Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Chinese art buyers’ profile

The world of art has set its sights firmly on Hong Kong, driven by expectations that mainland China is giving rise to a formidable class of collectors of contemporary art. Phillips de Pury is probably the only global auction house to focus on contemporary art & design exclusively. It will hold its HK sales in the autumn. There are other art ventures in the form of Beijing’s Pékin Fine Arts renovating a space, Gagosian’s new gallery in the city, Emmanuel Perrotin’s desire (a Parisian dealer) to get an office, and the Pace Gallery’s plan to expand into Hong Kong.

Indeed, Hong Kong is now getting more attractive, and there are obvious practical reasons like censorship reasons, tax reasons, no requirement of visa and ease of conversation in English, points out the HK based Osage Art & Ideas director, Pauline Yao. The most important advantage is its physical proximity to mainland art collectors.

Traditional Chinese works & antiques still attract a far larger collector interest in the mainland, and also command eye-popping prices at auction sales but they are getting increasingly rare. According to Poly Auction director (contemporary art), Jia Wei, this is invariably going to affect the contemporary art market. Jia is coming across new buyers in the age group of 35 to 40, or less, educated abroad, and also well traveled and more aware of art trends.

Clinton Wu, a Beijing resident just in his 30s, is one such collector. He buys contemporary Chinese artists’ prints since he finds the original works too expensive. In spite of this rising interest, it’s still a long way to go for mainland collectors before they become a major force. They tend to buy cautiously, which is understandable. They prefer moderately priced works, and the top buyers are still seasoned overseas collectors.

On their part, the auction houses feel the need to educate collectors, and to stop the speculative trajectory of the Chinese contemporary art market. Efforts are already being made in this direction.

‘In Search of a Narrative Idiom’ and a Sanjeev Khandekar solo at London’s Nehru Centre

Just as narrative gradually ceased to be a core theme for most modernist poets, so did streak of storytelling all but disappeared from modernist painting spectrum! Today, a number of factors though, most conspicuously the steady decline of the somewhat rigid modernist orthodoxy and the subsequent return to realism have both conspired to help in revival of narrative painting.

A two day exhibition that was just hosted at London’s Nehru Centre, featured some of the most noteworthy modern & contemporary artists from India, namely Paresh Maity, Thota Vaikuntum, Sakti Barman, Jayasri Burman, Laxma Goud and Anjolie Ela Menon. It made a strong attempt to return either in a roundabout fashion or directly to the great narrative tradition in painting.

The aim of this exhibition was to offer an alternative insight into visual narratives, which employs unconventional or unfamiliar compositions and structures. Its intention was not necessarily to formulate or arrive at a precise definition as to what exactly makes a work of narrative in nature.

It rather provided alternative ways to present a passage of time placed within a static medium and typified the potential of narrative painting. Nonetheless, the participating artists in this show shared, to differing degrees, certain common facets like space, setting, and a representation of figures related to the themes or events portrayed.

Another important exhibition at the Nehru Centre featured a series of acrylic paintings by poet-painter Sanjeev Khandekar. He here represents a magnificent montage of distorted images of the ticker tape that forms the nucleus of the market scene. To put it in his words: “I wish to distort the ticker just to squeeze it, to try out its abstraction, you might say but this is to understand the internalization of our obsession with money, power and ensuing consumerism.

“We all are just figures and numbers who walk in the human form in the finance world, or the figures in the paintings, ambulating in order to reach the point of gratification. But we’re not able to locate our destination as the market has unleashed the huge volume of our unconscious, a quiescent bundle of the suppressed desires.” In essence, the artist reminds the viewers of their enslavement to the market that we’ve subjected ourselves to.

Art awards for upcoming and talented artists from India

The capital city of India, New Delhi, has a whole range of artistic activities on offer, including scholarships, awards and residencies.

The Skoda Prize for promoting excellence in Indian Contemporary Art is one of them. Its aim is not only to honor emerging talent from the country, but also carry their works to a larger audience, cutting across boundaries, according to Martin da Costa, one of the brains behind these awards.

The Skoda Prize award was given to Mithu Sen, last at the hands of world-renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor. The art award looks to felicitate deserving Indian artist below 45. To qualify for it, one would need to have hosted a solo in any medium, like painting, installation, sculpture, video, photography, and performance. The top 20 shortlisted artists with a solo between May 1, 2009, and April 30, 2010, in India will be featured in the Skoda Prize catalog.

The works of art of the final three nominees will be exhibited in a separate show. The winner will be given a cash prize of Rs 10,00,000 and the runners up will get an opportunity to attend a four-week residency program in Pro Helvetia in Switzerland. Last date for submission of applications is August 30. Check other terms and conditions at www.theskodaprize.com

On the other hand, The Khoj International Artists’ Association’s Peer is an yearly education & outreach residency program. It brings together five young art graduates from across India. For a span of four weeks, they work together in a discursive space with an emphasis on experimentation innovation and risk-taking in their practice. Check other terms and conditions at www.khojworkshop.org

Foundation For Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) award for emerging artists spots extraordinary skills in the domain of visual arts. An independent jury comprising renowned artists and experts choose two winners each year. Launched five years ago, it includes an eight-week international residency program plus a solo. In order to qualify for this award, the artistt must be under 35. The last date to submit applications is July 15. Check other terms and conditions at www.ficart.org.

The Bhiku Ram Jain Foundation prize is awarded to 30 talented artists. Apart from an attractive cash prize, the winning artists get to showcase their works at an art exhibition. Check other terms and conditions at www.artmall.in

Monday, May 30, 2011

A spotlight on traditional print artisans of India

The New York Times has published a special report on traditional print artisans of India that lauds their craftsmanship and creativity.

Tracking the tradition, a special report by Amy Yee mentions, “In spite of the rich legacy of block printing in India, demand for it actually diminished in the early 20th century. This was owing to the advent of cheaper, mass produced and machine-made fabrics as well as usage of chemical dyes instead of earlier vegetables dyes. Even the market for fine Sanganer hand-block printed fabric had greatly declined by the 1950s. But in the late 1960s the tradition was revived when Western designers arrived in the country as part of the ‘hippie trail’ and started using hand-block print textiles to create modern, fashionable clothing mainly for export.”

One institution that has kept the tradition alive is the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing in Jaipur. The magnificent museum opens with the craft’s history and progresses to display technique & contemporary clothing. A voluminous hippie caftan is one excellent example of how designers revived and reinterpreted the ancient tradition. Displays of tools also highlight the craftsmanship behind beautifying a simple piece of cloth.

There are engaging glass cases that showcase textiles and garments, with a particular emphasis on the meticulous production process and complex technique. For example, one case on display has a row of vests that document the various steps in a highly complicated printing & dyeing technique - one similar to that used in Ajrakh, in the state of Gujarat.

The museum also focuses on the wonderful work of several block-printing communities located in northern India. It brings to the fore their distinctive techniques and production styles. For instance, from the 18th century block printing greatly flourished in the town of Sanganer. As records testify, royal patronage then fueled domestic trade.

As is documented, Indian royalty acted as patrons of the finest block-printed fabrics even as ordinary folks preferred simpler designs. In the distant village of Bagru, patterns traditionally stood for a person’s marital status and caste.

The NYT spotlight on one of India’s glorious albeit neglected art traditions

The Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing in Jaipur is dedicated to the fine art tradition of hand-block printing. The institution offers a precious glance at the rich work of the country’s block print artisans. Housed in a restored 16th-century palace near the historic Amber Fort, the small museum is comprised of exhibits laid out over three spacious floors. They display extremely intricate workmanship leading to a painstaking process of hand-block printing.

Wood carving is one step in the glorious Indian hand-block printing tradition that has adorned royal robes and religious cloths for centuries. The museum’s director, Rachel Bracken-Singh, mentions: “Until it was opened, there was hardly any way for people to see a block printer or carver actually at work — there wasn’t any easy access to authentic information.”

Until exporters made their entry into the minuscule market for Hand Printing, there was hardly any innovation or efficiency in production, patterns, design or color. However, infusion of new tastes and introduction of a viable marketplace helped kick start creativity and experimentation. “In in way the only possibility of keeping the tradition alive was to contemporize it, states the museum director, Rachel Bracken-Singh.

The museum strives to preserve the captivating craft; it’s also a site of preservation in itself, so to say. The Singh family bought the palace in 1989 on a whim. The structure was almost in ruins then. Restoration activity using traditional techniques was completed in 1995, but the idea of a museum would originate much later. With its carved windows and apricot-colored walls, the restored palace is remarkable. It also received an award from Unesco for building preservation a decade ago.

It took almost two years for designing and building it, with funds made available by Anokhi. Stephane Paumier, an architect from France, designed its interiors as well as display cases. Anokhi Museum wants to cherish and propagate block printing. Ms. Bracken-Singh states, “The craftspeople must have pride in their work and it should be respected.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A double solo show that harps on conceptuality

There’s a renewed interest in conceptual discourse in Indian art, according to noted curator-critic Heidi Fichtner. The thought processes that go into an artwork are much more theoretical now since the country is placed and working within the global realm, he adds in an interview.

Fichtner is the program director of the Seven Art Gallery, Delhi. He is known to work with talented concept artists across a wide range of media. In fact, concept art gained currency as a mainstream genre in the 1990s thanks to artists like Subodh Gupta, Bose Krishnamachari, Atul Dodiya, Riyas Komu, N. Harsha, TV Santosh, Shilpa Gupta, Mithu Sen, Bharati Kher and Jitish Kallat.

These artists started working on ‘concepts or ideas’ - both abstract and realistic - in different mediums. Fichtner pointed out that many leading galleries were promoting upcoming artists who could well hold their own internationally, to compete with artists who have a greater conceptual and theoretical grounding.

Incidentally, Gallery Seven Art Limited is currently hosting a double-solo show of the works of the Chennai based artist, Ganesh Selvaraj and the Baroda-based Japanese sculptor, Shinobu Mikami. The latter works in a variety of media like drawing, sculpture, installation etc.

Delicate, deft and quite poetic in its visual expression and vocabulary, Shinobu Mikami’s work is firmly grounded in a rather unusually subtle and intimately personal conceptual framework. Revolving around the specificity of the diverse materials that she employs (wood, fabric, drawings and language) juxtaposed with the experiential memory embedded into them and her forms, the artworks resonate with her interpretation of the world around, unveiling its subtleties.

On the other hand, Ganesh Selvaraj’s paintings are large and imposing; they speak about perception of the world around. The artist's new series is made of paper shreds culled from old news magazines. The artist here relies on the notions of time, infinity and his own personal experience. The concept of the new series is seed that can symbolize an idea or the centre of the flower. Each paper shred is akin to a seed, the artist elaborates.

A set of organic ideas diverse and individual form core of a new group show

Twelve Gates Art Gallery based in Philadelphia presents 'Organics', a group show of works inspired by a set of organic ideas diverse and individual at the core as the six South Asian artists, including Amina Ahmed, Delna Dastur, Ina Kaur, Antonio Puri, Gurpran Rau and Nitin Mukul.

The idea is to highlight the multifariousness of the organic art genre by collating organic works, which have different inspirations and origins – placed within the realm of the social and personal identity of the South Asian American art.

Among the participating artists, Nitin Mukul’s art pieces have been reviewed in The New York Times, Art India magazine, Asian Art News etc. A major theme in his art is juxtaposition. He effectively contrasts ‘elements of both the terrestrial and urban’ and employs forms that ‘refer to the worlds constituted by both the biological and social’. His work makes use of a range of media like painting, video, installation and set design.

Recently he curated art shows for Aicon and Religare Arts Initiative in New York and Delhi, respectively. His work was recently showed at India Art Summit, Scope Art Fair in Basel and Art Dubai. Antonio Puri also has exhibited extensively at different key venues across the world. He has won several residencies, and regularly curates the Art4Barter program, an ‘organic’ idea in itself.

Antonio Puri’s work is as complex as the core idea behind them, employing layers of veneers, glazes, and varnishes that adequately reflect the ‘emotions, transgressions, obsession, singularity and enigma’ of his practice. A San Francisco based artist, Gurpran Rau, studied at New Delhi Polytechnic, La Sorbonne in Paris, Purdue University and The École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris.

‘Organics’ features a selection of her organic mixed-media work. She draws her inspiration from the ‘structure, patterns and repetition in nature’ and how we are made up of similar repeating structures in the ‘mapping and coding of invisible information stored within our bodies’, as an accompanying note states.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

'Organics' at Twelve Gates Art Gallery, Philadelphia

A group show featuring Works six South Asian artists takes place at Twelve Gates Art Gallery, Philadelphia.

Amina Ahmed, Delna Dastur, Ina Kaur, Nitin Mukul, Antonio Puri, and Gurpran Rau are the six participating artists. Amina Ahmed, a New York based artist, is a member of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, NY. She presents an installation that explores pattern and measurement, deftly working with the fivefold symmetry. The artist explores the way her piece of art ‘organically unfolds and re-folds tracing the steps of an underlying path’. The recurring basic elements in her work are geometry, repetition and rhythm.

The defining principal of the work on view is: ‘Rhythm is the pulse or the breath that invariably permeates all living things’ and ‘manifests itself in the music of the universe’. She has showcased her work at India Art Summit in 2011 and Slick Paris Art Fairs and at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in NYC, most recently.

Delna Dastur did her BA (Art History) from Wellesley College and MFA from American University. She is a faculty member at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and The Art League of Alexandria. The richly saturated colors of her work are inspired by nature. In them, the geometric and mechanical shapes often tend to blur the line between the abstract art form and its ensuing organic inspiration.

Ina Kaur, based in New Delhi, currently heads the drawing & printmaking division at the University of Tampa. Her deliberations on art have been featured in several national and international exhibitions and are also included in private and permanent collections. A recipient of numerous important Professional Grants & Awards for Academic Excellence, she has left an indelible mark as an artist of immense talent and skill.

Her work broadly focuses on identity trapped in the continuum of cross-cultural negotiation. The three elements that have formed a new perspective for the artist in conceptualizing and visualizing her art practice and identity are localism, globalism and hybridity. A site-specific mixed media installation by her is included in this exhibition.

Bonhams and Sotheby's art sales

South Asian modern & contemporary art sale of Sotheby's to be held on May 31 is to be followed by the Bonhams Modern & Contemporary Middle Eastern Art on June 1.

A landscape in oil, entitled ‘The Tree’ by Jehangir Sabavala is estimated at 75,000 pounds at Sotheby's. The serene painting is part of the popular artist's Tungabhadra landscapes series. It was painted in the mid sixties following a visit to south India. He was greatly influenced by the ravishing ruins at Hampi and the stoic starkness and silence of the Tungabhadra river’s artificial lake, bordering Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

The auction also includes an untitled canvas work by Manjit Bawa, said to have been inspired by the Rajput and the Pahari style estimated at 100,000 pounds. A monumental sculpture by Subodh Gupta, entitled ‘Hungry God’ is composed of a wavelike mass of stainless steel pans, tiffins and milk pails. There are also two early oil paintings by FN Souza in the Sotheby's upcoming auction.

The Bonhams' sales is representing artists from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. Many of the works by renowned artists like Sual al-Attar, Ismael Fattah, George Keyt, Fadi Barrage, Husain, Raza and Sadanand K Bakre are new to the market. They have been part of private collections for more than four decades.

The works on offer in the sale present many of eclectic works by Bakre, who was part of the Progressive Artists Group. They cover every significant phase of his career and also include the first sculpture ever to come to auction. In fact, not many of his modernist sculptures have been seen before, one of them housed at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai.

A specialist in Middle East and South Asian art, Katia Vraimakis, who is associated with Bonhams, has been quoted as saying: "Sadanand K Bakre is still relatively undiscovered as an artist. His works are indeed powerful but have not been promoted like many of his contemporaries. The broader market that took a downturn is finally coming back into its own. The best works will continue to draw top prices."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Highlights of two international summer sales

Paintings by SH Raza and MF Husain among other major modern & contemporary artists form the highlights in two international summer sales. Husain’s ‘The Sixth Seal’ is estimated at 500,000 pounds, and is up for grabs in London at South Asian modern & contemporary art sale of Sotheby's to be held on May 31.

The oil on canvas work formerly in the Chester and Davida Herwitz collection, is comprised of six vignettes - a compositional device that the legendary artist used in quite a few of his early works, the auction house mentions. A key lot by him, currently residing in Dubai and London, is also to go under the hammer in London at the Bonhams Modern & Contemporary Middle Eastern Art sales on June 1. The untitled picture in private hands since the 1970s depicts his characteristic themes and motifs is estimated to fetch between 70,000 to 90,000 pounds.

The auction event courtesy Sotheby's features a total of 62 lots. It is slated to fetch sales in the range of 2.8 million pounds and more. A 1956 Raza oil on canvas work that forms part of the auction is estimated to fetch 500,000 pounds. It was done a year after he received the 'Prix de la Critique' award in France.

The painting portrays the view from the artist’s studio window and stands for a very significant early phase in his artistic career when he chose to abandon the confines of traditional watercolor for a unique idiom in oil. Another composition features SH Raza's 'bindu' painted in shades of red, yellow, blue, white and black. The 'bindu' or points symbolize the five elements of nature in Raza's works. The 1985 work estimated at 600,000 pounds is among the earliest large scale depictions of the bindu.

On the other hand, the Bonhams' sales is representing artists from Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.

An artist who as if, commemorates, a sense of time - both historical and futuristic

Jyothi Basu’s other-worldly landscapes are constructed of architectonic ciphers, which mimic the forms of both culture (writing, figuration, decoration etc) and nature (plants, animals and spores). The fantasy landscapes combine totemic figures, eccentric architecture natural elements and computer circuitry. The artist is as if commemorating, a sense of time - both historical and futuristic - in order to construct a system to make sense of the old and the new. The idea is prompt the viewer to mull over the possibilities of a strange world whose classical character has been overpowered and altered by technology.

His art has been greatly influenced by the nature and scenic settings of Kerala, his home state - palm trees, ponds, canals, a beach, the seascape seen through a coconut grove etc. The geographical basis of many of his compositional variations is a vivacious vista seen from his ancestral home.

After arriving in Mumbai, he has also been inadvertently immersed into chaos endemic to the city, causing yet another intriguing synthesis of opposites in his visual idiom. Both the urban and the rural milieu, imbibing the language of forms and patterns that picture roadways as jungle vines, vegetation as an electronic grid, and trees as concrete towers. His practice also often draws elements from India's popular, all-pervasive visual culture and abiding decorative traditions, yet placed within a universal context.

His ‘Resurrection Series’ highlight how we often forget our history in our advancement. It points out how the contemporary can only exist and is made possible by the apparently neglected historical buttress. Further elucidating his methodology, a catalog essay to his exhibition (2003) at Artists' Centre, Mumbai (courtesy The Fine Art Resource) mentions: “Dwelling on his work, we realize it is an interior time-zone and location, developed around perspectives of the personality: the landscapes are landscapes of the self.

“Jyothi Basu takes the eye captive, by means of small differentials of scale and tone that continually alter the dialectical connection between the figure and the backdrop of natural objects portrayed. Paying intense attention to the practice of picture-making as a puzzle or game, he engages the viewer's energies fully.”

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Artist Jyothi Basu’s life and practice

Viewing Jyothi Basu’s images is equally soothing and unsettling; one tends to sense something unusual and unconventional, like a beast seeking human sacrifice, might lurk below the uneventful and quiet surface.

Born in Kerala in 1960, he did his Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) from College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum (1987) and a Post Diploma in Painting from Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (1991). He wanted to avoid studying the subject of Art History, so he opted for a diploma instead of the MFA course.

A member of the ‘Radical Group’, striving to revolutionize modern art techniques and practices in India in the 1980’s, his imagery can be traced to works of artists like Hieronymus Bosch, Rousseau and Frida Kahlo. Among his selected solo exhibitions are 'Visionary Antiquities', Nature Morte, New Delhi & Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai (2006); 'Landscapes Towards A Supreme Fiction', Thomas Erben Gallery, New York (2006); and 'Healing Properties: Landscapes of the Self', Artists' Center, Mumbai (2003).

He has also featured in several group shows including ‘Expanding Horizons’, a traveling exhibition courtesy Bodhi Art (2008-09); ‘Anxious’, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke (2008); 'ART FORUM Berlin', with Aji V.N. and Ratheesh T. courtesy Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke (2008); and 'Mumbai Metronomes', The Museum Gallery, Mumbai (2007). Among his noteworthy participations are 'Santhal Family: Positions Around an Indian Sculpture', MuHKA, Antwerp, Belgium (2008); 'Horn Please: Narratives in Contemporary Indian Art', Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland (2007); 'Private/Corporate IV: Works from the Lekha & Anupam Poddar and Daimler Chrysler Collections' in Berlin (2007).

Jyothi Basu underwent a self-imposed painterly hiatus from 1991 to 1998. Alluding to his rebirth as a painter, his subsequent series of works, he dealt with the themes of death and resurrection, tinged with tones of the fantastic and ephemeral.

‘Hair-raising’ fantastical landscapes that denote a futuristic reality

On the eve of his solo in the US (2006), entitled ‘Landscapes Towards a Supreme Fiction’, The New York Times writer Ken Johnson, has mentioned of his paintings, not small in size, yet carrying a miniaturist feel to them, reminding the viewer of Indian miniature painting tradition. Inspecting the intricately and meticulously detailed structures, statuary & vegetation, one can see they are made with a brushy, though not perhaps overly exacting touch - grounding the dreamy imagery comprised within in a very tactile sensuousness.

His ‘hair-raising’ fantastical landscapes can easily be considered for covers of science-fiction illustrations by writers like as Samuel R. Delany or Stanislaw Lem, as the critic mentions in his review, and adds: “On canvases, which measure eight feet across, done in stained-glass colors, he gives bird's-eye views of grid-based realms. In them, nature and architecture, ceremony and function as well as the post-apocalyptic future and the primordial past apparently strike an eerie equilibrium. Hardly any people are visible in the paintings dotted with a lot of quiet animation: neon letters and signs appear in the deep blue skies, lights float and glow, geometric objects hover, flames burn from the headless statues’ necks.”

In his large-scale oil paintings, the artist dips into being a realm of his own making: hallucinatory, albeit grounded in precise observation of the world around. His art like an animated cartoon that brings together astronauts and cavemen synthesizes profound conflagrations, sees delight inextricably bound to terror.

The painted landscapes depict inter-connected systems, which carry energy and information, the flows of light and matter moving in different directions, interweaving of technology and biology, the solar systems’ genetic coding. Seen from an omnipotent viewpoint, they evoke cosmological diagrams, as if inferring a theological program. The fluorescent colors tend to ape the special effects of a jazzy science fiction film. It refers a futuristic reality - partly palpable, partly virtual. For him, painting is an anthology of details, which needs to be read and deftly decoded.

Artist Rima Banerjee’s hybrid, poetic compositions on view in Paris

Born in Calcutta in 1963, Rina Banerjee left India for England and then the United States with her family when she was a young child. Trained as an engineer, she obtained a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Yale in 1995 and then settled in New York. All this while she maintained a close link with her homeland largely thanks to numerous stays in Asia.

Informed by this singular background, her work tends to articulate a unique synthesis of mythologies and religions, anthropology and fairytales, exoticism and mass tourism. Challenging the order of the world in an explosive mix of imagination and materials, her delicate yet danger-tinged work gives rise to creatures that are constantly mutating, and sometimes monstrous, like metaphors of a world in a state of constant becoming.

As part of its spring-summer 2011 Indian Season Paris based Musée Guimet is presenting ‘Chimeras of India and the West’, an exhibition of contemporary work by the Indian-born American artist. Installed at the heart of the permanent collections, Rima Banerjee’s hybrid, poetic compositions enter into resonant interplay with the works held by the museum, which date back hundreds and thousands of years, offering a new angle on Asian civilizations and their complex relations with the West.

The artist’s works invariably conjure up a pantheon of demigods, of warlike female figures and fabulous animals, conveying the complexity of cultural mixes and the constant struggle for power between civilizations.

After the exhibitions by Chu Teh-Chun and Hung-Chih Peng (summer 2009), followed by Rashid Rana and Chen Zhen (summer-autumn 2010), ‘Chimeras of India and the West’ continues the Musée Guimet’s ambitious project, ‘The Manufactory of Contemporary Art in Asia’, exploring the interaction of ancient heritages and modern-day creativity. Parallel to her exhibition at the Musée Guimet, Rina Banerjee will be showing her most recent works at Galerie Nathalie Obadia, her gallery since 2005, starting on 22 May.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A storyteller who unravels truths of life

Termed an artist of ‘deconstruction’, and not creation, the stories in Manjunath Kamath’s artworks are actually in the midst of assembling themselves. They are not mere linear or straightforward narratives, and draw viewers’ attention with a touch of wit, beauty and playfulness. He quips: “Both artists and philosophers search for the truth, but can’t easily find one.

Each notion of truth belongs to a particular era, and it is bound to fail after some time.” To put it in his words, that’s exactly why he is still painting since once he is finished with the canvas, he just like any other person. If I ever discover truth, which doesn’t fail, the next day I may stop painting. He is not in favor of narrating a particular tale, about a specific issue.

His recent series of works, entitled ‘Collective Nouns” was on view at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai. It was a mélange of painting and sculpture. The diversity of forms on view only accentuated their intrinsic harmony. In small watercolors works on paper, in the large canvases as well as fiber glass, wood and terracotta works, the themes and motifs as if spoke to each other. Quote marks and speech bubbles recurred; rabbits proliferated; small figurines of gods popped out, a balloon appeared, ready to be burst.

Born in Mangalore in 1972 and residing in New Delhi for long-time, brought out his characteristic flair for presenting disrupted narratives. His concerns to free the visuals from their verbal equivalents have evolved through his work.

An introductory note to the show said it was a tribute to Prabhakar Barwe. Manjunath Kamath himself added the work on view represented a conversation with the late artist’s work that comprised very simple objects like tables, pins etc, to create so many problems in basic references. This was a silent communication with Barwe’s works in some ways, he affirmed.

An introductory note by the Venice Biennale exhibition director Bice Curiger

While the last Biennale ‘Making Worlds’ highlighted constructive creativity, ILLUMInations will focus on the ‘light’ of the illuminating experience, on the epiphanies that come with inter-communicative, intellectual comprehension. The Age of Enlightenment also resonates in ILLUMInations, testifying to the enduring vibrancy of its legacy.

Despite the fact that, in recent years, the idealization of enlightened reason and a specific brand of European western scholarly practice have come under fire, we cannot help respecting and even defending their value particularly in regard to the debate on human rights.

In organizing a Biennale today, it is vital to bear in mind that contemporary art is characterized by collective tendencies and fragmented identities, by temporary alliances and objects in which the transitory is inscribed – even if they are cast in bronze. The expansive drive that has propelled art since the 1960s has turned inwards. Art no longer cultivates the pathos of anti-art. Perception is now focused on the foundations of culture and art in order to illuminate semantic conventions from within.

On one hand, the artifact has given way to an emphasis on process, while, on the other, the revival of “classical” genres like sculpture, painting, photography and film is motivated by an interest in dissecting their codes and activating their dormant potential. These concerns go hand-in-hand with another aspect that is of great relevance today: art strongly engages and commits its viewers.

The 54th International Art Exhibition should emerge and develop in a process of inspired exchange and mutual stimulation with the artists. We asked four artists (Monika Sosnowska, Franz West, Song Dong and Oscar Tuazon) to create so called ‘parapavilions’ to host other artists’ works.

Although ILLUMInations is primarily focused on the presentation of younger artists, an older generation will also be represented, whose vibrant, highly contemporary work deserves to be showcased, for instance Llyn Foulkes (1934), Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992), Jack Goldstein (1945-2003), Gedewon (1939-1995) and Jeanne Natalie Wintsch (1871-1944).

Art is a highly self-reflexive terrain that cultivates a lucid take on the outside world. The communicative aspect is crucial to the ideas underlying ILLUMInazioni, as demonstrated in art that often declares and seeks closeness to the vibrancy of life. This is more important now than ever before, in an age when our sense of reality is profoundly challenged by virtual and simulated worlds.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

'Let there be ‘Illumination...’

The spaces available for the design of the great International Exhibition of the Biennale’s curator are among other important aspects of the whole showcase. They had to be fit for the purpose. And for this reason, in 1998 the organizers equipped the event with the extraordinary spaces made up, on one side, of the central Pavilion and the Arsenale, on the other. Spaces are critical elements of the Exhibition, which in such spaces and their special layout finds the most suitable way to create its own language.

The new Italian Pavilion at the Arsenale, this year has been entrusted to Prof. Vittorio Sgarbi, who has been appointed the curator by the Italian Minister for culture. Paolo Baratta, President of the Venice Biennale states in a note: “The curator must possess an expert eye, independent mind, generosity towards artists, a strict selection ability, and great fidelity to that mysterious goddess that is quality. These are the gifts which are recognized to Bice Curiger all over the world.

“We agree with Bice. In an age in which art has long since ceased the emphasis on the provocation of anti-art, we seek the ways of the dialogue between the artist’s work and our vision and our spirit, we want to understand and feel the 'beyond'” that art generously offers and whispers to us, we wish ‘illumination’ as visitors, as art lovers, as individuals and as members of the human community. And so, let there be ‘Illumination’…”

Bice Curiger, who graduated in Zurich, is an art historian and critic, and a curator of exhibitions at an international level. Since 2004, she has served as editorial director of ‘Tate etc’ magazine, Tate Gallery, London. Since 2001, she has been Member of the Palais de Tokyo Board, Paris and Adjunct Curator at the Kunsthaus, Zurich since 1993.

The 54th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia will present, as usual, the National Participations with their own exhibitions in the historic Pavilions of the Giardini, and in the centre of Venice.

Precursor to the 54th International Art Exhibition at Venice

Headed by its mayor, Riccardo Selvatico, the Venetian City Council passed a resolution on 19th April 1893 to set up a biennial exhibition of Italian art, to be inaugurated on 22nd April 1894. However, the event took place in 1895, two years later than it had been planned. On 30th April, the 1st International Art Exhibition was inaugurated.

The 54th International Art Exhibition, directed by Bice Curiger, will run June 4th to November 27th, 2011 at the Giardini and Arsenale venues (Preview on June 1-2-3) and elsewhere around Venice. The show is titled ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations, and will be set up in the Central Pavilion at Giardini and at the Arsenale forming a single itinerary that will feature 82 artists from all over the world, including 32 young artists born after 1975, as well as 32 women artists.

There are 89 participating countries this year (as against 77 in the last edition). For every edition, the states’ administrations managing pavilions (or those entrusted by their respective states of pavilion’s management) appoint a curator and a commissioner. This is a record for the Art Biennale.

The countries that will be participating for the first time include Andorra, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, and Haiti. Other countries will be participating after a long period of absence. More than 40 Collateral Events will be arranged by international organizations and institutions, which will set up their exhibitions and initiatives in various locations around the city.

Placed at the centre, in parallel to the series of countries’ Pavilions, the International Exhibition this year will be organized by Bice Curiger, who chose as title ILLUMInations (with 82 participating artists). The curator has been expressly requested to create a “boundless” exhibition. La Biennale has appointed neither committees nor different curators for different areas. It rather relies on one single curator (supported by his/her advisors and the Biennale’s structures for the implementation).

The choices made by the National pavilions’ curators and those of the Biennale’s curator turn out to be either shared or diverging. The dialectic relationship among these different choices represents a qualifying element of its international focus: an exhibition characterized by many eyes, many points of view.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The role that official country pavilions play

More than 40 Collateral Events are slated to be held by international institutions and organizations that will set up their initiatives and exhibitions in various important locations around the city of Venice on the occasion of the 2011 Biennale. These events are also a key component.

Those who are selected for the collateral events will be titled with the Venice Biennale’s logo; they shall be incorporated into the catalogue’s special section and advertised officially by the Biennale. Thus subjects, in a position to express quality choices, are given a means of making their presence felt. In some instances, this opportunity has been grabbed by ethnic minorities that choose the Biennale d’Arte for making their voice be heard and showcasing their cultural identity.

The organizers have always given a great importance and relevance to this bit of opportunity (this year they received over 80 requests and the curator’s final selection approved around 50 percent of them). In the fall preceding the International Exhibition, a meeting is organized where the curator officially appointed by the Biennale gives an illustrative presentation of his/ her project design for the exhibition. It’s an informative meeting. The curators from the various participating countries are not necessarily bound to it. They may implement their respective choices and ideas freely.

One may then wonder as to what extent these pavilions finally bring with them, however broad the autonomy to the curators, also the keen desire for representation evinced by the organizing country. Obviously, each of them will have its story and its style to narrate.

In their official pavilions, countries unveil the crucial role played by contemporary art, as messenger of their cultural heritage and of their present. Actually, from the official pavilions other revelations do emerge, on riches and realities that are much deeper than the traditional claims or usual stereotyped images put forth.

‘Art here is meant and treated as a continuous evolution.’ - Paolo Baratta

‘ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations’ conceptualized by her is carefully laid out in the captivating Central Pavilion in the Giardini and in the Arsenale where the Padiglione Italia as part of the keenly awaited National Participations program courtesy the Ministry for the Cultural Heritage & Activities as well as PaBAAC – General Direction for landscape, fine arts, architecture & contemporary art.

More than 40 Collateral Events are slated to be held by international institutions and organizations that will set up their initiatives and exhibitions in various important locations around the city on the occasion of the 2011 Biennale. The Venice Biennale President, Paolo Baratta, states: “Art here is meant and treated as a continuous evolution.

“If a museum primarily qualifies itself for the artworks it owns (though not exclusively, as directors today are asked to be also impresarios and managers), a platform like the Biennale qualifies itself more for its ‘modus operandi’, for the methods that it implements, for the choices that are made on method and principles, for the rules behind its organization, for the spaces available, and for the nature of the subjects who take part: in short, for the Shape of the Institution reflected in the Shape given to the Exhibit hosted every two years.

“It’s on the quality of this Shape the achievement of our main objective relies: being held in high esteem by the art world. After 116 years, the current Shape of the Exhibition is the one fully and truly defined in 1999, confirmed and subsequently improved. It’s in fact from that year the exhibit designed by pavilions has been arranged, in a distinct and clear manner, with the exhibit that the curator must organize and position as an ‘international exhibition’, with specific task (the curator is not in charge of the Italian pavilion’s selection).”

Undoubtedly, the 54th International Art Exhibition is one of the major highlights of the 201 Venice Biennale.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A precursor to La Biennale di Venezia

The 54th International Art Exhibition at the 2011 Venice Biennale has been directed by Bice Curiger. Her noteworthy curatorial ventures at Kunsthaus Zurich parallel her contribution in the publishing domain. She cofounded in 1984 ‘Parkett’ of which she is editor-in-chief. Apart from the prestigious art magazine, she has served as publishing director of ‘Tate etc’, London Tate Gallery’s magazine, since 2004.

A University of Zurich graduate, art historian, critic and equally renowned curator of important exhibits at an international level. Bice Curiger has served as curator at the Zurich Kunsthaus since 1993. It’s considered one of the most famous venues museums globally for display of modern & contemporary art as well as for its comprehensive collection of 500 years old works of art and which has implemented a major exhibits program of international significance for several years.

Andorra, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Haiti are the countries that are going to participate for the first time. Other countries that will be taking part after a rather long period of absence include India (1982), Iraq (1990), Congo (1968), South Africa (1995), Zimbabwe (1990), Cuba (1995, afterwards with IILA) and Costa Rica (1993, afterwards with IILA).

“La Biennale di Venezia sure is one of the world’s most vital forums for the illumination and dissemination of current developments in international art sphere’, states Bice Curiger. ‘ILLUMInations’, the title of the International Art Exhibition, literally draws our attention to the very importance of such endeavors in a fast globalizing world.

“As the oldest and also biggest one, la Biennale di Venezia has been buoyed by an international spirit, as always, and even more so now in an era when artists across the world themselves have now become multifaceted, discerning migrants as well as cultural tourists.”

A crucial element to this whole celebration of art is the city of Venice itself that hosts this large number of magnificent events and brings vibrant energies on its territory for a time span of six long months.

Mapping a veteran Indian artist's creative quest

Badri Narayan’s paintings are narrative in nature. Curious titles like ‘Meeting at Midstream’ and ‘Queen Khemsa's Dream of Hamsa’ are often the starting points from where one can launch the quest to unravel the complexities and mysteries contained in the paintings. The artist leaves it to the viewer to interpret and understand the subject matter. The artist tends to draw his inspiration from Indian mythology and metaphors - Hindu gods and goddesses as well as still life watercolors.

He also acknowledges the role of the Indian miniature tradition in his development as an artist. A believer in the two-dimensionality, his paintings are mostly done in a smaller format, which he finds well suited for the watercolor works. Though he works largely in ink or pastel and watercolor, the prolific artist has also dabbled with etchings, woodcuts and ceramics. Apart from teaching art teacher, he has also written fiction and illustrated children’s books.

Narration comes to him with a natural ease and proficiency. As he narrates, the artist has been fond of telling tales since his childhood. Symbolism is a prominent feature of his oeuvre, though at times, he inserts popular icons of rich Indian culture and tradition. Elaborating on his process of picking up the imagery and influences, he has stated it’s all that surrounds and immerses him, since his early years, becoming an integral part of his creative journey, overcoming many obstacles in the course of a long career following his own instinct, and experimenting with diverse media, forms and platforms.

Badri Narayan is a thoughtful and reticent artist, who has excelled in the various roles like the perennial storyteller, the creator of auspicious symbols, and the loving teacher, sans any pretentions. Indeed, peeping into the persona of this multi-faceted painter, illustrator, teacher, essayist, philosopher and storyteller in itself is an enriching experience.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The artist figured as pilgrim, monk or jongleur…

Badri Narayan paintings, simple in subject matter, reveal their intricacies to the viewer. Intimate and appealing, they are often infused with an element of fantasy, brought to the fore by simple outlines represented in two-dimensional stylized representations.

Defining the distinguishing aspects of his persona and paintings, renowned art critic Ranjit Hoskote elaborates in an essay: “He has re-interpreted the wisdom traditions of the ancient and mediaeval world; an autodidact, he shares his discoveries with others, rather than dictating his teachings. Accordingly, for him, painting is neither a didactic medium for the propagation of a gospel; nor yet is it an expressionist project marked by emotive exaggeration. Rather, he treats the painted surface as a visionary space where insight can be gained, and perhaps even revelation.”

Badri Narayan has for long been preoccupied by two distinct allegories: one of the different stages of life, which tend to mark the seamless transition of the self from one theatre of action & subsequent reflection to another; and second, that of the self apparently ambushed by revelation, the self-portrait attained in various guises.

In the recent paintings, he has rendered the first of these two allegories through such scenarios as that of the elephant that enters a curious cave-door opening in the flank of a hill, while an abandoned boat is floating on the riverbed, with a cast-off garment as its only anchor, or the royal ascetic hearing the celestial musician’s annunciation.

The artist is figured as pilgrim, monk or jongleur; as a wizening questor who is meditating on his paint-brush, or as a scholar professing on the various enigmas of reality, in the second allegory. An aura of freedom and lightness illuminates his recent works even where the artist strikes an introspective undertone. It seems, he reminds himself and the viewer, of the fact that the hard-drawn insight is not reachable merely by the path of suffering alone; there’s also that path of joy to be discovered.

Friday, May 20, 2011

An artist duo treading an unconventional path

The sudden bout of fame and recognition thanks to their selection for the official India Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale has suddenly catapulted Desire Machine Collective to the very centre of the contemporary Indian art scene. It’s a major achievement and milestone for the two young artists - Mriganka Madhukaillya and Sonal Jain.

The seeds of the artistic duo, as has been reported, lie in the 2002 communal riots in the state of Gujarat. Both Madhukaillya and Jain were in Ahmedabad at that point. The latter taught at the National Institute of Design (NID) and he doing his post-graduation (cinema), when they witnessed the violence after the tragic burning of a train. It was, states Mriganka Madhukaillya, something that ‘we probably failed to understand’.

That painful experience was what prompted their decision to go back to Guwahati. The other and perhaps more important one was their keenness to address the core ‘problem’, as he describes it, with ‘the notion of the north-east’. ‘Periferry 1.0’ (the pun in the title underlines the centre-margin dialectic), their most noteworthy piece, addresses just the very issues.

Their art project, Periferry, was supported in part by the New Delhi based artist-led platform for experimentation, Khoj. However, the arrangement will come to an end later this year. Thankfully, Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) has funded the venture on a project basis, informs Mriganka Madhukaillya who now is associated with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati as a teacher.

A series of international showings does help to attain fame and name. For instance, the collective will be showing at the renowned NGBK Gallery, Berlin. Madhukaillya Jain explains in an interview: “Often you receive a production fee and not a commission as many well-known artists often do. The journey of artists treading an unconventional path is never easy, it’s evident. Desire Machine Collective’s journey is a testimony to this…

Tracking the artistic journey of Desire Machine Collective

From the bewildering Brahmaputra banks, an Indian artist duo has made it to the Venice Biennale. We are referring to Desire Machine Collective.

For artists who claim to stay away from the mainstream gallery and exhibition circuit and are seemingly not so much interested in the ‘mass’ production of popular art ‘objects’ - not in the sense most understand them, at least - the artist group’s selection for the prestigious biennale is significant. Their works are going to be on display at the first ever official India Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale.

It’s almost seven years that they have pursued their experimental, avant garde practices in the remote areas of Guwahati, far off the maddening rush of Mumbai or New Delhi. And it is exactly this that turned the gaze of renowned curator-art scholar Ranjit Hoskote. He is commissioner of the official Pavilion.

While scouting for artists ‘from a host of unusual locations, backgrounds, economies and histories of art production’, who would jell with the broader theme of cultural citizenship, of ‘what really it means to be an Indian?’, he came across Desire Machine Collective. Their works are woven around the concept that he has kept in mind while curating the works of art for the official pavilion.

The well-known critic has been quoted as saying, regarding his choice of artists’ duo: “Desire Machine Collective pursues a sophisticated, vital art practice. They also share strong regional commitments, and yet they have managed to take their body of work out there to the world. They perfectly embody what I convey, that you don’t exactly need to be metropolitan (in approach or else) to be cosmopolitan. Their artwork is political at its core, highlighting economies that have been silently superseded and also voices that have been muted. But the same is equally nuanced,” he quips.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Artists explore the lexicon of palimpsest

‘Palimpsest’, a show at New York based Aicon Gallery, features works by artists Jayashree Chakravarty, Pooja Iranna, Vidya Kamat, Riyas Komu, Asma Mundrawal, Puja Puri, Talha Rathore, Nausheen Saeed and Avishek Sen.

A press release elaborates: “Drawing on the work of contemporary South Asian artists, this exhibition is arranged as a series of visual and narrative palimpsests depicting real or imagined traces of the past. Ideas of surface and depth, of secondary quotations and lost sources – of fleeting and hidden references, and of layering from a lost image are at the heart of this group exhibition.

A palimpsest is traditionally defined as an overwritten page – that is, it refers to the remnants of lost text as seen on re-used surfaces in books. As a term, literary and cultural theorists often use it to interpret narratives and imagery with an illusory textual presence. Post-colonialists often applied palimpsests as a concept to sort through layers of cultural experience, thus chronicling the ineradicable traces of history while acknowledging that, over time, traces shall remain in memory – or ultimately, be forgotten.

The concept of a palimpsest is thus an invaluable tool to be used in extracting pre-colonial culture from colonialist accounts and sources, while also helping to define shifting landscapes in terms of social or geographical compositions. The group show explores the lexicon of this concept through the work of a group of eight contemporary South Asian artists working in a variety of mediums. Palimpsest points to its own exploration via the cyclical actions of making, remaking, and erasing, all of which work to reveal trace elements retained either in memory or physical form.

For instance, capturing the Capturing the conflicting interdependent forces of the palimpsest, are works such as Asma Mundrawal’s ‘Is You or Is You Ain’t?’, depicting an idealized, perhaps unattainable, scene of contemporary middle-class Pakistani family life in the form of a children’s pop-up book that can be collapsed into nothingness at any moment. Similarly, Jayashree Chakravarty’s intricately layered and reworked paintings address the concept of the palimpsest by drawing from both figurative and abstract motifs to present multiple narratives both building upon and at odds with one another.

Mithu Sen at Espace Louis Vuitton gallery, Taipei

At Taipei’s Espace Louis Vuitton gallery, a show by Mithu Sen has been receiving immense critical acclaim since it was launched earlier this month. She has showcased some really large works and prints on the walls, which apparently denote a ‘mental journey through one’s life’. The works carry a feel of joie de vivre akin to one brought by chirping birds on a colorful foliage.

There are fleeting strokes of picturesque beauty to keep you engrossed - pebbled paths and mountain terrain – alongside uprooted flowering bushes crammed in shopping carts and passing animals on wheels that share space with candle stands plus an avant-garde LV suitcase on a cart.

The exhibit takes place almost a year after one of her most acclaimed series of works ‘Black Candy’ was hosted at Chemould Prescott, Mumbai. Incidentally, the artist was invited last year for the Taipei exhibition by the Vice-president (cultural development) Louis Vuitton, Vita Wong and the Mori Art Museum director, Fumio Nanjo. Their brief was very simple - to create a body of work in tandem with what the world-famous luxury brand stands for...

Mulling over the theme and the subject matter in her Faridabad studio, Mithu Sen opted to replace her frequently used and familiar mediums like blood, teeth tress etc with watercolor on customized Japanese paper. It was sourced from a factory located near Kyoto. She based her work on memories of her childhood across India.

The first set of works that was presented to Nanjo earlier this year was termed as a touch ‘too depressing’. The artist has been quoted as saying: “We spoke after the Tsunami and the curator suggested how there was need for optimism, following darkness and so many deaths.” The artist spent another two weeks to reshape the current body of work as it is now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A fly-on-the-wall account of the the contemporary art market's subcultures

An experienced art writer, historian and sociologist based in London, Sarah Thornton is known to contribute to prestigious online and offline publications about the art market mechanics, artists’ working lives and human behavior in cultural context.

Her ‘Seven Days in the Art World’ throws light on the hierarchies that structure this world of money and power based on several juicy quotes from key 'players' in the market, alluding to power play and status anxiety. A pertinent question posed by Thornton is: “How is a consensus on any artwork or artist ever reached? According to her, the super-rich acquire works for social reasons as she goes on to describe the excesses of modern art world with panache.

With her new sizzling and searing account of the art world, she ventures into a statusphere, dealing with the market players’, and focusing on seven different days – spread over a span of three years & five countries. Describing the settings for the plot, an introductory essay to the book describes it as a fly-on-the-wall account of the strange and smart subcultures that make, curate, trade, collect, hype, and govern contemporary art.”

The dramatic account considers why art has become a sought after commodity through a unique time format and chain of events. Day one at an auction in New York is followed by a peculiar student seminar in California; next, a fair in Basel; Turner Prize judging process at the Tate; and then with a magazine in Manhattan. A studio visit in Toyama and the Venice Biennale’s launch marks the last couple of days of her gripping sojourn that provide a peep into the subtle power dynamics, which animates all the interconnected milieus.

‘Seven Days in the Art World’ (Paperback; 287 pages) builds a series of non-fiction narratives, which astutely reveal the inner functioning of the institutions contributing to an individual artist’s place in broader art history. The author reveals the fast chaining dynamics of creativity, modern taste, money, new found status, and the search for meaning. Woven in a beautifully paced and user friendly narrative, she constructs and investigates the drama of an international auction scene, the behind-the-scenes activities in Takashi Murakami's studios, the elite crowd at the art fair, the art fraternity’s eccentricities, the workings behind a major art award, moments in an art-school seminar, and last but not the least, the Venice Biennale’s wonderland.

Exploring cultural translation and dislocation through common objects

Hauser & Wirth New York presents ‘A glass of water,’ its first exhibition devoted to internationally admired artist Subodh Gupta. Buttons and cans, steel cups of water, simple bread dough, and the forks and smears of sauce left upon plates after a meal has been consumed, all serve as elements in the artist’s complex choreography of meaning and oppositional values.

In the world of Subodh Gupta, the most quotidian objects and experiences lie in perfect equipoise between artistic, cultural, and spiritual abundance and emptiness, the twin companions of all who reside in the era of globalization and diaspora.

Born in 1964 in Khagaul, the Indian countryside in Bihar state, the artist is now based in New Delhi. Before his education as a visual artist, Gupta, who is passionate about film, was a street theatre actor. The artist’s change of residence from his native village to a major urban center is in a way an allegory of today’s India.

The growing middle class that migrated from villages to large cities is eagerly clearing the path for change and the dominance of global capitalist culture. Gupta is interested in what inevitably disappears in the process of such change.

Subodh Gupta has long explored the effects of cultural translation and dislocation through his work, most famously using Indian kitchen utensils – particularly his nation’s ubiquitous metal tiffins and thali pans – to demonstrate art’s ability to transcend cultural and economic boundaries.

The mass-produced objects that have played such a prominent role in his art offer an ambiguous symbolism: While they are seen by those in the West as exotic and representative of Indian culture, to those in India they are common items that are used daily in almost every household, from the poorest to the wealthiest. The artist harnesses these varying associations and, in the process, makes his materials subjects in their own right.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Subodh Gupta focuses on instruments of measurement for his new series

A significant show at Hauser & Wirth (New York) incorporates recent works by Subodh Gupta, who now turns his attention to instruments of measurement - in particular, those related to the food & drink that all humans measure through either daily consumption or desperately thwarted hunger – as metaphors in a chimerical visual poem about global appetite.

His ideas have taken shape in a variety of different media, from film and video, to steel, bronze, marble, and paint, which he employs for both their aesthetic properties and as conceptual signifiers carrying a wealth of connotations. The world-renowned contemporary Indian artist explores the opposing tensions of desire and control.

A tailor’s measuring tape, shirt buttons and a sieve are blown up into large-scale steel sculptures, establishing the rules of a game in which distortion and tricks of medium ambush viewers’ expectations of value. Comprising a group of sculptures, optically incandescent paintings, and two slyly illusionist installations, the new work on view further extends Gupta’s ongoing investigation into the sustaining and even transformational power of everyday objects and activities.

In the trompe l’oeil installation work ‘Atta,’ a simple, found wooden table bears a mound of dough that appears to have been measured out and lovingly prepared, but abandoned in the midst of kneading. Daily bread is the staff of life, but Gupta’s dough is inedible: sprinkled and surrounded by real flour, it is a painstakingly painted bronze simulacrum.

The complement to ‘Atta’ is an installation work from which the exhibition at Hauser & Wirth New York takes its name. ‘A glass of water’ presents another wooden table topped only with a single metal drinking cup. Inside this cup but just barely contained by it, is fresh water that mysteriously remains in a constant and unyielding state of brimming.

Filled beyond capacity and threatening forever to spill at the slightest vibration, Gupta’s simple but precarious offering serves up a rich metaphor for the almost unbearable tension between luxury and depletion, accumulation and deprivation, acquisition and exhaustion that are the daily diet of exploding international culture.

‘A glass of water’ will remain on view until June 18.

(Information courtesy: Hauser & Wirth, New York)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Defining trends that mark the Turner Prize shortlist

The two painters, Karla Black and George Shaw, are joined by video artist Hilary Lloyd and sculptor Martin Boyce on the 2011 prize shortlist. According to one of the prize jurors, Katrina Brown, the list was necessarily not representative of ‘one particular school, or cluster, or any movement as every medium is there in the mix. As the juror proclaims, it has a touch of maturity and diversity about it.

Quite in contrast to the shortlists of the 1990s that were largely dominated young British artist, the trend seems to have changed a bit. This was when the epicenter of British artistic life seemed to be lying the few square miles just around Shoreditch. Now the list is decidedly non-metropolitan. As is evident, only one of the four artists is based in London, namely – the Newcastle Polytechnic-trained Hilary Lloyd.

George Shaw, who completed his art education in Sheffield, now lives and works in Devon. On the other hand, Kara Black and Martin Boyce are from Glasgow – the city from where the last two winners of the Turner Prize, painter Richard Wright and sculptor Susan Philipsz emerged. The director of Tate Britain and also chair of the Turner jury, Penelope Curtis states the Glaswegian focus was a testimony to the strength and focus of the training made available in the 1990s at Glasgow School of Art.

Katrina Brown defines it as a clear sign of the maturity of the UK art scene, which is not any more concentrated in the capital city alone. Indeed, the whole prize dynamics will in a way turn its back on the prime art center this year. As if in keeping with the trend the annual Turner prize exhibit, will be held at the Baltic gallery located in Gateshead. (The show opens on 21 October.) In fact, it’s the first time ever in the prestigious show's more than 25-year old history that it has been hosted outside a Tate gallery and just the second occasion it has been carried outside the British capital.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

‘Lens-ing It’: Abul Kalam Azad and Vivek Vilasini's photo series

Apart from Ram Rahman and Sunil Gupta, ‘Lens-ing It’ at Ashna Gallery, New Delhi features works by Abul Kalam Azad and Vivek Vilasini. The former creates ‘series’ of ‘types’ of people who in the popular imagination represent Goa. He de-constructs the ‘stereotypes’ created by the popular movies and other popular narratives about Goans and in its place, establishes a series of ‘archetypes’ of people who in reality constitute the ‘racial character’ of a society. For the artist, racial character is not a term of insult on the contrary he, going by the Jungian ideas frames them as characters that determine the cultural make up of a society.

Abul Kalam Azad, whom curator Johny ML calls the ‘master of the Mattanchery School of contemporary photography’ revels in documenting the immediate surroundings with a deeply rooted ideological positioning on politics and gender, and also he uses his creative forces to capture things that could subtly evoke autobiographical linkages between the artist and the images. In the present series, he presents a set of photographs generally titled ‘My Anger and Other Stories’.

Abul Azad employs direct photography as his method. The angle from which the objects are captured shows how the artist holds these objects together in his life however scattered they are as if they were the sustaining narratives of his public and private life as an artist as well as an individual.

Vivek Vilasini’s ‘Between One Shore and Several Others’ is one of the highly acclaimed series produced by the artist during the last ten years of his career. In this series, he painstakingly documents the people who have names that do not have anything to do with their location, personality or profession. Some of them are named Stalin, some are Ho Chi Minh and Soviet Breeze.

The artist recaptures the socio-political and cultural contexts in which these people came to have these names. The living people with ‘un-localized’ names achieve semi-iconic status in these works, ironically emphasizing the contradictions that they embody not only within their contexts but also in an exposed global scenario. While giving them a sort of iconicity, with the iconic names as their claim to fame, Vivek also traces the cultural roots that could have imbibed the energies for their parents who named them after these well known personalities.

(Information and essay courtesy: curator Johny ML for Ashna Gallery, New Delhi)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Analyzing photographic works in a series curated by Johny ML

Manisha Gera Baswani’s series at Ashna Gallery, New Delhi as part of ‘Lens-ing It’ curated by Johny ML is all about her journey through the lives of the artists and art activists within the context of their work places. In these photographs, Manisha carefully collapses the idea of a secured private into the realm of a discursive public by capturing the most unguarded moments from their lives.

The artist makes a silent intrusion in order to chronicle the lives and times of the cultural makers but at the same time by choosing her silent locations the artist speaks of her idea of looking at artists making and presenting art both within the public and private spheres. She has been working this project for the last twelve years, initially focusing on a couple of artists whom she considers her ‘Masters’ and later looking at more artists who would allow her to click them while they worked.

One of the most interesting aspects of this series is that the subject-object polarization is considerably erased through the nullification of a strong subjective gaze on the body of the ‘objects’. Here the protagonists in each picture appear as if they were just an integral part of the whole setting and cannot be wrested apart for highlighting their presence.

On the other hand, Deepak John Mathew has two series of works in ‘Lens-ing It’ show. Done over a period of time, the first series has images from his home interiors and the second one has images from an anthropological and historical museum. Seen simultaneously, they resonate with the same ideology, tendency and meaning.

They preserve memories in certain ways but through various associations they also preserve the relationship between the extremes of love and violence. The domestic atmosphere devoid of its members but with the symbols and objects that they have left behind reminds one of the museum displays now detached from their original contexts. At the same time the museum displays with the mental associations that a viewer could make in their presence remind one of a domestic atmosphere where history is played out in its various microcosmic forms.

Anup Mathew Thomas looks at the ways in which colonialism has taken various manifestations in our contemporary personal and social lives. There are memories and myths that help the human beings to form an ‘idea’ about their own lives. These memories could be those of colonialism working in personal lives both as history and an ideological notion.

(Information and essay courtesy: curator Johny ML for Ashna Gallery, New Delhi)

A look at photographic works by Ram Rahman and Sunil Gupta

Introducing the viewers to the participating artists in his photography show, entitled ‘Lens-ing It’, curator Johny MLstates: “I do not intend to push these artists into the realm of something called ‘pure photography’ because the word ‘pure’ or ‘purity’ could cause a different ideological reading.

Hence, when I call these artists ‘lens based artists’ what I intend to say is this that they are artists who do not use their photography for creating another form of art. For these artists, photography and the photographic prints in themselves are complete forms (though opened ended often) which are liable to be analyzed contextually, using any tool or methodology, further as the images survive the time.”

Among the artists featured at Ashna Gallery in New Delhi is one of the most active photography artists in India. Ram Rahman has invested his energies in not only documenting and portraying the ideological and gender politics of his choice but also has employed his vision and camera for capturing the rare moments of intellectual rebellion in and around Delhi, where he resides half of the year, and elsewhere.

The series that the curator has chosen together with the artist for this show is not done in one go. Taken over a period of two decades, in this ‘imagined’ series (by the curator) one could see people, identifiable by their contributions and stance in public life. There are politicians like our present prime minister, artists and activists and so on in these pictures.

Reading within and without the context of the photograph and the frozen time exemplified in the pictures, despite their disparities in theme, one could see the aesthetics and politics of the artist conjoining them in one string as if these portrayals of the intelligentsia of Delhi were in fact exposing the chapters of an unpublished novel still waiting to be written down by the author.

Sunil Gupta, the veteran amongst the international contemporary photography artists is famous for his pictures of gender politics. As an individual who has declared his gender preferences long back, Sunil Gupta has been working towards establishing the aesthetics of difference through his photography that predominantly feature the man to man relationships both in the urban and rural scenarios. Also he makes meanderings to his ancestral spaces and attempts to find the linkages between his present self and the selves that had formed him ages back.

(Information and essay courtesy: curator Johny ML for Ashna Gallery, New Delhi)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Curatorial intervention that marks ‘Lens-ing It’

The concept of the new show, entitled ‘Lens-ing It’, evolved over a period of time in the mind of its curator Johny ML who found the use of photography in most art forms he tackled so pronounced that one could not have wished away such presence and prominence.

However, as rightly observed by the curator, the treating of photography as one of the aides or tools for doing something else posed an interesting problematic before me and it was during the same period I noticed how so many galleries in India and elsewhere started taking an added interest in photography, photomontages, photo collages and digital works based on photography.

The curatorial essay by Johny ML elaborates: “As far as my understanding goes, lens based artists are not those people who are ‘good at machines’. They are artists with a purpose and perspective. While they adopt strategies in framing their images, perhaps more than a studio based artist, they face challenges of a different sort.

Between the momentary-ness of the image or the posed finality of the tableaux and the photography artist, there lies a series of spaces that have to be negotiated within the span of a click by the artist. Perhaps, for a studio based artist, he or she gets more time to deal with it.

In this project at New Delhi based Ashna Gallery, my curatorial intervention was to gather a ‘series’ from each photography artist. By a ‘series’ what I mean is a set of photographs taken in one go or over a period time in which the photography artist continue to be led by one particular aspect of his visual, ideological and aesthetical searches.

Perhaps, this focus of the artist could be in a way an extension of his/her philosophy and aesthetics as reflected in their oeuvres. But by the curatorial focus, this one particular ‘series’ becomes a point of departure as well as arrival, which could supply a clue or a key to extensively analyze the works of the photography artist in question. Interestingly, all these photography artists in this show have been consistently following certain ideological as well as aesthetical aspect of photography throughout their creative career so far."

(Information and essay courtesy: curator Johny ML for Ashna Gallery, New Delhi)

A show that accounts for aesthetical considerations of photography

As we know that there have been concerted efforts from different parts of India to promote contemporary photography, still contemporary photography is subjected to a confused viewing as a variety of genres of photography impact upon people differently on a daily basis.

Generally, even in the academic circles, photography is divided into different categories as per the fields to/in which the medium is put to use; for example we have news photography, fine art photography, industrial photography, fashion photography and so on. Though for the sake of classification such distinctions could be allowed, it would be interesting to see photography as a holistic medium which could carry a multitude of socio-cultural and politico-aesthetical dynamics.

Right from political propaganda to gender positioning and from family albums to documentations, when put to use, photography plays a very pivotal role of cultural encoding. This is the reason why, curator Johny ML, chose to call a new group show, ‘Lens-ing It’ at Ashna Gallery, New Delhi.

It includes a show of eight artists – namely Abul Kalam Azad, Manisha Gera Baswani, Deepak John Mathew, Alex Fernandes, Sunil Gupta, Ram Rahman, Anup Mathew Thomas, Vivek Vilasini, who use ‘photography as photography’; they are lens based artists and often use their photographic prints as their final product.

All aesthetical considerations and problems that otherwise faced and solved by any other visual artist too are dealt by these photography artists with an equal verve as expected of this medium and the context in which this medium is used. The politics, social positioning and the gender preferences of the photographers play a very strong role in the formulation of frames and the images.

Photography has always been there in the field of fine arts but the tendency is to treat it as something lesser to other forms of art. Today, in the globalized scenario, photographs have become the message carriers of change. Photographs speak to the people directly and the photography artists have become all the more aware of their worth as meaning makers. For me photographing is a political act.

(Information and essay courtesy: curator Johny ML for Ashna Gallery, New Delhi)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dhruva Mistry’s stunning sculptures and Dialectal Image series

A few of Dhruva Mistry bronzes (1987 – 1990) in a new exhibition at Grosvenor Vadehra are maquettes he made for larger public sculptures. For instance, ‘Woman 3’ is a study for one his most important large scale pieces called The River, which is located in Birmingham. This sculpture has been affectionately nicknamed ‘Floozie in the Jacuzzi’ by the locals. He depicts a bold classical idealized form of a reclining female nude sitting in the middle of a large fountain. Whilst this is perhaps the most used form in sculpture, Mistry was able to add to some qualities to it that were truly unique to him.

Dhruva Mistry’s Dialectal Image series is also included in this exhibition. This series differs from the other works as they are assemblages or collages of metal and forms. Despite being disparate objects they join to form a whole in this instance as in most of Misty works the human figure. The term ‘dialectal’ means a version of a language; in this instance it means a version of a sculpture or image.

In this series there are strong references to tribal imagery, particularly the masked figures, which in turn are a reference to Picasso who was the joint founder of Cubism. Although cerebral, he was known to have been inspired by tribal art. The concept of Cubism was to incorporate on the two dimensional image the various images of an object just as the mind does. For example when we think of an apple we think of it from every angle not just as a flat image.

When it came to sculpture Picasso turned to Julio Gonzales with whom they recreated the language of sculpture by re assembling or constructing an object rather than traditional sculpture in clay which is based upon on modeling. What Picasso and Gonzalez did was to revolutionize sculpture and allow artists such as Richard Serra and Anthony Caro to push the boundaries. Here he is doing the same…

(Information courtesy: Grosvenor Vadehra)

Bewildering bronzes by Dhruva Mistry

London based Grosvenor Vadehra presents a show of bronze sculptures by artist Dhruva Mistry drawn from the Nigel Greenwood collection, comprising important works that he made during his stay in London from 1987-1990.

Nigel Greenwood (1941-2004), an influential gallerist, spotted and nurtured several important artists including Christopher Le Brun, Stephen Cox and Gilbert & George, and of course, the work by Dhruva Mistry. He had two solo exhibits of the latter’s works at his gallery. By the second one in 1990, the talented artist had established himself as a force in British sculpture.

He was commissioned to make many large public works and won several competitions in the field. Some of the large-scale prominent sculptures include the Sitting Bull in Liverpool, Diagram of an Object (Second State), Churchill College, Cambridge, The River and The Guardians in Victoria Square Gardens in Birmingham. The latter is perhaps his most iconic work, depicting two stone guardians and the reclining nude in the fountain, dominating the main central square in the city of Birmingham.

Elaborating on Dhruva Mistry’s career graph, a press release mentions: “He started exhibiting his works while he was still a student at the University of Baroda in1974. Soon after, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art in London. Here he met and integrated into the emerging generation of artists who went on to dominate art scene in London in the late 80s. In 1984, the artist went on to become an artist in residence at Kettle’s Yard Gallery with a Fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge, where he was exposed to works by important British sculptors and painters. While he lived in London for sixteen years, it was these early experiences that influenced his work during the period under consideration (1987-1990) for the show.”

In 1997 Mistry returned to India and joined his alma mater in 1999 as the head of Sculpture and Dean in the Faculty of Fine Arts until 2002. This marked a turning point in his career as he sacrificed his career in the London art world. The return to academia enriched his sensibilities but resulted in less time for his work. At the same time a newer generation of ambitious younger artists began to dominate the burgeoning Indian art scene.

(Information courtesy: Grosvenor Vadehra)