internet bubble during the mid 1990’s. Market players scrambled to launch start-ups in the art & culture space. Auction houses poured money into websites at the height of the frenzy. But the bubble soon burst. Many online ventures launched in a hurry wound up or only barely survived.

Obviously, the technology was not foolproof, a decade ago. Image resolution was poor. Users were not at ease with the internet. Now a whole new generation of tech-savvy buyers is out there. So will the Internet ultimately take over from real world sales? Will it fundamentally change the way art world deals?

Renowned business publication The Economist notes: “Auction houses and dealers have approached it warily. In 2006 Christie’s launched an online bidding system, whereas Sotheby’s launched BidNow only last year after its two earlier forays into online auctions failed at the beginning of the last decade.”

The Dallas-based Heritage Auctions with $650m worth of annual sales claims that nearly 34 percent are happen online. Christie’s sold roughly $114m worth of art & antiques online, totaling 16% of its lots that represented 3% of total sales. According to the world’s leading fine art auctioneer, online bidding for now is just one of the platforms on offer. Eventually, they will be form a major part of their business once the technology gets more refined and transactions are more secured.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

‘Labyrinth of Absences’ by Reena Saini Kallat

Nature Morte presents a solo show of latest works by talented artist Reena Saini Kallat. The series, entitled, ‘Labyrinth of Absences’, is comprised of a set of new paintings, depicting monument sites in the state of New Delhi. A press release by the gallery elaborates: "The surface of the paintings are marked with addresses of monuments listed as protected sites under the Archeological Survey of India, that have either disappeared or have been declared lost, swallowed up by the rapidly expanding urban fabric.

The works on paper are constructed from the names of people who have been denied visas on the basis of class, nationality or religion. In most cases, her images are fractured and deconstructed, creating maze-like maps - or as in the case of Synonym, a series of portraits crafted as mosaics of rubber-stamps, holding the names of people who are officially registered as missing - appear pixelated and fragmented.

Other works in the show include Crease/Crevice/Contour, a set of ten large-scale photographs tracing the fluctuating LOC between India and Pakistan from October 1947 to December 1948.

Two video works will also be exhibited: ‘Silt of Seasons-I’, projects the names of people who have signed the peace petition in 2004. The names are projected on to sand and are gradually blown away, suggestive of the vulnerability of the peace process itself. In ‘Preface’, she projects the text of the Preamble of the Constitution of India translated into Braille on to the surface of a large, opened book.

An artist of international recognition, she has participated in a number of group exhibitions including Maximum India at The Kennedy Centre in Washington DC; Samtidigt at Kulturhuset, Stockholm and the Helsinki City Art Museum, Finland; The Empire Strikes Back Saatchi Gallery, London; The Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale 2010; Urban Manners- 2 at SESC Pompeia, Sao Paulo, Brazil; View Points and Viewing points - 2009 Asian Art Biennale, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and Chalo! India: A New Era of Indian Art at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo that travelled to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul and the Essl Museum, Vienna among others.

Artistic concerns of India’s leading contemporary artist, Reena Kallat

Reena Kallat’s practice spans a whole range of forms and mediums like painting, photography, sculpture, installation and video. It often incorporates multiple media and styles into a single piece. Peculiarly, she may opt to base her work on officially registered or recorded names of objects, monuments and people who have disappeared or vanished sans any trace, only to be noted down as forgotten statistics.

A recurrent motif in her artworks is the rubber stamp, utilized both as an imprint and an object, implying the bureaucratic apparatus that confirms and obscures identities, as well. The fragility of our existence is an oft-expressed sentiment across her oeuvre. To explain how it’s structured around dualities, which reverberate with ideas of loss and frail recovery, the artist has mentioned, “I seek to explore a sense of order within urban chaos; this suggests (to me) a state of permanent change."

Reena Saini Kallat completed her graduation from the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai. Her most recent solo show was at the Primo Marella Gallery, Milan (2009), whereas her last solo in India was hosted at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai (2008). The artist has had ten solos in India and abroad apart from featuring in a number of important workshops and residencies across the globe.

Contemporary popular culture invariably comes under her scanner. She may depict the glitz of the ad world that tends to act as a lid on shattered hopes, if the underlying thought is to be believed. Analyzing her work, art critic Nancy Adajania has once mentioned: “Her paintings and sculpture-installations portray the human body, and by extension the body politic, under perennial siege, wracked by mythic demons and unknown viruses that strike at it from all sides.

The beauty of the highly powerful and nuanced objects she employs is deceptively belied by their implicit violence as she deftly retrieves these as symbols, or even creates new ones to reposition them, resulting in irony viewers simply cannot escape.

Friday, March 11, 2011

High-end museology gains in importance

Exhibition design, it is slowly being realized, is a vital aspect – more about directing a concerted focus to the art on view sans any frills. With increasing awareness, a few specialists are emerging on the scene.

Vishal K. Dar, himself an artist, worked with a group of around 20 experts to install the Anish Kapoor show at the NGMA, New Delhi. Among the most noteworthy aspect of the world-famous British sculptor’s debut show in India was his ‘Shooting into the Corner’ exhibit in Mumbai.

According to many art viewers, its manner of display turned it into a new work altogether. The captivating cannon installation display was much impressive than that at the Royal Academy of Arts in its original avatar. In London, it happened to fire into a room, whereas the spacious exhibit space at Mehboob Studio gave it a raw, giant spectrum to deal with...

Anish Kapoor’s work blurs the boundaries between art and architecture, is known to be deeply invested in the layout as well as sequential ordering of his exhibits. He himself designed the layouts of his shows in Mumbai and Delhi along with project managers who handled the logistics of whole set-up.

There were representatives from the sculptor’s London studio and also the National Science Centre, who helped Vishal K. Dar in the task that was carried over a period of nearly three weeks. Dar terms himself a ‘scenographer’, attributing the description to 18th century French connotation for stage designer. According to him, it’s the science of ‘guiding viewers’ eyes to appreciate the works of art displayed to their fullest.

Having a background in product design and architecture, he first tried out exhibition design for the Binod Behari Mukherjee retrospective at the NGMA (in 2005). Since then he has worked on several art projects. The expert feels that the onus of implementing high-end museology is largely with public institutions who must take the concept seriously, and galleries will follow suit...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Indian artists at the Luce Gallery group show - I

A significant group show of Indian artists takes place in Italy. Luce Gallery presents 'Indian Rainbow' splashing colourful and captivating works of artists Atul Dodiya, Justin Ponmany, Thukral & Tagra, TV Santhosh and Jagannath Panda.

Jagannath Panda, born in Bhubaneswar in 1970, is known to paint his pet themes through motifs like mythical animals apparently banished from their natural environ and thus made to experience the unsavoury drama of cramped urban living. While setting up his favourite painting subjects - these animals in an enigmatic and magical atmosphere, he comes up with a critique of present-day trend of rampant urbanization that stands quite in contrast to his noble idea of the sacredness and purity of nature.

As part of his intense creative churning, the commonplace object tends to acquire subtle symbolic stature, representing aspirations or at times, rigid dogmas. Environmental and serious social issues concern this socially aware practitioner. Atul Dodiya, born in Mumbai in 1959, tends to explore historical, political and social realities. The artist often does so by experimenting with varied media, forms and styles.

The outcome is a ‘cultural patchwork’ at times laden with subtle references to Western literature and cinema that he juxtaposes with traditional and mythical elements drawn from his home country’s rich culture. Bringing out the essence of his practice, the artist has stated: “My works try to weave the past with the pressing present concerns, underlining ironies of the situation.”

Justin Ponmany, born in Kerala in 1974, employs a peculiar form of oleographic painting. The artist is known to do so in order to capture the very essence of contemporaneity. The chromatic richness of his artwork makes it particularly gripping. This facet of his work changes depending on the intensity of the lighting and also the viewer's vantage point. Using photos as core of his creations, the artist imbues the surfaces with a host of materials like resin, plastic, printer’s ink, holograms salt etc; this to conceive rugged stylistic effects. He also employs traditional acrylic paint, charcoal and smoke.

Contemporary artists from India in Italy - II

Torino (Italy) based Luce Gallery presents a major group show 'Indian Rainbow', featuring prominent contemporary Indian artists, namely Atul Dodiya, Justin Ponmany, Thukral & Tagra, Jagannath Panda and TV Santhosh.

Jiten Thukral was born in the state of Punjab in 1976, where as Sumir Tagra was born in Delhi in 1978. Working together, Thukral & Tagra have made a name for themselves as expert graphic artists and designers. They effectively explore the drastic changes that their country and Punjab in particular. The two usually design their creation on PC before they work on it. While developing it, the talented duo improvises on each other’s ideas.

Designing may have taken a backseat, but they are acutely aware of the social impact that design can have. Both artists engage with sensitive issues such as immigration and consumerism through provocative experimental research that stylistically transcends the fine boundaries of Pop Art. While playful and humorous, their work also raises pertinent questions about the nature of Indian identity as articulated by Indians themselves and projected on to the aspiring nation by the rest of the world.

Among other participating artists, TV Santhosh, born in Kerala in 1968, creates work that maps the trend of violence and unrest and its oft-representation as a spectacle in the contemporary world. These are the bold themes that he provocatively deals with in his work. One of India's most talented artists of his generation, Santhosh has been witness to a meteoric rise carving out a niche for himself in India and internationally.

By drawing upon source material from newspapers, websites and magazines, he creates polarized images whose violent undertone gets further emphasized by the dramatic usage of acid colours.He strives to project the truth, hidden somewhere in the barrage of images in media to present alternative narratives. The artist elaborates: “It’s not easy to distinguish between factual representation and distortion of facts. As an artist, I strive to formulate a language capable of capturing notions of reality.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Exploring the bond between fashion and art

Fashion and art flaunted a bond, a symbiotic relationship, a connection between them courtesy Khoj International Artists’ Association. It presented ‘The Idea of Fashion’, an exhibition that showcased works by a group of artists and fashion designers.

The project at Khoj Studios in New Delhi was amalgamation of art and fashion, involving Mithu Sen (artist), Manisha Parekh (artist), Anay Mann (photographer), Arjun Saluja (fashion designer) and Kallol Datta (fashion designer). Mithu Sen in her work studies self-perception and analyzes the influence of society on our identity. She engages in queries related to gender in postmodernism and the subjective experience of sexuality and femininity in post-emancipation. Anay Mann started photography in 2001, especially the stage portraits as the idiom to explore. Artist Manisha Parekh has exhibited work extensively in India and abroad.

According to the director of Khoj, Pooja Sood, the residency tried to question the role of fashion in shaping our everyday realities and dreams, as well as both the individual and collective processes of self perception, identity, communication etc. She added: “What’s intended with these processes and perceptions? What’s achieved and what’s at play here, what’s at stake and the powerful role fashion has and continues to play in history? The idea is to explore what it means to an individual, and how one may start seeing fashion as an artifact and also instrument in society as we understand it of the fashion weeks and fashion shows.”

Through installations and garments, the participants presented different perceptions and ideas related to fashion. Anay Mann and Mithu Sen explained that the workshop was more about delving into how fashion can change identity and behavior. Manisha Parekh treated it as a physiological journey into the fashion designers’ minds to follow the attitude behind experimenting with different fabrics and materials.

Arjun Saluja and Kallol Dutta went back to the basics and experienced the joy of team working and thus understand the mindset of artists and how they used it in terms of fashion. According to them, both artists and fashion designers have quite a similar sense of expression though the medium of expression is different.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

'Therein & Besides' by Sheela Gowda

London based Iniva presents Sheela Gowda's first UK solo that also includes a new commission. The Bangalore based artist is known for her large-sized sculptural installations that draw upon common objects and everyday materials used as the starting point. Her usage of diverse materials is comprised of both an investigation into their physical qualities and source.

Iniva creates exhibits, publications, education and research projects that engage with a spate of new ideas and debates in the contemporary art world that reflect the current cultural diversity. For this exhibit at the spacious gallery overlooking Rivington Street, she has explored a new set of materials to create a scintillating sculptural work. ‘Of all people’ is the new work, made of countless wooden chips.

Roughly carved into votive objects by craftsmen, they form part of a captivating composition of frames and doors that are painted in shades of emerald green, pink, off-white etc. They reveal the marks of weathering. The viewer is prompted to recalibrate their engagement of the work from different heights as well as perspectives.

Her works juxtapose abstract forms with pointed references to society. Having trained as a painter, Sheela Gowda’s diverse art practice blossomed in the 1990s, as she also tried out sculpture and installation. The artist’s visual idiom responds to the contemporary world’s complexities like its violence and contradictions.

While she has featured in many curated group shows, this solo is an opportunity to view her oeuvre in a larger context. As she reveals: “I work towards layers of meaning even while trimming the form to the extent possible, where the source or the reference is suggested, but not (always) stated literally.'

Initially, she selects and tests a material for its physical/ conceptual attributes. What will it do? How can the material be transformed and what structures can it make possible? This results in creations that are pared down to abstract forms, which remove them from specific socio-economic context, albeit contain a residue of its source, made perceptible to the viewer.

‘Feminine Syntax: Personal Biographies’

‘Feminine Syntax: Personal Biographies’ is the title of a show at Lemongrasshopper, Ahmedabad. The exhibition features works of 6 young women artists. Curated by Rekha Rodwittiya, a noteworthy artist herself, it is comprised of works by Karishma D'souza, Kim Seola, Lee Hayan , Kim Kyoungae, Malavika Rajnarayan and Sonatina Mendes. The first three are from South Korea. Karishma D’souza and Sonatina Mendes are from Goa; and Malavika Rajnarayan is from Bangalore; all now currently reside in Baroda.

‘Feminine Syntax : Personal Biographies’, as an accompanying essay mentions, is an intimate space of reflection and consideration that desires to hold dear the personal and the fragile, within an art environment that has increasingly begun to impose the demands for grand and epic proclamations. Like the weaving of a tapestry, the many different threads that knot and come together are what finally make for a complete picture; and as lives interweave too, these spaces of communion hold exquisite value.

A staunch feminist, Rekha Rodwittiya believes that in spite of the gender inequality, a multitude of voices still express the desire to dispel the stereotype of gender bias, and look to accommodate the complex changes we know to be real. The participating artists are acutely conscious of the collective histories that that they choose to belong to and which may be viewed as the legacies of feminist discourse.

Nuanced and evocative, their works imbibe oral histories of a multicultural social milieu which become the stage of greater elaboration and interventions. Shared associations, conflicts, parallel histories and cultural investigations - all wrapped in the pursuit of a visual language, have distilled to articulate passages of contemporary existence for these six women.

Feminine sensibility in art is often from those territories that engage with the politics of gender and which chart a history crucial to contextualizing self representations, as the curator concludes. The show is a perfect event, to coincide with this year's International Women’s Day celebrations…

(Information courtesy: Lemongrasshopper)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Insights into building a good art collection

A recent news report by Tinesh Bhasin in The Business Standard (Making your portfolio arty) publication, differentiates between collectors who buy high value art with no intention of selling it and buyers who want to buy cheap and hopefully sell at a profit. For them, art is not a long term investment avenue. The reason could be that art unlike most other asset classes like property and stocks do not help a person earn regular returns in form of dividend, rent or interest income.

It does not really generate any tangible income just by holding it. No wonder, when gallerists find out that these aspects often deter potential art buyers. The informative news report points out:
“Many collectors prefer to keep works of celebrated artists. But works of M F Husain, S H Raza and Tyeb Mehta run into crores. However, there are smaller works as well. Give priority to established galleries over new ones and dealers.
“Established galleries often commission artists to work for them and they know their art. They will also have better collection as compared to newer ones, the reports mentions Geetha Mehra, owner of Sakshi Gallery as saying. In a way, buying art is often ‘an emotional affair’ and the collector must ideally like it and also relate to it.

Before buying, visit the gallery or auction house to check your selection. Its invoice is the most key document you need to retain you as long as you own the work. It serves as the proof of the work being authentic and genuine, especially in case of certain artists who are no more there. If the work of the artist whose work you own or want to own features in any catalogue or publication, keep the copy with you.

Last but not the least, you need inputs from experts to collect right pieces. Approach a specialist dealer who will demystify the process of collecting. Harbor a comprehensive and holistic approach instead of a bits and pieces. Know what to collect, at what price to buy, and where as well as how to buy. All these aspects are crucial to make art a good investment.

How to go about buying art?

So what is the right way to launch your love for art? A news report by Tinesh Bhasin in The Business Standard (Making your portfolio arty) publication proves a quick guide on the topic. Quoting experts in the domain of art it underlines the fact that budget is not really a factor.

There are artworks for all budgets! You may buy them for a mere Rs 5,000-10,000 or purchase works worth a crore or more. The correct way is to chalk up a budget for each piece. You should also check websites of prominent galleries, news portals, auction houses and investment advisors to shortlist artists and artworks, which appeal your preference and tastes.

Buy higher worth works as you become more comfortable and conversant. The story mentions of an NRI couple that started with a budget of Rs 15 lakh or so to put up a few works of art in their new luxury house. They rightly decided to start small and first develop a proper understanding of what they want to buy. As the writer suggests:
"If you wish to own master artists, you can explore from options like sketches or watercolors. You will be able to buy these even below Rs 2-3 lakh apiece. These can be small-sized artworks, say 10*10 inches or thereabouts. Another option is buying serigraphs or lithographs, which are authorized copies of an original work created by the artists themselves, and even signed by them. If the print quality of a lithograph is good and the production is low, it will hold value. For instance, you can buy a lithograph of 'Astavinayak' by Husain for roughly Rs 25,000 (excluding taxes)."
Importantly, if you come across a piece within your budget that you like, buy it without worrying about the future value. If you are not able to relate to a work, better not buying it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Where to draw the line of decency?

Artists for ages have depicted sex – fascinating frescos in Pompei and Herculaneum hardly leave anything to the imagination, albeit in keeping with the permissiveness of the respective time period, graphic sexual images have been kept away from public glare.

This is no more the case. Exhibits in commercial galleries having explicit content seem are on the rise. Currently, London based Simon Lee Gallery is showcasing works by Larry Clark. This American photographer’s series, entitled ‘Kiss the Past Hello’ in Paris last year saw was banned under-18-year-olds. It apparently had explicit ‘sex & drug taking’ content.

Again in London, Alison Jacques has just had an exhibition curated by the Scissor Sisters. Among the works on view were some of famous homoerotic images by Mapplethorpe like ‘Untitled (Milton Moore)’. Pilar Corrias showed last year works by the US photographer Leigh Ledare. It had explicit images and videos, making for an uncomfortable viewing. The Luxembourg-Dayan gallery in New York has exhibited works from ‘Made in Heaven’ series by Jeff Koons, containing graphic photos and sculptures full of sexual acrobatics.

Sometimes such explicit subject matter puts galleries and museums in a rather difficult position, as they have to steer a tricky path between exhibiting and documenting artistic practice in all its forms, at the prospect of incurring public outrage. Quoting academic and sociologist András Szanto, Georgina Adam of The Financial Times notes in an insightful article (The hard sell): “The 80s and 90s were marked by the fearsome Aids epidemic, anxiety; the feminist art of the earlier decade was scandalous in what it depicted. So where to draw the line between pornography and art?"

“Every age has its ‘Olympia’, another expert mentions, referring to Manet’s portrait of a naked courtesan (1863) that provoked uproar. “Today the threshold for making such outrageous sexual statements is much higher. Art is a mirror of society.”