Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Art bodies that promote Indian art and artists- III

In the three-part series, we have tried to present the noteworthy art bodies that promote contemporary Indian art. Here is the concluding part that focuses on two such ventures.

Art Mall:
The Jain family runs the Delhi-based institution. Its dynamic owner Naren Bhiku Ram Jain strives to take art to the masses at prices truly affordable price. The motive is to support young artists and help them connect with common art lovers. An art collector or investor can simply come here, and offer a budget as well as other parameters like genre etc, and will then get to see a wide variety of work.

Recounting the origin of this enterprising concept, he had stated in an interview with The India Today: “I had a prime ancestral property and 2 options—to convert it into an office or turn it into footfall proposition. Instead of selling artistry, I wanted to generate a full environment of art.”

Keen to branch out to other leading cities in India and abroad, the promoters also visualize a school of art and an art residency program as well.

Emami Chisel Art:

The Kolkata-based body is among the major private auction houses in eastern India. It is presently engaged in an artistic exchange with Sweden. Its director Vikram Bachhawat has been quoted as saying in The IANS news report:

"It began with an Indian fashion show, Contemporary India. Indian artists will show bit over 100 artworks across eight display spaces throughout Sweden, including museums and pavements in August. The gesture will be reciprocated when Swedish artists display their art in Kolkata in December."

Emami Chisel has established itself as an auction house that strives to deliver fair value to both artists and collectors. Its meticulous study is based on evaluation of aesthetic factors as well as market trends. Their rich collection comprises authenticated paintings, prints, sculptures and drawings.

This post concludes our three-part series on some of the prominent private contemporary art bodies, though there are many others committed to the cause. Do post your feedback and write about them to us.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Institutions greatly encouraging Indian art – II

Here is the second post of our series on the prominent art institutions that actively promote contemporary Indian art:

ICIA and The Arts Trust:
Art connoisseur, curator and collector Vickram Sethi unveiled his ambitious art venture, the Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA), with a view to promote talented artists. Located in the heart of South Mumbai’s art district, the spacious gallery has showcased some of the best emerging talent in Indian art.

ICIA has a vision of promoting immensely talented artists with an oeuvre harbouring intrinsic artistic value. It serves as a logical extension of The Arts Trust established in 1990 by Vickram Sethi, who wishes to offer art lovers a quality viewing experience. He elaborates, “There has to be that ‘wow’ factor when someone looks at a painting. The paint application, the technique, the concept – it all has to come together.”

This committed and articulate art aficionado has been actively engaged in promoting contemporary Indian art, and increasing the awareness and interest in Indian art. Both ICIA and The Arts Trust share his goal and vision of becoming the best source for quality work of art.

Vickram Sethi envisages ICIA to serve not only as a space for showcasing a wide range of talent and creativity but also as a learning center for the visitors by making them involved with nuances of art. He wants to make it a dynamic platform for frequent exchanges and interactions on contemporary art.

The Harmony Art Foundation:
Based in Mumbai, it has been founded by Tina Ambani. The Harmony is engaged in several activities in the domain of contemporary Indian art for over a decade and a half. It awards many talented emerging artists every year apart from hosting an exhibition of artworks of promising artists from across the country.

The momentum gathered by The Harmony Show - many of them curated by The Arts Trust - is an ample reflection of the success it has gained over the years because of the dedication of Mrs Tina Ambani to the cause, supported by the curators and the unstinted cooperation extended by the artists and sculptors to the venture.

Art bodies committed to promoting Indian art - I

Listed below are some more prominent art institutions actively promoting contemporary Indian art:

Osian's Connoisseurs of Art:
Neville Tuli leads the Mumbai-based organization. It has created one of the most impressive codified body of modern, contemporary as well as kitsch art under one roof in India. Their official website states:

"Osian’s vision is to create a new infrastructure and model for the Indian arts and culture, whereby a merit-conscious and financially self-sufficient infrastructure is put in place, independent of traditional patronage systems but grounded in its own ability to be a part of India’s developmental framework.

"The Archive spanning five major areas is collectively the world’s most omprehensive textual and visual Archive. Recently the Collection has taken major strides into building a significant presence in the art of the Indian miniature and the Nepali & Tibetan Thangka. The Auction House and WMAS support the Archive and Film House occupied with documenting, preserving and disseminating the Indian and Asian artistic and cinematic heritage.”

Devi Art Foundation:
It has emerged as one of the most comprehensive and complete compilations of art from India and the neighboring countries. The foundation is keen to introduce contemporary art practices to public discourse through a series of exhibitions, education & outreach program, and artists' interactions.

Lekha Poddar started collecting art in the late 1970s primarily with works of the Bengal School and the Progressive Artists Group (PAG). Her son Anupam followed suit at the beginning of the new millennium, writing a new chapter in this memorable journey. Regarding his relentless passion, he has stated. “It just took over my life. It became an obsession. The term hobby is too tame; it almost controls you.”

Lekha and Anupam Poddar set up the Gurgaon-based foundation in 2008. It is committed to providing a platform to talented contemporary artists as well as young curators. The idea is to initiate a dynamic change in the viewers’ psyche. The organization works with nationwide schools, colleges and a host of other professional institutions/galleries involving young art aficionados in curious curatorial exercises, art workshops to expose them to different genres.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Motivated art promoters encourage the new talent

Guess who is pushing contemporary Indian art in a big way internationally? It’s private art promoters quietly pitch-forking dynamic young artists on the world map. They are playing a significant role to bring them into international limelight.

According to rough estimates, there are close to 100 private art foundations – major and minor; big and small - in the country that are actively promoting contemporary art & culture. They are popularizing the new age art in both India and abroad. In the process, they are trying to fill a void left behind by rigid bureaucratic red-tape and endless delays in those typical government-backed art initiatives.

The private bodies demand that they be offered greater incentives by the government, to initialize new projects for perpetuating the country’s rich artistic heritage. One among them is The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA). It takes up several meaningful initiatives like an emerging artists' award, a residency program at California’s Montalvo Arts Centre, workshops in Delhi’s schools, a public art grant, FICA group shows, research fellowships, group exchanges and an arts reading room in a famous Delhi locality.

The FICA spokesperson, Parul Vadehra mentions that their dream was to set up a foundation largely as a philanthropic project. But the idea was to segregate its routine activities from those of the art gallery. An IANS news report had elaborated on the efforts undertaken by the Delhi-based body by mentioning:

“It was set up in 2006 by Arun Vadehra in an endeavor to make contemporary art accessible, promote Indian art abroad, increase greater interaction among art institutions. It has helped several leading Indian photographers showcase a significant body of heterogeneous visual perspective of South Asia at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The exhibition opened in London to wide critical acclaim - and is now being showed in Zurich. "

In the next few blog posts, we shall take a look at more art organizations in India...

Understanding market realities of art insurance

Whichever way you look at it, it is essential to approach an insurance agency specializing in high net worth clients. A recent article by Bloomberg news agency throws light on market realities of art insurance in the US. Some of the facts are valid and worth considering in Indian context as well so we take a look at them.

Most homeowners’ policies from ubiquitous mass-market providers tend to have lower limits that won’t cover specific valuable items over a certain limit. Such policies generally lack special services such as compensation for appreciation or probable loss in value. Collectible values may not to rise and fall with the market index, something which lures investors.

About 75 per cent of people in the US with a net worth of over $5 million get for themselves homeowners’ insurance policies from any of the mass-market providers. These comprise Allstate or State Farm, according to the president of consumer lines at Chartis US, Charles Williamson. The insurer is attracting nearly 80 per cent of its new private clients from insurers like Geico and State Farm.

Wealthy investors are realizing that art and other collectibles need a far more TLC. Insurers like Chartis, Chubb and Fireman’s Fund Insurance provide specialized property insurance policies for collections that range from artwork to rare autographs, which can be had separate from homeowners’ coverage sold by the carriers. There is fixed cost for artwork insurance for specific amount of coverage. It varies based on such factors as where the collector is based and also the size of the collection.

In India too, there is growing about art insurance. Tata AIG General Insurance Company launched its Fine art and valuables insurance plan earlier this year for its High Net Worth Individuals. HNI customers and their families remain the exclusive focus of the group. It offers cover for fine art, jewelry, antiques and many other valuables.

Their art collection management services include a wide array of services like Customized policies, Transit supervision, Vulnerability assessments, Streamlined appraisals, Conservation and storage assistance etc.

An artist who explores the idea of life, death and confusion about the universe

Om Soorya explores the idea of life, death and confusion about the universe. Born in 1977, Om Soorya completed his MFA from University of Hydrebad and his BFA from College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum, India. He has had shows at the Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Mumbai, Nature Morte Art Gallery, Delhi, Kalakriti Art Gallery, Hydrebad and Khoj, New Delhi. The Guild Art Gallery presented a solo show of his works last year. The exhibition comprises his recent works that continue an exploration of his stylistic surreal landscapes.

Om Soorya’s paintings show neither the past nor do they really represent our own surroundings. They have neither nightfall nor daybreak, neither cities nor villages, but images of both rural and urban life. He takes a cue from life around that is surrounded by a spate of contradictions. He adds:

"Villages become urban when you displace someone, often improperly, from one place to another. I talk about the nature of reality and urban and rural juxtapositions as a search for the constant truth in the reality, which surrounds me. Reality doesn’t merely mean the socio-political arena; it relates to the most inner truth of everything.

"Conscious mind enters the real world and it searches for the logic in reality. Here, all doubts on reality emerge by itself, from the realms of the conscious mind. The question of existence and the reason of birth, growth and death are the phenomenon to be unveiled. At the same time, there is an inherent obligation to live. Concurrent to this thought, the unconscious mind manifests an imaginary world of dreams. Sometimes the nature of the idea is a kind of contradiction on the present realities."

In essence, his work is being just like a pendulum: in between the anxieties over the present realities and the quest for total existence. The idea of life, death and confusion about the universe, recur in his works.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A collection that reflects the Modern Indian culture in its entirety

While shopping for furniture in Delhi in 1999, an art-loving couple happened to meet Amol Vadhera from whom they bought two works by MF Husain. This is where the seeds of one of the most fabulous collections of Indian art were sown...

A first-generation entrepreneur, Rajiv Savara along with his wife Roohi, has compiled a museum-worthy selection of works from the late-19th and mid-20th centuries onward. The Roohi & Rajiv Savara Family Collection is appreciated for its focus on artists who the collector couple believes will, ‘five decades hence, define pre-Modern and Modern art of India.’

The comprehensive collection is an outcome of their insight, erudition and instinct to collect finest of artworks. It comprises historically significant and rare works, including a large private portfolio of exquisite Raja Ravi Varma paintings and the Tagore family (Rabindranath, Gaganendranath and Abanindranath) works. The Savaras’ admiration for artists like VS Gaitonde, FN Souza, SH Raza, Ram Kumar and Akbar Padamsee reflects in their selective acquisitions. Applauding their effort, a curator of Indian & Himalayan art at the Philadelphia Museum, Dr. Darielle Mason, has stated:

“The collection tells the story of Indian Modernism on a level not yet presented, and is be able to communicate the originality and vitality of it to a global audience because of the quality of each work.”

The Savaras’ approach since then has been driven by a belief that works of select great artists suffice to reflect the Modern Indian culture in its entirety. The duo seeks inspiration from art patrons in the west like Duncan Phillips, Mellon and Samuel Guggenheim. Elaborating on his philosophy, Mr. Savara has stated: “Private enterprise created some incredible institutions in America. That is what required here too!”

His belief that the collection actually belongs to the people of India sums up his vision as a collector.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Key aspects that need to be kept in mind while buying art - I

Investing in art is said to be an art in itself. It’s a specialized arena that demands knowledge, expertise, research and fieldwork. The investment parameters need to be evaluated in the context of not just an individual work, but keeping in mind national as well as international trends.

Following are some of the aspects that need to be kept in mind while buying art:

- Art is still not considered a primary asset class and definitely not one just to make money.
Returns from asset classes like equities and mutual funds are boosted by interim dividend payout, which is not the case with art. The monetization takes place only after you sale it.

- Investment avenues such as equities, mutual funds, debt, commodities and currency are institutionalized with strong regulators. Art is still in a nascent phase on this count.

- Art also requires careful handling and a high degree of maintenance. If it gets damaged owing to environmental changes of careless handling, the value would get diminished.

- Art you buy also needs to be authenticated by a reliable source or else you would be saddled with a fake. There is some paperwork involved the intricacies of which may not be easily fathomed by a layperson.

Irrespective of these concerns, art has its own unique position in the whole spectrum of investment avenues. In fact, it has grown in stature and acceptance as a dependable asset class. Investing in art is more of a process that should be enjoyed. When one wants to buy art, this is something that needs to be factored in.

Significantly, art is now a much more organized market with ample information and statistics including auction results, artists’ prices, trends etc – publicly available thanks to the Internet. Apart from well-known artists and high value masterpieces, you can dig out information about upcoming and talented artists by visiting different gallery websites to buy their works and be ensured of excellent returns in due course of time. That's the real beauty of art for you!

Aspects to be kept in mind while buying art - II

When buying art or for that matter, any asset class, aspects such as liquidity, risk taking ability and return expectations will come into play. These obviously vary from one individual to another and hence need to be clearly defined at the outset.

Art has come into spotlight thanks to the rising stature of Indian artists on the global canvas and the stupendous prices that they now fetch. Broadly speaking, the price discovery process in the art market has become much more efficient thanks to open bidding. The main concern of liquidity does not apply to this asset class owing to its democratization and growing popularity. Quality works are very much in demand and draw enough buyers.

Of course, to understand valuation mechanics, you need to consult experts in the field. They appreciate and understand the work better than laypersons, who may not be able to determine the precise value of an artwork. It’s better to leave the job to experts or perhaps to the market if you have faith in it through peaks and falls. As with any asset, the appreciation over and above your buying price may not be immediate.

However, the acquisitions need to be done carefully and after necessary groundwork. The decision to buy an artwork should importantly be based on your inclinations and fondness for a particular artist, theme, genre, style or form; it should not be random but a well thought out call! Most importantly, quick gains should not be the sole motto.

In fact, most genuine collectors (who may also be termed investors, so to say) enjoy the very idea of owning an artwork. The idea is not to make huge profits from the investment. They simply collect and treasure the works they possess. The very process of buying and cherishing a painting is fascinating.Ultimately, art bought for art’s sake will fetch you handsome returns, if you listen to your heart.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tips for insuring your precious art pieces

In a couple of blog posts published last month, we acquainted our readers with the varied nuances of art insurance. As we've grasped, insuring your art is extremely important to retain its worth.

Following are some vital tips to keep in mind, when you seek art insurance:

- Photograph your paintings and other collectibles. This is one of the most basic albeit important things to do while seeking insurance for your art.
- Take multiple sets of photographs, at least two of them. Be sure that you take snaps from different angles. Thus you will be able to prove the authenticity and precise condition of an artwork if it gets stolen, damaged or lost.
- Put a set of photographs in a bank locker and retain one at home. You may take a third set for your attorney and even the executor of your will.
- In addition to taking photographs of the actual piece/s, also photograph relevant supporting documents like original sales receipts and other paperwork in support of its provenance, appraisals etc that substantiate the value.
- It’s a good idea to create e-files as a solid backup to artwork photographs and other supporting documents. You may scan your sales receipts, convert them into PDF files and put them on your desktop or on a remote server.

There are several insurance agencies specializing in only art and antiques coverage. You may seek art insurance from the same service provider that offers the homeowners insurance to you.
Many firms offer discounts to customers who take more than one policy; for instance, a homeowners and an auto insurance policy. Depending on what you are going to have insured, and at what cost, it will generally cost less premium if you include coverage for your artworks in your existing homeowners insurance policy.

Before you make a final call, do necessary field work. Shop around. Well, even art insurance can be negotiated. Do not accept the first quote as the final one. Seek clarifications, ask questions. Check for loopholes in a proposed policy. Find out if a particular situation or instance is not covered. In essence, try to ensure that you know exactly what you'll be getting as part of your art insurance.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Understanding the medium of photography

Photography is all about perception. It is capturing or recording a moment in time and at a specific place, which depending on outside elements that are sometimes beyond one’s control, or the tools that you choose to use, can portray to the viewer a multitude of images that are all different but nonetheless each representative of that same moment.

Much also depends on how we perceive the final print, which is equally influenced by outside factors, such as lighting or where it is displayed, as it is by our cultural beliefs and diverging backgrounds. Indeed, this is also applicable in the work of the United Nations. As in photography, how we see others is also influenced by our perception of things.

A photograph provides a view of world known to us yet different and unfamiliar from what we experience – away from stereotypical images of our immediate settings – giving us an entirely new perspective. Fine art photography has the unique ability to capture and immortalize a passing moment, one that becomes a permanent memory only to be understood from different perspectives, contexts, and angles. The process heightens our sensitivity to the transient nature of life.

From its humble origin as a form of documentation, fine art photography has now assumed importance as a form of fine art, timeless and resonant in nature. The genre encompasses photo-images created to bring to life the unbounded creative realm of an imaginative mind, sharp focus and aesthetic vision. It is not surprising that artists better known for installations, video and performance now opt to experimenting with digital cameras.

Fine art photography has emerged as a powerful and popular medium for its remarkable ability to capture an apparently inexhaustible amount of detail and depth. Its growing acceptance as an art form is reflected in its increasing demand at leading auctions in India and internationally. Importantly, photographs are far more affordable than most art forms. They offer immense value to collectors over time apart from sheer aesthetic joy.

India’s largest private contemporary art museum

Walking through the vast artistic space of 20,000 sq. ft at a Delhi shopping mall, one gets a glorious glimpser of Indian art world’s amazing masterpieces - SH Raza’s monumental painting ‘Saurashtra’ and Jitish Kallat’s skeletal car sculpture, for example.

We must thank the KNMA that has just unveiled its new premises at DLF Place in Saket, with a grand party hosted last month. Renowned personalities from the world of art were all there to visit the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) that until now had been running out of the HCL campus in Noida.

Her husband Shiv is the founder of HCL with a rich business background. The official website mentions: "At a time when India had a total of just 250 computers, Mr. Nadar led a young team that passionately believed in and bet on the growth of the IT industry. That vision in 1976, born out of a Delhi "barsaati", akin to a garage start-up, has resulted 3 decades later in a $5.5 billion global transformational technology enterprise today. From designing India's first PC at the same time as global IT peers in 1978; to working on the Boeing Dreamliner's Flight Management Systems now, HCL has stayed a true Pioneer of Modern Computing."

The business tycoon has already committed to put aside over 10 percent (his own net worth is estimated at a whopping Rs 15,000 crore) of his fortune for different philanthropic ventures. These comprise building free schools, running universities and also a museum of art. His philanthropic projects will entail an expenditure of around Rs 4,000 crore in the next five years with focus on a proposed Shiv Nadar University, free residential schools, and of course, an art museum.

Already, Kiran Nadar’s ambitious private venture is probably the largest showcase of contemporary & modern art in India. It well goes to show how one individual collector’s showpieces can make for an ambitious repository of contemporary art easily accessible to all art lovers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

An artist known for her strong female protagonists

For internationally celebrated artist Rekha Rodwittiya, painting has always been a free form of expression that allows her to engage in a heartfelt dialogue with herself and others.

A recurring motif in her bold-hued paintings is the female figure that represents shades of feminine emotions, concerns and persona sans objectifying them. Her female protagonists are often elevated to iconic proportions. They can simultaneously occupy multiple avatars.

In very clear form, the works explain the artist’s viewpoint that female empowerment and its attendant baggage is rather a complex issue. A staunch feminist, she 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. This strong social consciousness may well be attributed to a ‘strange kind of sophisticated otherness’ instilled in her by her parents.

Her father worked in the air force. Growing up in a rather isolated camp life, her creative self became her companion. In fact, she always wanted to be a painter. Born in Bangalore in 1958, Rekha Rodwittiya’s did her B.A.(Fine Arts) at Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (1976-81) and M.A.(Painting) from Royal College of Art, London (1982-84).

Having practiced Photography under Prof. Jyoti Bhatt, she studied Film & Video at Fulham Institute, London (1982-83). She received Inlaks Scholarship in 1982, and was also invited for a residency project at The Konsthogskolan Art College courtesy Svenska Institute, Sweden (1988-89).

The artist describes herself as a colorist for whom it’s not an element she needs to struggle with. According to her, metaphors culled from specific sources of reference, get transformed by virtue of how they are finally delivered, to evoke wider meanings. Interestingly, the male figure has gradually disappeared from her work. She employed expressionistic language in her early works. Though the concerns largely remain the same, now the negotiations are different.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Personal vision of an artist who seeks public participation

Shilpa Gupta is very methodical in her approach. She often spends months laboring over the elaborate logistics and the whole process of creating it. Apart from humdrum mechanics like connecting wires and screwing on those electrical contraptions, the artist indulges in some bizarrely arduous, even gimmicky processes like going into an operation theatre and recording a kidney transplant (Kidney Supermarket).

Once her research and the meticulous production process is over, the artist seeks your participation. She demands the philistine gaze. Bandwidth, an online installation by her, was a virtual space you log on to, to receive blessings. In fact, most works have been spontaneous expressions of the role of gender, religion and violence in shaping our perceptions.

She started began as an artist in her early 20s, after completing her graduation from Sir JJ School of Art. After her first solo in 1999 at Chemould Gallery, she received more fame internationally than at home, with shows of her works in France, Holland, at Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, Italy, at the DaimlerChrysler Gallery in Berlin, and several state museums as well as public art spaces across Europe. Of course, collectors and art institutions in India did finally take notice of her achievements.

As is evident, majority of her artworks reflect an earnest and deliberate engagement with the basic purpose of art. According to the artist, ‘The aesthetics is the process.’ In fact, she is more interested in (knowing) what her art can say and convey, as well as what it can provoke in the viewers not necessarily art lovers. Through, her life size video installation, entitled ‘Shadows II’, Shilpa Gupta urges people to look at themselves differently, in the contemporary context. It was also publicly displayed at the promenade in western Mumbai. “The public space is what I make art for,” she asserts.

Importantly, elite collectors and buyers appreciate this aspect of her works, which is why they have gone to a series of auctions the world over and from part of several renowned collections. In creating a world as her ambition, she helps us to manage the necessary labor in looking at and measuring a strategic globalization based on disruption, rather than focusing on a crisis state where consumerism seems to be the only measurable form of change.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Artists espousing the cause of freedom

Tracking the liberating Canvas in context of the theme of ‘art and freedom’, Ashoke Nag of the ET Bureau had talked to several leading Indian artists last year. Here is what they had to say:

Litterateurs and artists have all assiduously worked for freedom. “There are instances of this aplenty in Germany. The movements surrounding Hitler’s Fascist era, triggered currents that saw artists churning out great works,” observes artist Shuvaprasanna. “During the British Raj, an overt air of nationalism filtered through the Bengal School, led by masters like Nandalal Bose and Abanindranath Tagore. These artists strove to build a new identity for Indian art.

Abanindranath’s Bharat Mata is a luminous example of this. Nandalal Bose was invited by Mahatma Gandhi to do the paintings at the Haripura Congress (1937-38). Nandalal Bose employed contemporary and folk forms in them.” He adds: “The Swadeshi Movement also freed the spirit of man. Ram Kinkar Baij created his famed sculpture, the Santhal Couple. Together with folk culture, many artists explored the urban ethos. The spirit of independence was unleashed.”

The freedom movement witnessed the introduction of Japanese wash technique in Bengal School art. Rabindranath Tagore brought in Okakura, a Japanese aesthete, who infused new elements in art emerging from Santiniketan. Thus emerged Oriental wash technique!

The founder director of Kolkata’s art gallery Chitrakoot and art connoisseur Dr Prakash Kejariwal cites artists such as Somnath Hore who produced art that typified and reflected the Independence movement. He had told the ET Bureau:

"His Wounds series of paintings is now internationally known. He churned several works to fight for liberation through his creativity. These included sculptures to show the suppression of the poor. Classy figurative painters like Hemen Mazumdar, Atul Bose and Sashi Hesh also portrayed nationalist leaders.”

Famous abstract painter Ganesh Haloi says that creative personalities can only work only if their spirit is free. He mentions: “The mind, after all, is not a mere object. A rose blossoms only in an air of freedom. One senses this spirit in nature.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sudarshan Shetty’s art practice

Sudarshan Shetty’s intriguing body of work often hinges on a creative mix of intense observation and wit. Grasping the latent meaning or meaninglessness of it seeks power of observation on the viewer’s part.

An incongruous association of objects that might bear different meanings is intended on his part to form new meaning and in the process, create an abstract space for exploring the dark underbelly of the human-object relationship, the duality of free will as well as the inertness of things. He takes apart ubiquitous objects without dismantling them, and decodes them, by revealing their inherent mechanical being.

Looking to experiment with found objects in a wide array of media, he may combine the diverse forms in curious object-assemblages. The intent is to create an emotionally charged experience for the viewer. About his usage of objects that tend to garner a life of their own – simultaneously, being alive and futile, he quips: “I look for the lost body inside.”

Sudarshan Shetty’s mechanical installations, which revolve around the near-precise play of his sculptures, too, carry no value, he emphasizes. According to him, they simply are spectacles in themselves and collapse under the very spectacles once displayed. They stand for the meaninglessness of the ironic situation and he is constantly grappling this contradiction through his works.

Seeking inspiration from VW Beetle childhood toy cars, his most recent installation at the Vancouver Biennale, alludes to multitudinous references: iconic combustion engine vehicles entombed and dated as artifacts. The piece draws our attention to the environment degradation owing to the combustion engine by putting each vehicle into a coffin-like box, on view as a museum relic or artifact.

Summing up his thought process as an artist, he reveals: “I’ve always been fascinated by how things stand, the structural aspect and, in the process, challenge the notion of seriousness of the material.” He is interested in the idea of absence - a human absence - of being elsewhere. “I think most of us are condemned to be elsewhere. I try to define this space with familiar objects, to create a dialogue between them, which may reveal some truths about my own life to me. I find this to be the best way for having a true communication possible with the world at large,” he concludes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tips to buy art for beginners

First and foremost, analyze your inner motives of building a collection. Start by asking whether you are collecting art merely for investment motives or for the genuine love of the art in front of you? This will decide many of your next steps to acquiring good art.

Next step is to determine budget. Collecting good quality art needs a certain assured stream of disposable income. Instead of dropping money on needless sundry expenses, if you are serious about collecting art, consider sparing the money for art instead.

Another key is to choosing an artist and a country of your choice. As well as China, India, Korea and for that matter, Vietnam, there are a number of noteworthy contemporary artists on the horizon. However, the choice of an artist or artwork is mostly personal, and this is how it really should be! Experts suggest doing some basic research and search on the local art scene so that it gets easier to have a feel of it and pick the right artist. Broadly speaking, developing countries are a right choice for those who are looking for assured returns from their art investment.

Next is the deep-pockets option. A rather safe way to initiate yourself in the art market is starting with a couple of well-chosen pieces of art by established and internationally recognized artists. But you then must be ready to shell a good amount of money to acquire them. You may alternatively resort to ‘starting young’. This is another approach that involves picking with young, emerging artists from the region.

These works, as is expected, will come at lesser prices tag. Being less expensive, you can afford them, and acquire them at a smaller budget. However, understand who among the up-and-coming artists are most likely to do well in the future. These are a few keys to buy art the right way.

Effort to fathom Manjit Bawa as an artist and a serious thinker

A noteworthy aspect of late Manjit Bawa’s oeuvre was his unique iconography, and his willingness to come up with a burst of colors, and a format, which comprised of miniatures just about 5-6” or canvases 10-12 feet large. Both were equally relished such was the magic he could weave on them.

His canvases akin to storyboards cut across generations in terms of popularity and appeal. In a sense the artist showed the courage to take on the modernist establishment, even while celebrating his very Indian roots. He could said to be the quintessential myth-maker. Summing up his persona, art writer Kishore Singh had mentioned in a Business Standard column:

“Like India’s most recognized artist M F Husain, Bawa’s bearded persona was distinctive, and like him he drew from life all that it had to offer him. Where Tyeb Mehta’s somewhat similar journey and equally mythologised use of a central, minimal figure was defined by pent-up strength and violence, Bawa’s exuded a serenity that arose from his own gentle personality.”

When he unfortunately first went into coma, prices for most of his works were in the range of Rs 5 lakh to 20 lakh. He passed away in December 2008, by when the prices had peaked to Rs 42 lakh. Incidentally, this was the time while recession had already set in and the market had started its downward spiral. The auction prices of his work held their own even through that tough period. His work fetched an impressive Rs 1.7 crore in December 2009, at a Saffronart auction. Sotheby’s New York touched the mark of Rs 4.3 crore in April 2010 for a Bawa canvas.

As the price index continues its upward journey, the induction of the late artist into the elite hall of fame of Indian artists has indeed started in serious earnest. The launch of Readings series of books for the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) with a volume on him is a step in this direction. Art writer Ina Puri, who has closely analyzed his work, quips: “At a time when Modern Indian Art was largely defined by the Progressives and the Baroda and Bengal schools, he emerged as a major force, introducing something so vital. As a result, he stood out among the others.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tips to build a quality art portfolio

With prices having become attractive post-correction and Indian economy on an upswing, most experts believe this is the best time to buy art! But the issue is: how can a buyer make sure that the works he or she is planning to acquire remain depreciation-proof? To simplify the process, adhere to the following basics:

1. Remember, it is unrealistic to think, plan and build a collection in a short span of time. Collecting art demands passion and patience. To begin with, try following the kind of art and artists you like. Gradually hone your buying tastes and skills by looking at the different genres of art in terms of composition, color, theme, and style.

2. Develop your eye by looking at art constantly in order to educate yourself. Walk in a gallery, visit museums; surf the Web; read books; talk to experts; or go for an art appreciation course. The more you travel, view and study art, you will get further exposed to current art trends.

3. Decide for yourself how much you can allocate to start with. Expensive art is not always the best. Proper aesthetic understanding and sense holds the key to your becoming a successful collector. Of course, there is no objective view of the perfect piece. So you need to keep your eyes and mind open. There is good art by lesser known or less established artists available in abundance. You can spot good artists early if you have to the ability to grasp the hidden talent.

4. Most established collectors specialize in order to develop expertise in a specific category. Collect information not only on the works important collectors are buying, but also the works they are not keen to acquire. It is worthwhile to check the recent acquisitions by leading museums and art collections. Their selection is invariably based on the suggestions and recommendations of an expert committee. This will help you in buying quality art.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Finer aspects of art authentication and valuation

Numerous criteria, such as the historical significance of the work, the rarity and its physical condition have to be assessed before proper value can be assigned to a work of art. The valuation process should involve:

1.A detailed study of pricing history for the artist
2.Price comparison with other works of the artist from similar periods
3.Price comparison with works by other contemporary artists
4.Research on historical significance of the work
5.Previous auction price references
6.Current value estimation
7.Liquidity rating & analysis (if required)
8.Rarity & availability analysis
9.Investment rationale (if required)

For valuation purpose, complete description of the artist and the work, as well as provenance, exhibition, publication history etc are also necessary. To understand valuation mechanics, it makes sense to seek advice of experienced art experts.

Here are some more pointers to help in your quest to collect quality art:

Previous buyers’ history: The key question to ask - who had first bought the painting? Check where it was earlier shown or displayed. Seek catalogues and other possible sources of information to prove the previous ownership claims, history, records as well as condition of an artwork.

Proper paperwork and authentication: If you buy a work sans the requisite paperwork, it won’t be easy to sell it at close to its right market value. For artists, who sign and date their respective works, an easy chronology is available to trace.

You can get to see similar works for purpose of comparison (pictures of them, at least). This may not be the case with artists from previous generations, having left behind unsigned works, which are now up for grabs. In such a scenario, proper authentication needs to be ensured.

It is always advisable to approach specialists while investing in any asset class including art since it demands expertise and insight to build, manage and grow your portfolio.

Looking back at ‘Freedom to March' show on the eve of India's Independence Day

Looking back at ‘Freedom to March Rediscovering Gandhi through Dandi’' show on the eve of India's Independence Day:

Mahatma Gandhi has inspired and influenced many artists, prompting them to creatively express his contribution to India's Independence and to propagate the philosophy of non-violence. A show at Lalit Kala Akademi courtesy Ojas Art celebrated his monumental Dandi March.

‘Freedom to March: Rediscovering Gandhi through Dandi’ hosted last year was comprised of a series of novel artistic interpretations of the salt march. India’s leading contemporary artists capture the spirit that resulted in a historic journey almost eight decades ago. The artists included A. Ramachandran, Alok Bal, Atul Dodiya, Jagannath Panda, KG Subramanyan, Arunkumar H.G., Hindol Brahmbhatt, KM Madhusudhan, Manjunath Kamath, KS Radhakrishnan, Prasad Raghavan, TV Santosh, Murali Cheroot, Vikcy Roy and Sumedh Rajendran.

Anubhav Nath along with Johny M.L. curated the exhibition on the historic event led by Gandhi. The curators were quoted as saying that political resistance, urbanization, and violence are the three primary influences steering contemporary reality art in India. As a political icon, the Mahatma Gandhi shares a direct relation with the three aspects. Anubhav Nath elaborated in an interview:

"Gandhi will not be translated in imagery; but aspects of his persona, contribution to India, philosophy and the fact of what Gandhi is all about will be interpreted by the artists. The works will resonate with what the artists thought on their way to Dandi and how it relates to contemporary India."

It was on March 12, 1930 that Gandhi left the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad for Dandi, launching a non-violent campaign against the British salt tax. The march turned out to be a major symbolic act in India’s tumultuous political history. The commissioned works are based on inspirations and inspirations formed in the course of field visits to the ashram and Dandi. Twenty of them camped in villages en route Dandi.

The gamut of works on view included installations, video art, sculptures, photographs, and paintings.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The changing dynamics of collecting art

For several years, importance of art as a tangible asset was ignored. Unlike other traditional or even alternative investment avenues, it did not receive attention of most market experts. Art as an asset class remained on the periphery largely because it was not as closely analyzed and tracked as most other investment options and even commodities, especially in India.

Of course, wealthy individuals and premier institutions like museums have always been acquiring paintings and other forms of art, largely thought to be beyond the purview of masses. Thankfully, the situation has changed in the last decade or so – both in qualitative and quantitative terms. The art scene has become much more democratic. Furthermore, insight into mechanics of the art market, a more professional approach, an extensive coverage and research to meet the norms of mainstream financial markets has drawn more people to art.

Simultaneously, the art market has become more liquid and transparent in nature. Many parameters, indices as well as auction benchmarks have been created for the purpose of tracking the trajectory, history, provenance and sales trends as a natural response to the growing interest in art. Now, novel analytical frameworks and methodologies are constantly being developed for more dynamic art market research.

Lack of knowledge is no more a hindrance thanks to the Internet and several insightful publications on art. In fact, much is now being talked and written about the international art market, with everything easily available in public domain. Professionals with excellent background and solid expertise in the contemporary art world readily provide a well-informed analysis.

Of course, the key to successful collecting is to work out your approach towards buying or selling art. You may acquire art purely out of passion, enriching your precious collection irrespective of market conditions, or you may want to buy art for diversifying your investment portfolio. Whatever be the motive, it’s essentially a long term process. Being able to buy with a clear focus will turn the simple act of buying art into collecting art. Obviously, much depends on the optimum mix of both quantitative and qualitative research tools coupled with an in-depth knowledge of how the contemporary art markets work.

Then there are issues like documentation and provenance papers, sale deeds, certificates of authenticity, art insurance etc. There are parameters, which serve as the basis for measuring the influence of intangible valuation drivers, such as provenance and irrational premium. All these aspects have made the role of the gallery owners and dealers that much more critical.

Thought provoking art displays at Tate Modern

A new display at Tate Modern explores the ways in which five contemporary artists have used the camera to explore, extend and question the power of photography as a documentary medium.

Consisting entirely of new acquisitions to Tate’s collection, it includes recent work by Luc Delahaye, Mitch Epstein, Guy Tillim and Akram Zaatari, as well as two important earlier works by Boris Mikhailov. Between them they cover subjects as diverse as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, studio photography in Beirut, elections in the Congo, everyday life in pre- and post-Soviet Ukraine, and power production in the United States. Each room concerns one discrete project, in which the artist calls into question the relationship between the documentary value of photography and the museum as its proper context.

Another significant body of work by US artist Taryn Simon draws its title from the series on a faceless person from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. ‘A Living Man Declared Dead & Other Chapters’ produced over a time span of four long years starting 2008, saw Simon crisscrossing across the globe, meticulously researching and documenting bloodlines and their related stories.

In each of the ‘chapters’ that collectively reflect the crux of the series, the external forces of circumstance, religion, territory or power collide with the internal forces of physical and psychological inheritance. The subjects documented include feuding families, victims of genocide in Bosnia, the sufferings of people in Brazil, and the ‘living dead’ in India.

Her pointed artistic comment, which maps the complex relationships among the various components of fate, is at once arbitrary and cohesive. Shivdutt Yadav’s depiction is a case in point. A column in The UK Independent by reviewer Laura McLean-Ferris explains: “The poor fellow discovered that he and his family members had been listed as dead; the land ownership transferred to other relations.

Simon has documented that they’re very much alive.” Among the images present on the footnote panel is something chilling, albeit attention-grabbing - A body, dead from leprosy floats in the River Ganges – one bleached white, the eyeballs swollen and pale, the face almost turned black with blood.

(Information courtesy: Tate Modern)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

‘Bollywood Showcards at ROM, Canada

An off-beat exhibit, entitled ‘Bollywood Cinema Showcards: Indian Film Art from the 1950s to the 1980s’, is a vivacious visual journey through the history of Hindi movie advertising.

The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents the North American debut of this show curated by Deepali Dewan. She elaborates, “The idea is to explore the evolution of a specific form of advertising associated with the Hindi commercial cinema. This combine of paint and photography encompasses a unique aspect of South Asian visual culture. They were originally produced by local artists but usually thrown out at the end of a film’s run. It is remarkable that this collection has survived at all.”

It’s a stunning array of vintage Bollywood cinema showcards and other forms of film advertising that has been assembled for the first time in Canada. Using a combination of photo collage and hand painting, local artisans used their imagination to create dynamic interpretations of scenes from Bollywood films. Almost 125 pieces are on display, featuring star celebrities in popular movies from India's colorful film history.

The ROM strives to increase understanding of the interdependent domains of cultural and natural diversity, their relationships, significance, preservation, and conservation. The Museum was established by an Act of the Ontario Legislature in April 1912. Annually, it welcomes over a million visitors. The ROM can accommodate up to 1.6 million visitors a year, including 215,000 students.

The ROM wished to put all of its major collections on permanent display, as well as increase the number of objects within each gallery. The expansion and renovation project, known as Renaissance ROM, generates new and renovated exhibition and gallery spaces, and showcases the collections in more comprehensive and dynamic ways. After Renaissance ROM, the Museum has an additional 80,000 square feet of public space. The project also renovated about 75% of the public spaces in the historic buildings.

(Information courtesy: The ROM, Canada)

‘The Word of God Series’

The third installment in ‘The Word of God Series’ at The Andy Warhol Museum located in Pittsburgh, which examines major world religions and their texts through contemporary art, is currently featuring works by Chitra Ganesh.

An explanatory note to ‘The Word of God(ess)’mentions: “Sacred texts are considered by many to be the direct words of God to man. How this Word is passed down and received is dependent on the people, languages and cultures in which it is presented! The works explore the questions like: what is the best version of the Word of God; and does the artistic rendering of it enhance understanding or is some essential truth lost in translation?”

A 21 part piece, ‘Tales of Amnesia’, is based on Amar Chitra Katha, a popular comic strip. It’s a testimony to the artist’s practice that combines an array of visual languages, curious cannons and diverse cultures, including Bollywood cinema, comic books, iconic Hindu goddesses etc. The artist creates cross-cultural narratives about sexuality and power that may smartly fit in comic book frames wherein interior thoughts are revealed in bubbles or hover in psychedelic space - as in her wall installations- with three-dimensional elements that tend to protrude into contemporary reality.

A couple of years ago, her wall creation at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center located at Long Island City, NY was also very much appreciated. It is considered among the largest and the oldest non-profit contemporary art institutions in the US that acts as a catalyst for new ideas, trends, and discourses in contemporary art.

The work at P.S.1 lobby by this versatile and innovative Indian artist features elements in India and Sumi inks, washes of color, cut paper and found objects such as plastic fruits, fake hair, and sequins. Chitra Ganesh’s work is a mix of separate productive moves that work in a perfect harmony. Even while firmly rooted in a Western, postmodern discourse, her cultural references allow her to convey the proven principle of a multiplicity as a spirit that draws together.

‘Erasing Borders: Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora’

Eight years ago, the very first contemporary art event of the New York-based Indo-American Arts Council brought to people’s attention that there are artists of Indian origin in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The area has one of the largest concentrations of South Asians in the United States.

‘Erasing Borders: Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora’ includes sculpture, video and installation art on view at Manhattan’s Aicon Gallery. All 43 featured artists, including renowned abstract expressionist painter Natvar Bhavsar, are connected to South Asia.

According to Aroon Shivdasani, the council’s executive director, the selection process was made a lot more inclusive last year. “Rather than limiting it to people of Indian origin—because you know, that’s so nebulous—we opened it up to the entire subcontinent,” she stated.

“When we first had our exhibition, years ago, artists sent work thinking we wanted them to deliberately trace their roots. But now, increasingly, you see that people are people – especially since so many of us have spent years in our adopted lands. Their art may be something that harks from their heritage, but it may also be a part of their life today.”

For 27-year old Sara Suleman a Temple University graduate student who was born and raised in Pakistan, the exhibition’s expansion is a chance to showcase her video art, centered on concepts like displacement and transition.

Young participants, like Sonia Chaudhary see this exhibition as an opportunity to push past these borders. Growing up in a tight-knit Muslim community in suburban Connecticut, Ms. Chaudhary regularly struggled with two seemingly opposing community dynamics. “There were the teachings I encountered, going to the masjid with my mom every Sunday, and then the American school system, where I was told I should really question where I’m coming from to find out who I am,” she said in a recent phone interview.

(Information courtesy: The WSJ, By Aarti Virani)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Know the secrets of Charles Saatchi's success as a collector

Averse to grabbing spotlight, Charles Saatchi seldom attends the openings of exhibits at his own gallery. His practice of acquiring works of emerging artists has proved contagious, arguably the greatest influence on the contemporary market. Several other new investors and even veteran collectors are following his lead. However, the maverick collector does not like to give interviews and, if he does so, he says as little as possible.

What is it that he looks for before buying a work? Is there any logic or pattern to what he buys and sells? Does he hold himself responsible for the speculative touch to today’s art market? If you wish to get an insight into the world’s most influential art expert’s mindset and philosophy, ‘My Name Is Charles Saatchi And I Am An Artoholic’ (164 pages; Publishers: Phaidon Press) is a must read for you. It reveals almost everything you want to know about the maverick collector and the mad ad-man.

What is his secret of collecting, investing and buying art? In one of the rare elaborate interviews, he reveals: “Artists need all kinds of collectors, buying their art. I never think too much about the market. I don't mind paying three or four times the market value of a work that I really want. As far as taste is concerned, I primarily buy art in order to show it off. So it's important for me that the public respond to it in particular and contemporary art in general. There is no logic or pattern I can rely on to decide what to sell and when to sell it.”

Incidentally, the pre-eminent collector of his generation, will be gifting over 200 artworks from his personal collection as well as the world-renowned Saatchi Gallery to the nation. He still possesses hundreds of pieces that will be handed to his family. The works to be donated to MOCA London are valued over £25m at their current market value.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Artistic quest to explore architectural spaces

Through her introspective work, Pooja Iranna presents manmade structures that allude to human beings, their mind, emotions and expressions, sans any apparent signs of physical existence.

An accompanying note by Ina Puri to her latest exhibition at Palette Art Gallery explained: “The artist remains grounded to her architectural spaces, exploring the possibilities with which humans have extended their creative mind. She as an artist believes that we have reached our zenith when it comes to expressing our ingenuity. There is no stone unturned as humans have successfully managed to use their cultural and technical knowhow along with positive energies, to conceive the unthinkable.

“Here she goes beyond the human genius and beauty of the spaces created. There is a twist to all the tales she expresses. Everything is not to be seen at the surface level. There are hidden notions behind every wall and the heavy texture. The not so straight partitions and the visible curvatures all denote the concealed part of life.”The crux of the matter here is that life/surfaces/spaces do have in-built twists and turns, but it all depends on the human mind and its intrinsic strength of how one responds to them.

Hers is a quest to explore architectural spaces. Bringing out the essence of her work, critic Deeksha Nath mentions: “It's not so implausible to consider poetry, architecture and art together, for their interest with form, their usage of meter or structure, and their stance toward their environments. They involve our perception and how that perception is translated into a created, or built, environment.

“The artist inserts into this triangulation us - human beings, the creators and receptors of such activities. It (the human presence) is not the central visual character of her work but present more in essence, a viewer whose awareness of self gets heightened by the lack of others.”

Fathoming Pooja Iranna’s art practice

Talented contemporary artist Pooja Iranna has been referencing and deciphering the manmade structures close to two decades. Revealing her artistic inclinations, she has said: “I usually travel to places to take these images. I seldom take images at random, and rather visualize how a particular frame would be used before I click. These are then worked upon on the computer to impart them with unique visual idiom. My watercolors revolve around the same vocabulary.

“There is an intermingling of nature and manmade structures to create spaces. These represent strength of structure on the surface and vigor of human convictions at the subconscious level. One has to imbibe a lot in order to pour back and each time I feel that I’ve said enough, some moving experience excites me to give back something new to myself and the world.”

Having grown up in the heart of a teeming metropolis during her formative years, she never realized how the surroundings were pervading her thought processes and turned the prime medium of her visual expression. To begin with, she underlined the chaos of urban life, metaphorically addressing both the fragility and beauty of human relationships. She explored her artistic space and surface, to employ a wide array of mediums on paper.

Over time, the artist has reverted to two different techniques – photography and watercolor paintings. The former lets her capture reality instantly to further enhance it with her own expression, whereas watercolors help use her senses to the best of her artistic ability. In building her photographical works the subject that excites her is architecture - old and new.

There is no medium she does not wish to explore at this point but the magnificence of the work can only be understood when one looks at the original work. This is what makes her art practice stand out…

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kirsty Ogg and The Whitechapel Gallery

The Whitechapel Art Gallery, founded in the year 1901, brings some truly great art to keen art lovers. Internationally known for its eclectic exhibitions of modern and contemporary art and its pioneering education and public events programs, the gallery has premiered several international artists, such as Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Nan Goldin, and Jackson Pollock, apart from providing a significant showcase for some of the UK’s most significant artists from Gilbert & George to Peter Doig, Mark Wallinger and Lucian Freud.

The Gallery plays a major role in the capital’s cultural landscape and is pivotal to the continued growth of East London as the world’s most vibrant contemporary art quarter.The Grade II* Whitechapel Gallery premises was designed by Charles Harrison Townsend.

This purpose built avenue is an ideal example of the Arts & Crafts movement and its latent aspiration of being accessible. This development builds on the 1980s expansion undertaken by Colquhoun and Miller under Sir Nicolas Serota’s directorship.

Kirsty Ogg, a renowned curator based in London, is closely associated with The Whitechapel Art Gallery. She is Director of ATP London and is the former Director of The Showroom (London). She was part of The Art Expo India the year 2009 where in conversation with Abhay Sardesai, she spoke about Indian Art in an international prospective. She had then stated in an interview:

"Over the last eight years, the representation of Indian art has been gaining on the international art scene. And not just on a commercial level. Artists have been appearing in exhibitions and events like Documenta and the Venice. So there's a high visibility and awareness about Indian art. What's interesting is that there are two sides to it (Indian art)-in terms of the form of the work that can slip into circulation on the international art scene and the context that has an Indian texture."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Baiju Parthan's awe-inspiring artistic scope

Trained in diverse streams like botany, painting, illustration, engineering, computer science, and even comparative mythology, Baiju Parthan's awe-inspiring artistic scope inhabits multi-faceted realms. He has deftly created a unique vocabulary based on the intriguing usage of symbols and archaic imagery.

A Postgraduate Diploma in comparative mythology and hid degree in botany provide ample hint of his inquisitive mind. These diverse elements inform his thoughtful work that all retain a cohesive almost narrative touch in spite of their disparate origins.

He has stated: “The different themes or subjects I have studied at various points in my life are out of the need understand why I am I here, and what I am doing. And as such they have become part of my life and my art. I think those things have become lens through which I look at reality and that gets reflected in my art quite naturally. At least, it appears natural to me.”

Baiju Parthan's work tries to seek existential reconciliation with the perceived intangibility of the intriguing information age. His practice essentially revolves around the omnipresent theme of the intersection between the areas of collective imagination, the material world, as well as the non-material digital sphere. He constructs highly compelling mythic imagery mostly in black, with shades of blues and greens. The parchment brown background creates an illusion of some secretive magical cult’s medieval manuscript.

According to the artist, with the photograph gradually turning into a virtual entity, the physicality of painting has become more attractive to him as an artist. He adds, “I feel the physicality of the painted image is becoming an important or the only counterpoint to the fact that the photograph of today (our primary source of images) is a virtual object captured on a digital camera and uploaded onto an online album or to a hard disc where it lives as bits and bytes, till invoked onto a computer screen."

‘Dislocation: Milljunction Part 2’

'Dislocation: Milljunction Part 2' by Baiju Parthan takes place at Aicon Gallery, London.

The artist states in his accompanying note: “Mumbai being a cosmopolitan city, consists of a floating population, of immigrants from various parts of the country. Each one of these communities and individuals has their own version of Mumbai as their recollection of getting to know and comprehend Mumbai. The most homogeneous/coherent recollection of Mumbai I have heard is of Bombay as a city of textile mills. During British raj it was called the Manchester of the east because of the textile mills.

The typical Bombay chawl culture and the resulting ethos which get depicted as the Bombay in Bollywood movies belongs to this era of textile mills. (Chawls are one room tenement apartments with a common toilet where the mill workers used to live.) I have chosen to look at the vestiges the fast disappearing mill presence through a handful of icons.

The old fiat taxis which are being phased out, the chawl building where workers used to live, and also the man on the street , mostly the laborer as a vestige of the Mill presence. How the familiar is erased all the time to make way for the new. At the same time it is not nostalgia, but is a lament. Then in 1982 there was a major mill strike and the mills shut down one by one. Today the mill sites and the chawls are being developed into premium residential towers.

Baiju Parthan is especially interested in the influence of technology on religious beliefs, the implications of genetic engineering, and the possibilities of post-humanism (i.e. the development of symbiotic relations between men and machines). He secured his BFA from the Mumbai University, and has hence held successful solo exhibitions in Mumbai, New Delhi and Goa. He has also participated in major group shows in Calcutta, Mumbai, New York and other centers.

(Information courtesy: Aicon Gallery, London)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

An artist who terms himself a ‘science fiction junkie’

London based Aicon Gallery showcases a solo ‘Dislocation’ (Milljunction Part 2) by Baiju Parthan. The artist elaborates: “Mumbai being a cosmopolitan city, consists of a floating population of immigrants from various parts of the country. Each one of these communities and individuals has their own version of Mumbai as their recollection of getting to know and comprehend it.”

In some works, different styles of painting exist within a single frame, in others it seems like two different time zones are pictured simultaneously. The artist also subtly uses mirroring within some of them and in a few the surface is interrupted by dripping computer code. This gives rise to a dizzying sense of multiplicity. His new series is both celebration and lament, archaic and super-technological. His use of mirroring, time-lags and alternate realities suggests a realm, or a mind that is disintegrating, the products of a restless gaze that never settles on one thing, or one time zone, for long.

A review in The Hindu by writer Ramya Sen mentions that his interest in technology, married to his passion for mythology is reflected in his art. The artist sees them as symbiotic. He has been quoted as saying: “I think technology and mythology feed off each other. I am always hunting for metaphors that can be translated into symbols used in art. I studied mythology and got a chance to pit different systems against each other and find motifs like the hero myth, creation, etc.

“I am a hardcore science fiction junkie – that is where the two meet for me. Metaphysical becomes science fiction – Matrix is essentially the hero myth in a cyberpunk environment! You start finding parallels in these worlds.” All narratives are indirectly quests of some kind. I enjoy the whole aspect of technology because it shifts perceptions, makes us extend our own selves in newer ways into the environment we live in.”

(Information courtesy: Aicon Gallery, London)

A look at Indian miniature painting tradition

To rewind the clock, Indian miniature painting tradition can well be linked to the first illuminated manuscripts, starting with as early as circa 1000. These were Buddhist, Jain or Hindu texts done on palm-leaf folios between exquisite wooden covers. With the advent of Mughal rule in India, paper was introduced. This resulted in a greater number of illustrated books. During Akbar's regime, Indian painting underwent a radical transformation. His kitabkhana employed over a hundred full-time painters, assistants and apprentices.

His successors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan also valued books, gradually integrating and imbibing the then European elements through wonderful works brought to court by foreigners. Other distinctive schools of painting to emerge were under the kingdoms in the Rajasthan, Pahari and Deccan regions that gained in stature with the Mughal empire’s gradual decline.

The miniature paintings then had several eye-catching features; some of them as follows:

•Ink and water-based opaque pigments applied to wasli (a thick layered support by bringing together multiple sheets of delicate hand-made paper employing a wheat-based adhesive)
•Usage of semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli or malachite ground for pigment
•Silver or gold leaf applied to them
The traces of collecting Indian miniature paintings go back a century - to the early 1900s. Among the then collections now on public view and available for contemporary collectors to study are Ernest Binfield Havell. He compiled one of the earliest Indian miniature paintings collections at the Calcutta Art Gallery.

The number of people keen to acquire miniature works has only been growing since then. However, connoisseurs should first ideally familiarize with the history and trajectory of this fascinating art form and how tough it is to produce these exquisite works, to truly appreciate them. It makes sense to seek the advice of specialists with experience in this field.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Contemporary Indian artists relocate photographic references on canvas,

Several contemporary Indian artists relocate photographic references on canvas, impart a new dimension to them and explore socio-political concerns as well as personal identity. TV Santhosh appropriates references from such sources as magazines, newspapers and television.

The influence of print media is reflected in the photographic quality of his works, both in their clarity and composition. The artist blends both the negative and positive within one single frame. A photographic negative is usually the 'original' from which a photograph is printed, and so lies the paradox of his method of revealing the concealed truths of war. The inversion of the image gives the picture a new context and meaning as the darkest areas in the original image are transformed into the brightest highlights.

Bharti Kher’s practice encompasses digital photography that continues to explore her interest in kitsch and popular consumer culture. In her three digital photographs from the “Hybrids” series, she fashions women, children and everyday household objects with animal features. Her clever substitution of animals for people enables her to explore ingrained elements of behavior — enveloped by civility covering underlying human urges. Also, the hybrid character of the images becomes a metaphor for and a spectacularly physical embodiment of the ever contradictory human nature in the context of globalized urban society.

Riyas Komu is another prominent contemporary Indian artist who has chosen to embrace photorealism. One of the torchbearers of photorealism, so to say, he is renowned for his larger-than-life realist portraits of common an uncommon subjects like migrants and football players. On the other hand, Bose Krishnamachari, who created quite a few photorealistic works in the early part of his careers, now prefers installation and video.

However, most artists are wary of falling in a pattern or being labeled as photo-realists. Expressing her concerns, Prajakta Potnis has stated: “I find it too deadening to simply refer to a photograph – it is unemotional and dry.” Instead she prefers sourcing her visuals from at a live object, interplay of light & shade; to explore the possibility of transforming it into a work of art rife with human touch and emotions. Several contemporary Indian artists, inspired by real-life images, are raising issues relevant to socio-political or personal identities.

A fine blend of photography techniques, realism and painterly vision

Photorealism as a painterly tool to express on canvas is not exactly a recent phenomenon. Painters from the US and Europe had been seeking inspiration from photos since the early era of photography. Throwing light on its evolution, art scholar historian Dr Alka Pande notes: “The importance of photography in the enterprise of finding an interface between documentary ‘evidence’ and the social imaginary is gaining ground.

Even for itself, photography may be said to have enlarged its intrinsic value as an art form by entering the expanded frame of installation art. Thus it begins to share the peculiarity of the phenomenological encounter the museum/gallery space encourages.” For record, the movement spurred out of the earlier Pop & Minimalism movements. Like the preceding pop artists, the photo-realists wanted to include everyday life scenes and signage, for breaking down pre-conceived hierarchies of subject matter.

They drew from commercial imagery and advertising. Many purists perceived this movement as a setback to modern abstract painting. Photo-realists typically would project an image onto a canvas and use an airbrush for reproducing the effect of a photograph printed on a piece of glossy paper. Estes argued that the painting was merely the technique of finishing it up, involved primarily with the photograph. Flack chose to update the 17th century theme of vanitas by projecting slides of certain opulent still-life arrangements onto canvases, alluding to the fleeting nature of most material things.

Artists around 1430, centuries before anyone could suspect it, secretly used camera-like devices, including the lens, the concave mirror and the camera obscura, to make realistic paintings. Those like Caravaggio, Lotto, Vermeer and Ingres knew the magic of photographic projection. They saw how good these devices were at projecting a three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional surface.

This was the finding of a thesis ‘art and optics’ by David Hockney who concluded that they knew how good these devices were at projecting a three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional surface. What is equally curious about the process is that while the subject matter is generally man-made objects set in an urban environ, many of the works are strikingly and surprisingly devoid of signs of life – as if resembling mere architectural models.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

“The only constant is your embracing life…"

Paris-based Galerie Dominique Fiat recently hosted a series of her new works. A performance and gripping photographs literally ‘embodied’ words- made them flesh-wherein she cut meat into ‘Keywords’, which reflected on utopia’s and dystopia’s, affecting us. The artist extended the visible thin line wherein words would act as corporeal manifestos to analyze the world around, as seen and perceived by her. Deftly engaging the political through an astute aesthetic investigation of text as well as theory, she demonstrated apparent interest in the primacy of touch right alongside the visual.

Elaborating on the works, an introductory note stated: “In ‘Kash (for Kashmir)’, she used baroque ceiling rosettes, covering them with white velvet and then embedding them with photographs of people, landscape and flowers. Only Kash (meaning ‘hopefully’ in Hindi), is retained in the word, marred by a black dripping line of blood-filled political conflicts.” This line of thinking was the binding thread in works that investigated a human concern with both personal and societal loss and regeneration. In ‘Babel’, she presented the chaos, cacophony and disillusionment in lives presently, along with the joy, beauty and hope that made it all worthwhile.

Anita Dube has created works that point to a testing of existing perceptions. Through her work, she tackles fragmented realities - deftly or directly, as her theme demands. For instance, ‘Illegal’, a persuasive and compelling series by her, was a direct engagement with the received image, in this case, the print and television imprint of the prolonged Iraq war, of scenes of loss and degradation and a numbing sense of ubiquitous fear. Encapsulating her art processes and philosophy, she mentions that she sees some of her work executed, like in a daydream, a vision.

The artist only needs to make it real. At times, they are result of pure process, gradually unraveling. She sums up to say: “The only constant is your embracing life so that the work can materialize. There’s no stepping back, being in a cozy place of comfort. You’ve to completely soak in both the positive and negative experiences. Hence I say it’s a rather painful and difficult place to be in. You neither can hide nor lie to yourself; everything is too palpable…"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Exploring the self, gender and sexuality

Anita Dube’s aesthetic language incorporates ubiquitous objects, everyday materials and images that together resonate with a meaning far beyond perceived local and prosaic associations. Her work brings together experiences of mortality, desire, pain and pleasure – all rolled in one.

She looks to explore the self, gender, sexuality and fundamental human concerns. Employing a variety of found objects drawn from a wide array of domains and sources like the industrial (foam, plastic, wire), the somatic (dentures, bones), craft (threads, beads, velvet, sequins, pearls), the ritual and the popular (ceramic eyes), she handles a divergent range of subjects to unveil and share her concerns.

While looking to address the curious concept of ‘skins’, she would fastidiously wrap and cover certain objects referencing fragile female concealment. The distinguishing marks suggest femaleness. Apart from this, shapes resembling nature are collated with industrial elements that act remind us of dicey environmental conditions often taken for granted by a certain section of populations, but valued by the other. She quips: "Where I come from in India, we are used to save everything; it’s re-used. The essential logic of capitalist forces is to have more, the culture of excess and hence also to generate more waste."

In her unusual works of art, natural materials and organic forms play a significant role. Employing various found objects sourced from the diverse realms of craft, industry and the body, coupled with readymade objects, she investigates basic human concerns related to personal & societal loss/ regeneration. The intriguing installations can thus be contextualized in relation to rather ponderous topical things.

Born in Lucknow in 1958, Anita Dube completed her graduation in History from the University of Delhi, and later did her masters (art criticism) from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M. S. University, Baroda. Trained as an art critic, she avidly read different texts, not stopping with religion alone. In her own life, art started therapeutically. According to her, the therapeutic power is one of its great values.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Owais Husain’s life journey

This artist perhaps has the most illustrious surname among the present generation of Indian artists.

MF Husain, his late father, remains our most popular, most established and the most celebrated modern painter. Having identity as the maestro's son has been a matter of pride, on one hand, and a burden of expectations to carry, on other hand; the proud son has done so with élan. Owais Husain is taking the legacy of his father ahead by walking into his footsteps and carving a niche for himself as a multimedia artist of immense talent and skill. He has built a reputation of his own.

Owais Husain, the low-profile son of a legendary artist, he mostly divides his creative time between Dubai and Mumbai. Born in 1967 in Mumbai, he studied at Lawrence School in Sanawar, Simla Hills, later seeking artistic pursuits like painting, drawing, textile printing, dyeing, photography and lithography. The artist went on to join the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai. After completing his graduation (Painting) from Sir J.J School of Arts, Mumbai in 1990, he was in New York for a year and later set up a studio at the Kanoria Centre for Arts, Ahmedabad.

When his illustrious father lived in self-imposed exile in 2006 away from his beloved homeland, Owais began getting closer to him emotionally. Their tender bond received a fresh lease of affection in the face of adversity. In January 2010, the artist-in-exile opted to become a citizen of Qatar. His son had then remarked: "Giving up citizenship of India saddens my father. But they say that you can take a man out of the country but you cannot take the country out of him." The hurt and pain remained until the very end, but there was no bitterness.

Apart from a book of poetry and images, he has composed and choreographed an experimental opera for an installation in Doha and Qatar. Mostly figurative, his work dwells on those transfixed moments between ubiquitous people and peculiar situations. His assured brush strokes create thickly delineated forms in constant movements.

A different approach to painting sets apart the late legend’s son

Owais Husain’s recent body of concept and multimedia works that blended art, music and poetry were presented at Mumbai-based Tao Art Gallery last year. The series, entitled ‘3 Worlds’, received critical acclaim. For it, he explored different levels of existence divided into three segment; namely Heart, Mind and Spirit, which implied that each of us was essentially a storyteller.

The motifs and the iconography in his paintings and charcoal drawings on paper suggested that the heart never really belonged to one. The installations of three life-size Siberian tigers’ replicas, limestone rocks from the Syrian deserts and acrylic sheets signified the fragility of life and the living beings. A unique multimedia blend comprised beds in the centre each carrying a pillow book of poetry, symbolizing the seven stages of love.

This was his first solo in Mumbai after a gap of almost 10 years. Renowned galleriest Dadiba Pundole had mentioned: "He does not carry the baggage of being an illustrated father's son.” He knows better as the Pundole had showcased many of his father’s works. Comparing the two, the expert noted: “He (Owais) has a different approach to painting. It’ more intense in a sense, and tends to be autobiographical in nature. This makes it difficult to get into the work to some degree. However, the element of the narrative is strong."Owais Husain's show is entitled ‘Three Worlds’.

Describing how ‘the exiled artist's son is staying true to his name, an AFP report stated: “In a room in the basement of the gallery, the walls are scrawled with messages. In the centre, two beds are covered with balls of red wool, as music -- also his own composition -- floats through loud speakers.

The influence of his father can be seen, as he admits to being ‘fascinated by the imagery of the (human) figure’. The 94-year-old, once described as "the pioneer of post-Independence Indian modern art", gave up his Indian citizenship earlier this year. Owais Husain seems reluctant to talk about his father, saying only that he advised him against embarking on a career as a painter.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Soak in the glory and richness of an art treasure of a passionate collector

The late art collector Jehangir Nicholson had always had a desire to share his collection with the common people for them to soak in its glory and richness. The dream has finally been fulfilled.

The renowned art patron’s comprehensive collection of nearly 800 paintings, drawings prints and sculptures, spanning nearly seven decades has recently been thrown open to the public. It comprises several monumental works by over 250 Indian modern and contemporary artists that now have become a prized possession now.

For the humble fellow who spent major part of his life striving to construct a museum of his dream, this is a perfect homage. A gritty man, he had also requested the government of Maharashtra to give him some space in Mumbai for the proposed structure, but to no avail. In his will, the passionate collector had sought the liquidation of his entire assets for supporting a foundation, which would manage his collection.

He had appointed his lawyer Kaiwan Kalyaniwalla and nephew Cyrus Guzder as trustees. With the CSMVS director Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s support, the two convinced the museum board for accommodating Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation (JNAF) collection at its historic structure. It’s a perfect partnership as a proud legacy finds an apt resting place while the museum can treat as an extension of its own ancient Indian art collection.

Jehangir Nicholson bought his first artwork in 1968, a year after he lost his beloved wife. He bought a Sharad Waykool painting, titled ‘A Scenery’, for Rs 600 from the Taj Art Gallery. After his life partner’s departure, he found succor and solace in his growing attachment with paintings filled a personal vacuum created after his wife’s death. This feeling was quite palpable in the way he chose to address his works, using terms of romanticized love, at times.

The first canvas he acquired cost him Rs. 500. It was ‘A Scenery’ by Sharad Waykool, which he spotted at the Taj Art Gallery. He gradually began visiting the Chemould and Pundole art galleries on a more regular basis, and was introduced to young painter Laxman Shreshtha (just 24 year old then) by the founder of Pundole, Kali Pundole.

Spotlight on the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly called the Prince of Wales Museum) now houses the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery. A major portion of its recently constructed 2nd floor annexe is now taken up by the captivating collection, a visual treat, a true testament to the zest and passion of an avid lover of modern Indian art.

The keen collector travelled all across India to view and buy art cutting across different forms, themes and mediums. He progressively became more meticulous and methodological about his quest of collecting; getting more and more conscious of the fact that he was pursuing his dream of a museum. His collection gradually became archival in nature. His constant rearrangement of his treasured art collection pointed to an obsessive streak in him. All these traits are evident in the exhibition of his vast and rich artworks in Mumbai.

Rightfully, Jehangir Nicholson’s collection is considered among the richest and most diverse in its vastness of modern masterpieces that he bought from painters like Jitish Kallat, Sudarshan Shetty and Baiju Parthan, as well. A key indicator of its intrinsic value is reflected in two of Souza’s milestone works – ‘Mammon’ (1961) and ‘Death of the Pope’ (1962) – that belonged to him. He engaged actively and identified with his collection and loved discussing his coveted possessions in great detail and depth, facets that are inherent to a genuine and committed collector, who has left behind a rich legacy.

Incidentally, Laxman Shreshtha introduced him to several other talented artists like Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, MF Husain, SH Raza etc. Also on his advice, the enthusiastic collector made umpteen studio visits and developed close bonds with prominent artists like Krishen Khanna. Jehangir Nicholson’s understanding of contemporary art was sharpened by his acute observation. His debates and conversations with art practitioners, gallery owners, scholars, critics and reviewers further enhanced his knowledge and grasping of art history as well as trends.