Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A retrospective of artist K.K Hebbar

The Karnataka state government has been celebrating the centenary year of legendary artist K.K. Hebbar in a big way through a series of events and exhibits, including one at The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. According to the Ministry of Culture, it was the responsibility of the government to honor an artist whose contributions had greatly enriched the art scene and made the country proud.

The Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) Chairman, J.S. Khande Rao, inaugurated an exhibit of the late artist’s serigraph works. According to Rao, those who had savored the serene series of line drawings of dancing feet by him would appreciate its beauty. The swirling skirts, the ‘ghungrus’, the outstretched arms of the dancer indeed bring alive the sketches in black ink, he rightly pointed out. Hebbar had a great understanding and appreciation of the world around him. He would portray the settings with all their power and beauty, with a philosophical touch.

Born in 1911 in the Udupi district of Karnataka, Kattingeri Krishna Hebbar was born in an artisan family. His father would make idols of Lord Ganesha. The background in folk art made him pursue art as a career. In spite of having been trained in the Western tradition, his work remained soaked in the Indian folk traditions.

After initial training in Mysore and then at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, he worked as an art instructor there between 1940 and 1945. He then visited Europe to study at the Academy Julian, Paris. During his early years, he was influenced by Amrita Sher Gill and Paul Gauguin. His idiom was a unique mix of both impressionistic & expressionistic techniques.

An acute social concern prompted him to focus on themes like poverty and hunger. On the other hand, his drawings and paintings captured the graceful gestures of dance performances, influenced by his deep study of the classical dance form, Kathak.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Public art project on the Yamuna riverbanks

The sewage-filled, fetid and filthy Yamuna River is perhaps the most unlikely backdrop for a major art installation. However, ambitious organizers of the unconventional ‘Project Y’ had a hope that their works would attract art lovers who seldom venture onto its banks and in the process, draw attention to the problem of chronic pollution of a dirty river worshiped as holy and sacred by devotees.

They succeeded to an extent. A news report by Gareth Conde of The Associated Press elaborated: The public art project, with works by Indian and Germans artist, aimed to generate awareness of the sorry state of the holy Yamuna by linking it with far cleaner and purer Elbe in Germany, where a similar exhibit was mounted.

“Everyone knows the river is polluted, but I wish to re-awaken the idea of ecology for it. We wish people to come and check for themselves what the river is all about," stated, a co-curator of this unique public art project, Ravi Agarwal. So just near the Loha Pul Bridge, where local people wash clothes, floated a sculpture of the female form below the waist. Its legs trapped the river's bounty: marigold garlands thrown in it by worshipers, a pig carcass and discarded plastic bottles.

Among other installations were Gigi Searia's ‘Fountain of Purification’ that pumped water from the river through five different levels of a tower before spurting out ‘pure water’ from the top. Even the clear and purified water was putrid. Asim Waqif installed a longish stretch of plastic bottles right down the middle of the river that expressed anger of the river goddess at the pollution. She was anyways never ever supposed to gulp sewage.

A few curious onlookers did wander the banks to view the artworks; organizers estimated about 150 to 200 of them dropped in every day, suggesting still more awareness was required about the menace of pollution.

‘Head Space’ by Yamini Nayar

New York-based gallery, Thomas Erben, presents artist Yamini Nayar’s first solo exhibition. In this new body of work, entitled ‘Head Space’, she enables us – through an increase in scale – to more directly inhabit her photographs, documents of temporarily fashioned tabletop sculptures and environments.

A curatorial essay mentions: "A slow-down of the photographic moment is effected through the entirely hand-made nature of her assemblages, which are additionally inscribed with time through a process of continuous reworking. The textures of raw, often discarded materials (plaster, Styrofoam, plastics, fabric, etc.) complemented with the flattening and distancing qualities of photography result in works that are structured, yet highly visceral.

Yamini Nayar, born in 1975, received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 2005 and her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1999. In her constructions, the artist often uses historical imagery as a point of departure and employs familiar spatial logic to engage levels of recognition, while simultaneously suspending narrative and defying rules of perspective. These tensions, combined with her painterly sense of color and use of light, create an elusive, open-ended quality.

Her ‘Cascading Attica’ presents us with an architectural image fragment, extending into a swirl of unidentifiable matter which wraps around a field seeming simultaneously solid, vaporous, reflective and transparent. Perspective is dislodged – not quite defying gravity, but not on firm ground either – and the exquisitely toxic coloration adds an element of ominence. ‘Attica’ – referring to the Classical Greek region projecting into the Aegean Sea, the 1971 prison riot in upstate New York, and a waterfall in Wyoming – exemplifies her interest in the shifting nature of meaning.

On a formal level, she often intersperses three-dimensionality with decidedly shallow space making both conditions, though factually unfeasible and irresolvable, appear entirely believable. It is as if, rather than working toward compromise, she folds spectrums in half, bringing polarities to a place of coexistence."

Monday, November 28, 2011

‘Dewdrops and Sunshine’

Talented contemporary Indian artist Ranjani Shettar is in spotlight thanks to her new series of works, entitled ‘Dewdrops and Sunshine’ at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The core concept of her new bewildering body of work, ‘Interplay’, which forms part of the show, refers to both the its poetic subtitle.

In fact, ‘Dewdrops and Sunshine’ was the artist’s suggestion. The work explores a general concern as well. In essence, she explores an ongoing investigation of the relationship of water and light to living things. Filtering Indian craft traditions through her own novel sensibility, Ranjani Shettar transforms natural phenomena into magical forms.

Her sculptures reveal the artist’s ability to work with a range of materials; her choice of media a disparate roster of the organic and human-made, including tamarind kernel paste, muslin, lacquer, wood, automotive paint, fishing line, beeswax, dyed thread, latex rubber and steel.

Born in 1977, Shettar lives and works in Bangalore, India. Internationally, her work is represented in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York. The artist has also exhibited at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hermes Foundation, Singapore; and Talwar Gallery, New York/New Delhi. She has further been featured in international surveys such as the 2006 Sydney Biennale and 2008 Carnegie International.

‘Dewdrops and Sunshine’ incorporates a sampling of Ranjani Shettar’s sculptural practice; all of the selections in some way reflect upon formal ideas of volume, suspension/attachment, light and shadow, as well as materiality. But the artist is not simply a formal purist. It is her ongoing quest to present a synthesis of form and narrative through a vocabulary uniquely her own, which makes her vision singular within the terrain of contemporary sculpture and installation art.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A grand showcase that examines Leonardo’s passion and pursuit for painterly perfection

‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ is one of the most complete and comprehensive displays of the legendary artist’s rare surviving paintings ever held anywhere in the world.

This magnificent showcase of ‘Leonardo da Vinci's works is on view at The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London. The unprecedented exhibit, indeed the first of its kind not only in the UK but probably anywhere in the world, brings together some exquisite international loans.

Illustrating the significance of the show, an accompanying note mentions: “While numerous exhibit have looked at Leonardo as an inventor, scientist or even draughtsman, this is perhaps the first ever to be dedicated to his techniques and aims as a painter. Inspired by ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’, the recently restored National Gallery painting, it focuses on him as an artist. In particular, the show concentrates on the work that he produced as court painter to Duke Lodovico Sforza in Milan during the late 1480s and 1490s."

As a painter, he aimed to convince his viewers of the reality of what they were viewing whilst aspiring to create ideals of beauty, particularly in his portraits, and in his religious works, to convey across a sense of awe-inspiring mystery. Featuring some of the finest drawings and paintings by Leonardo and his followers, the event examines his pursuit for perfection in his meticulous representation of the human form.

Among the works on display are the ‘Madonna Litta’ (Hermitage, Saint Petersburg), ‘Saint Jerome’ (Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome) and ‘La Belle Ferronière’ (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The two versions of his ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ that belong to the National Gallery & the Louvre are also being shown together for the first time ever. The final part of the show features a near-contemporary, full-scale copy of his famous work ‘Last Supper’, on loan from the Royal Academy.

Seen alongside all of the surviving preparatory drawings by Leonardo for the work, visitors can discover how such a large-scale, ambitious painting was designed and made by him.

A new solo of recent works by Rohini Devasher

The works in Rohini Devasher’s new solo exhibition at New Delhi-based Nature Morte might, at first glance, look more at home in a natural history museum or perhaps a biology archive.
Her artistic practice has long been fascinated with the sciences and the natural world.

An accompanying essay elaborates that the suite of new works by her explores organic growth and evolution through a technological matrix. The artist has invented new species by cannibalizing those of reality. The forms she creates are very familiar yet undeniably alien, encompassing the categories of animal, vegetable and mineral.

She has described these life forms in a wide variety of media. The works on display comprise videos, drawings, prints plus a single sculpture, all of them playing with imaginary microcosms and organic boundaries. Her work largely draws inspiration from biological specimen displays, magnetic resonance imaging and astronomical observations. Instead of creating static images, it appears to breathe and grow.

Born in 1978, the artist lives and works in Delhi. She received her MFA in Printmaking from Winchester School of Art in the UK and her BFA from the College of Art, Delhi. She has exhibited in group shows at the Apeejay Media Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi; Green Cardamom & the British Library, London; Bose Pacia, Kolkata; and the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh. Her solo show, entitled ‘Breed’ was held at Project 88 in Mumbai in 2009. She was awarded the KHOJ International Arts & Sciences Residency as well as the INLAKS Fine Art Award and a Sarai Associate Fellowship.

‘Permutation’ is her first show with Nature Morte, in collaboration with Project 88. Among her major international participations have been in shows at The Courtauld Institute of Art; Frieze Art Fair; the Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes courtesy organized with the Musée d’art contemporain of Lyon & the Ecole nationale des beaux-arts of Lyon; Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; Nature Morte, Berlin (2011); MOCA, Taipei; and Hong Kong Art Fair (2010).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A solo of media-driven works by Subha Ghosh in London

Indar Pasricha Contemporary & Ben Hanly present the work of New-Delhi based Subha Ghosh in London. In particular his work appropriates the distinctly Indian art form of hand-painted billboard hoardings, which until the advent of cheap commercial printing were widely used throughout India in advertising and political campaigns.

Born in Delhi in 1961, he did his BA and MA at the College of Art, New Delhi and later studied Fine Art at the Surikov Institute of Fine Art, Moscow. In 1996 he completed a second MA in Fine Art at the Slade School of Art. He has exhibited extensively throughout India and internationally. His work can be seen in many public and private collections including the National Gallery of Modern Art, India and GlaxoSmithKline.

He subverts this familiar format by depicting not the Politicians, Bollywood stars or Western consumer brands which are normally shown, but rather depicting portraits of the poor and ordinary people from the streets. By doing so he aims to force the viewer to acknowledge the very people whom they routinely ignored in everyday life.

In particular, Subha Ghosh is fascinated by the huge scale of these billboards and how they seem to visually transform those depicted into something larger than life, into almost God-like beings - the use of scale metaphorically mirroring and enforcing existing social and class divides. In this context, when the artist chooses to substitute portraits of the poor for the rich and powerful, he is deliberately choosing to show them elevated to a similar status. A controversial stance in an
India still beset by massive social inequality.

The artist’s use of the cut-out is also highly significant as it enables him to produce hyper-realistic representations of his sitters. It also gives the artist the ability to dislocate these sitters from their original location and environment.

This results in the visual and conceptional juxtaposition of seeing the poor of India standing in stark gallery environments or in the elegance of rich collectors’ houses – both places where they could never normally hope to gain admittance. Once again the artist provokes the viewer into acknowledging the underbelly of Indian society.

An artistic exploration of the higher realm

New Delhi based Gallery Threshold presents a solo show of recent works by senior artist Rajendra Dhawan. Widely respected for his prolific output, his outstanding work seems to awaken a sense of serenity, spirituality and timelessness. It’s akin to a boundless exploration of the higher realm, so to say.

Rajendra Dhawan is returning to the capital city of India after a long gap of 14 years. Born in 1936, the artist first studied at the Delhi School of Art, before joining Dhawan Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris and later the Belgrade Institute of Art. He also founded a group 'The Unknown' that held shows from 1960-64. He taught painting until 1962 and received a grant to visit Yugoslavia in 1964. Having moved to Paris in 1970, he continues to reside there. He has had several solos and participations to his credit.

These include exhibitions at Bodhi Art, Singapore and Mumbai, 2005; Gallery White Elephant in Paris, 2004; Talwar Gallery in New York, 2002 ; Vadehra Art, Delhi, 1998; Galerie L’lf, Elne in France, 1995; Phillippe Bouakia, Paris, 1994; La Pardelere, Nantes, 1993; Gallery Francois in Paris, 1990; Shridharini Gallery, Delhi, 1981; du Haut-pave, Paris (1972,74 77,81,89); and ‘The Unknown’, an All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society show in Delhi, 1964. Some of his other significant one-man shows have been held at Galerie Horn, Luxembourg (1973, 75), Gallery Chemould, Mumbai (1989, 93), Dhoomimal Gallery, Delhi, and Galerie Francois Mitaine.

His wide array of paintings are in several prestigious collections of leading art institutions of India, Asia and Europe like The Glenbarra Museum, Japan; National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi; the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), Delhi; the Bharat Bhavan Museum, Bhopal; Rigault Museum in Perpignan; The National Foundation of Contemporary Art, Paris; and the Teruss Museum in Elne. He is also an established artist in the international auction circuit as well.

‘Your Name Is Different There’

A thematic group show, entitled ‘Your Name is Different There,’ is on view at Mumbai‘s Volte Gallery.

It comprises thought provoking works by Ranbir Kaleka, Sonia Khurana, Sheba Chhachhi, and CAMP (a group of artists namely, Sanjay Bangar, Ashok Sukumaran and Shaina Anand) that revolve around the hazy identity of the displaced; and in particular, of those who precariously stand at its threshold.

Elaborating on the concept, a curatorial note by Nancy Adajania states: “In this exhibition I propose to explore, with four artists, a pervasive form of survivor testimony that recurs across societies and historical situations in our global present: an epoch characterized by genocide, displacement, and the alienation of individuals from their lives and loci.

Central to this curatorial inquiry is the figure of the displaced, the dislocated or the disoriented person: one who is obliged to inhabit a threshold state or liminal condition, not fully able to leave a lost history behind, nor yet equipped to embrace the uncertain future that lies ahead.

How such figures negotiate this condition, and how witness may be borne to their experience, are questions addressed by the participating artists through a constellation of photographs and video installations. Accordingly, the show -- its title is drawn from Jeet Thayil’s poem, ‘After’ -- will be developed around five key figures: the activist, the bairagi or renunciate, the marginal (flaneur or tramp), the witness to violence and upheaval, and the neighbor.

These figures are not bearers of static identities into which they have been socially conscripted. They are vectors operating in the meso-realm between stricture and choice, freedom and unfreedom, the hinged and the unhinged; at the intersection where practical politics meets art, each struggling to make or unmake the other.

They are sometimes juxtaposed against one another, at other times they blur and grow into each other: a renunciate stages a protest, albeit of a different kind from an activist; a vagabond can also be a flaneur; a tramp in performance could come face-to-face with a real beggar; a victim is often in the danger of becoming an aggressor. Significantly, various historical narratives are in flux around these works and around the oeuvres of these artists: sanyasa, Partition, citizenship, Shoah and Nakba.

An artist who seeks inspiration from street life and advertisements

Here is an insightful statement by artist Subha Ghosh that accompanies his new series of works at Indar Pasricha Contemporary Arts, London:
“There is a certain relationship of my present work and the urban Indian art of billboard painting. Although due to the advent of cheap large scale technology the art of hand painted hoardings have almost died out but in a few pockets in cities like Chennai, Mumbai and smaller Indian towns and mofussils.

My work, for quite some time, has found inspiration in forms of street life and advertisements, like cut out figures and billboard hoardings. The cutout figure like the famous Air India Maharaja or the Kodak cutouts at the Kodak shops created a kind of dislocation of reality for me. But it was not a complete alienation but a reconnection with reality at a different level.

The cutout has become a vehicle for me to transport populations to different localities and diverse societies. It also helps me to look at the social fabric today. After all what is our social structure? What relationships are we building up within our society? I do not believe in concrete structures like the state and religion.

They are both artificial entities. In reality there are no marked boundaries it is a palimpsest. Perhaps it is on the fluid borders of these categories and moving populations, with their aspirations and expectations and desires that I want to place my figures in, not just as witnesses, but as infiltrators.

The billboards for me always had a fascination in the arbitrariness of their composition and the place they have found in embodying a political message within our consciousness. The emancipation of composition from known notions of artistic composition is refreshing. Scale is because of the importance of the protagonist within the narrative of the picture or in the social context they are situated in and not in any perspective logic. I have been fascinated by the political implications of scale in our social thinking and its physical manifestations.

What happens if that very idea of the scale is subverted? If surreptitiously, we replace the mythological personality by a very ordinary person. Does he or she acquire a mythical status? Is the class structure that these billboards seem to reflect subverted? The other aspect that I find myself looking at is the grand gesture for a grand narrative.

This is where I find the art of billboard painting crossing over into the grand narrative of renaissance painting. In my work I am trying to locate myself in that fold of the grand gesture of the renaissance painting and Indian billboard painter."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Faith and science, tradition and modernity encapsulated

Artist Sanjay Patel’s individual display of works runs at the San Francisco-based Asian Art Museum alongside the main show. Elaborating on his oeuvre and the thought process behind it, he writes:

“People see my work and think it's unique. My work is a total knock off and the fact that people don't see it shocks me. That's the whole point of my show: To show people the connection between the most ancient artifacts and my modern interpretation. To place an exquisite stone sculpture of Vishnu from the twelfth century next to a digital illustration created at this moment. Then to step back and to let people decide what's original and what's not. What's special and what's not, what's art and what's pop culture.

My own life is full of these comparisons and contradictions. My father smears red paste on the forehead of small deities each morning. He sits cross-legged and sings along to devotional songs. I sit on a Herman Miller chair, use digital tools, and blare New Order songs, the whole while illustrating Hindu deities. He does his pujas twice a day and I try to do a little work before and after my day job every day.

My father animates his faith through meditation and ritual. I use my Techincolor tools to reincarnate modern avatars. In my opinion we're both devoted and reverential, just in different ways, and for different reasons. We're also both continuing a tradition of art making and worship that stretches back thousands of years. What could be more common to the human experience?

My own life is full of these comparisons and contradictions. My father smears red paste on the forehead of small deities each morning. He sits cross-legged and sings along to devotional songs. I sit on a Herman Miller chair, use digital tools, and blare New Order songs, the whole while illustrating Hindu deities.

He does his pujas twice a day and I try to do a little work before and after my day job every day. My father animates his faith through meditation and ritual. I use my Techincolor tools to reincarnate modern avatars. In my opinion we're both devoted and reverential, just in different ways, and for different reasons. We're also both continuing a tradition of art making and worship that stretches back thousands of years. What could be more common to the human experience?”

Making of the magnificent 'Maharaja' works

Under the British rule, the maharajas were shown off in Europe as exotic symbols of splendor and essentially became the jewel in the queen's crown. But the relationship was more complicated than master and servant; as the rajas were exposed to European culture it helped transform and modernize their own kingdoms back in India.
The San Francisco-based Asian Art Museum is running a show that maps the magnificent era. Deities, Demons, and Dudes with 'Staches: Indian Avatars by India’s Sanjay Patel runs alongside the main show. Initially, he was just told to make a partial contribution, but then was granted a separate show. Here’s the art practitioner’s narration of the experience”

“After reading the catalogue I was inspired to start sketching regardless of what I was or wasn't qualified to do. Eventually I spent over three months working on this project. I went as far as creating final illustrations even before my pitch had been accepted. This was all without any further contact with the museum.

After the initial meeting with the museum staff I didn't speak to them, let alone show them any sketches or discuss any of my ideas. I just went for it. Usually, this method is a total no no. I would never work this way at PIXAR or with a publisher, but for some reason I felt the museum was asking me to just do my thing. So I did, so much so that I didn't care if what I made pleased them or not. It was all consuming. Without a doubt it became a personal passion project.

As the date approached I created an elaborate keynote presentation to go over my entire thought process. I even went as far as producing a 4 x 16 foot mock up of what would later become a full-scale mural. After the pitch everyone in the room was floored. They loved the work and started talking about the ideas right away. A week later the curators called me back to re-pitch my work to the museum director and the executive team.

At which point my job felt done. A few weeks later, an email from the museum asked to my surprise if I'd be interested in my own gallery show….

The rich lives of great Indian kings gets documented in a grand show

Even as the new-generation artists from India bask in their new-found glory, fame and appreciation, its tradition and rich heritage retains its appeal. A new show, which peeps into the past, is a testimony to this. It’s resplendent with the country’s glorious past.

‘Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts’ reflects the exquisite history and culture of Princely India through a series of paintings, photographs, textiles and dress, jeweled objects, fine metalwork, furniture etc. The Asian Art Museum based in San Francisco is hosting the exhibition to redress certain commonly held perceptions and to offer a deeper view of Indian royal courts’ splendors.

Although both Hindu and Muslim rulers were known by other titles like maharana, maharao, nizam and nawab, the word emerged as a generic term for describing all of India's kings. A curatorial note reveals: “The (the objects on display) help us understand the real people behind the objects that were made for them. Nearly each one of them has a great story and multiple layers of meaning hidden behind it.

“The two principal narrative arcs around the show is organized bring to life the fascinating worlds of great kings of the country. The first goes behind the scenes for analyzing the roles and qualities of kingship. The second traces the ways kingship shifted against a fast changing political & historical backdrop.”

The term maharaja (great king) invariably evokes an image of a turbaned and bejeweled ruler, whose authority is near absolute, who indulges in a real lavish lifestyle and whose wealth is immense. But that’s only a part of the whole picture, and more applicable to that part of history, after India turned a British colony in the mid-19th century.

The many paintings and photographs on display document the active presence of ‘real people who lived real lives’. They also provide a glimpse into their inner world.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

‘Permutation’ at Gallery Nature Morte

The works in Rohini Devasher’s new solo exhibition at New Delhi-based Gallery Nature Morte might, at first glance, look more at home in a natural history museum or perhaps a biology archive. Her artistic practice has long been fascinated with the sciences and the natural world.

This suite of new works, as an accompanying note explains, explores organic growth and evolution through a technological matrix. Devasher has invented new species by cannibalizing those of reality. The forms she creates are very familiar yet undeniably alien, encompassing the categories of animal, vegetable and mineral.

Key areas of contemplation and discovery to her remain pattern recognition and pattern formation within organic form and an understanding of the universal underlying structure within nature’s complexity. Rohini Devasher has described these life forms in a variety of media. The works exhibited comprise videos, prints, drawings and a single sculpture, all playing with organic boundaries and imaginary microcosms.

Her works draw inspiration from biological specimen displays, astronomical observations, and magnetic resonance imaging but rather than creating static images, her works appear to breathe and grow. Born in 1978, the artist received her MFA in Printmaking from Winchester School of Art in the UK and her BFA from the College of Art in New Delhi. She has exhibited her works in group shows at the Apeejay Media Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi, Green Cardamom and the British Library in London, Bose Pacia in Kolkata, and the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. Her solo show “Breed” was held at Project 88 in Mumbai in 2009.

The artist was awarded the KHOJ International Arts & Sciences Residency as well as the INLAKS Fine Art Award and a Sarai Associate Fellowship. Rohini Devasher lives and works in New Delhi. ‘Permutation’, her first show with Nature Morte in collaboration with Project 88, continues till the second week of December 2011.

A joint exhibition of Manisha Parekh and Pushpa Kumari in the UK

‘Drawing the Line’ at the Manchester-based Holden Gallery as part of The Asia Triennial Manchester II includes the artworks by Manisha Parekh and Pushpa Kumari. The two artists’ individual works on paper offer their contemporary interpretation of peculiar traditional practice. The two look to encapsulate the tensions as well as powerful productivity of contemporary Indian art, as an accompanying note mentions.

The two artists are at the key point of their well-established careers, both sharing a strong relationship with their country’s tradition, both keenly pushing at different edges in slightly different directions: the exhibit of their works symbolizes the dynamic nature of art practices in India in the 21st century.

The fluid rhythmic structure she seamlessly creates though her deft usage of closely linked harmonious forms, which unfold a larger vision, remains at the core of Manisha Parekh’s practice. She has invariably exhibited proficiency for an array of forms, textures and scientific structure, the core of her style. The artist breathes life into ubiquitous inanimate objects that might resemble the human body. According to her, the handling of figures is done so as ‘to relax both muscular and pictorial tension’ in her creations.’

On the other hand, Pushpa Kumari is a talented Mithila artist who belongs to the Madhubani district of the state of Bihar in India. Born in 1969, she has had little formal education, having been trained in what was essentially ritualistic wall painting and which is now largely paper-based with a much broader market for the same. However, she imparts a new generation’s eye and viewpoint to the traditional skill of the region.

The contrast in their work even as their being drawn to the roots is what makes this joint exhibition of Manisha Parekh and Pushpa Kumari worth a look. As a logical extension to the joint show, ‘Extending the Line’ presents works by Lin Holland and Alice Kettle in response to their experiences in India as part of their collaborative residencies with the two Indian artists.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two artists from India at The Asia Triennial Manchester II

The Asia Triennial Manchester II features contemporary arts and crafts by artists from Asia, the UK and the Asian Diaspora. Two artists from India feature at the event.

Manisha Parekh is one of the few Indian artists who continues to explore an exclusively abstract language. She has developed an artistic practice that also pays reference to the craft and textiles traditions of her home land.

Born in 1964, and after training at M.S. University in Baroda and the Royal College of Art in London, she now lives and works in Delhi. She has exhibited widely and consistently in India since 1988 and held Fellowships in Germany, France and the UK. She has represented her country at Biennales in Havanna and Istanbul.

Continuing with her signature style of abstraction, she straddles painting, collage and drawing to create works that incorporate both the geometric and the organic. Her most recognized works are created by layering shapes cut from handmade papers into dense fields of pattern and energy, sometimes perforating the surface and adding other materials.

What makes Pushpa Kumari special as an artist is that although she is rooted in her centuries-old tradition, she has incorporated not only contemporary ideas and treatment but also an artistic intensity, an aesthetic ideal that is truly her own.

Her pictures depict a wide range of subjects and events: tales of brave warriors from ancient history, or universal primordial concerns such as birth and death, or contemporary issues such as the female foeticide prevalent in India. Her work has been exhibited regularly across India, and is represented in public and private collections in India, the UK and Japan.

New works by Alice Kettle and Lin Holland take a cue from the time have spent time in India in July 2011. Collaborating in extending individual practice and cultural dialogues they present new work made as a consequence. The works are made in response to and in collaboration with Pushpa Kumari and Manisha Parekh.

(Information courtesy: The Asia Triennial Manchester II)

Sujata Bajaj solo courtesy Art Alive

A solo show of recent works by renowned artist Sujata Bajaj takes place at Galerie Romain Rolland, Alliance Francaise de in Delhi courtesy Art Alive.

‘Agni and Jal are the two elements that are so vital in the shastras. If you take the first alphabet of each, it becomes ‘AJ’ this itself means never ending, eternal and this is the energy that resides in my works,’ so states artist Sujata Bajaj of her work.

She mentions: ““Whether I am in Norway or Paris or London, I always see color; it is an intrinsic part of my way of seeing. I come from Rajasthan where color is celebrated; it is a part and parcel of the everyday life of its inhabitants. I love watching the leaves in autumn.”

An artist with a deep neck for tribal art was born in 1958, Jaipur, Rajasthan and did her Masters in Art and Painting from Pune. An influence of tribal art and culture led her to a Ph.d in Fine Arts, on Indian Tribal Art. This reflects greatly in her works. She also studied at Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts, Paris, on French government scholarship in 1988-89.

An influence of both French and Indian art is visible in her work that makes use of vibrant colors, balanced with the texture. From her early days spent at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, she had always experimented, to explore various materials media and forms like etching, wood-cut, murals, cold ceramic, sculpture, fiberglass, acrylic, metal etc.

Sujata Bajaj has held several solo shows in India as well as abroad and has also participated in more the a dozen group shows across India and abroad including in U.K, France, Norway and Saffronart in Los Angeles in 2001. She was conferred with Chancellor’s Award S.N.D.T University, Mumbai, selected for International Youth Achievement by Cambridge University, UK.in1986 and also holder of ‘Raza Award’ in 2003, Bombay Art Society Award and the Maharashtra State Art Award. The artist lives and works in Paris.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A solo exhibition of recent works by India’s veteran artist and a living legend

Born in 1922 in Babaria of Madhya Pradesh, S. H. Raza studied at Nagpur School of Art (1939-43) and later at Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai (1943-47), before joining Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1950-53). One of the founders of the Progressive Artist's Group (PAG), he has made immeasurable contribution to Indian art in the post-Independence era.

Though he has spent close to six decades of his life in France, he remains deeply attached to the country of his birth. The internationally celebrated artist comes back to his home country as frequently as possible to reconnect with his roots. He has been researching about Indian culture for well over 50 years, in order to portray the greatness of this vivid culture.

Raza has stated, "I have come closer to India by being away. I have read and researched more and more about India. I have become more Indian in France." Symbols in his works are largely derived from an Indian ethos, including the pancha tatva (five elements of Nature) and the Bindu (the dot or the epicenter). His work emphasizes the metaphysical and meditative philosophies of the five primeval elements the world is be made of, as propagated by Hindu mythology.
Elaborating on his practice driven by Indian philosophy and history, the master artist mentions, “India is full of color. My paintings reflect the vibrancy of color that makes up the country. Whenever I am working away in France, the question I invariably ask myself is: where’s the Indian sensibility in it.”

A solo exhibition of recent works by India’s veteran artist and a living legend takes place courtesy Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi courtesy Lalit Kala Academi. Among his significant joint shows in the last few years include ‘Spirit of India’, with M F Husain at Kings Road Galleries, London, and 'Shanti: A Scream for Peace', with Manish Pushkale at Bugno Art Gallery, Venice.

The Government of India awarded him the ‘Padma Shri’ in 1981 and the ‘Padma Bhushan’ in 2007, apart from the Lalit Kala Ratna Puraskar (2004) he received from LKA, Delhi.

Ubiquitous light bulb becomes the glowing theme

It has been cast in bronze, curiously stuffed in a jar and passionately painted by artists likes Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder and Man Ray. Here’s a show that throws light literally, on one of the art world's lesser-celebrated icons: the ubiquitous light bulb.

A group show, entitled ‘Burning, Bright: A Short History of the Light Bulb’, takes place at the Pace Gallery, New York. It brings together works by 32 artists who embrace the incandescent light bulb and treat it as ‘a real beautiful sort of found object’.

A nighttime studio aid, the bulb hit the commercial market sometime around in the late 19th century, points out curator of the exhibition, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst. The works on view try to put its relevance in perspective. For example, ‘Cat Lamp’ (1928) by sculptor Alexander Calder inserts a shaded bulb into a fascinating feline's wiry form. ‘Untitled Rayograph (Light Bulb with Nails – 1930), another early work done by avant-garde photographer Man Ray, portrays it as a mystical, almost divine object that radiates energy and hovers in space.

In a 1984 ‘Still Life—Broken Statue & Shadow’, done by British painter Francis Bacon, a bulb suspended from the ceiling apparently illuminates a nebulous form whereas Robert Rauschenberg in his ‘Soaring Dribble Glut’ (1992), done as part of a series about greed, affixed a line of light bulbs to a rusted metal arrow. The incandescent bulb had become such a commonplace object by the mid-20th century that you almost tended to ignore it, Oakland-based Mills College Art Museum director Stephanie Hanor notes.

Hanor was the organizer of ‘Jasper Johns: Light Bulb’, the traveling 2008-'09 exhibit. In the 1960s, Jasper Johns was working on metal casts of bulbs. One of them forms part of the show. According to the art expert, the artist wanted to get us all to see the bulb, but it's about the object’s beauty as well - the shape is sort of feminine and it gives a kind of lounging feel, deftly depicted on its side. There's something sensual and anthropomorphic about it. Artists were obviously playing with that idea too.

‘The Call’ by Amina Ahmed

New Delhi’s Seven Art presents a solo exhibition by, entitled The Call’ the NY-based artist, educator and activist Amina Ahmed. Deeply interested in Sufi literature, music and belief systems, she has developed a lyrical visual a language based on the repetition of symbols, marks and geometry.
In what has been a core project for many years, she explores the theme of a journey toward the Divine using a single shape as an archetype, repeated to evoke a sense of remembrance or invocation. Drawing on the traditional culture in which she was raised, Ahmed sees the repetition of lines, or of drawing, as running across media and is inspired by the migration of symbols across various art forms.

Working with the drawn line, feathers, leaves and delicately curled strips of paper pinned to the wall or to gessoed boards, Ahmed’s core interest is in the symbolism, patterns and rhythms that connect all living beings. For ‘The Call’, she will show new drawings on paper and on carbon paper, several site-specific installations and a new video work with sound.

Mesmerized by the patterns and rhythms, the lines and shapes, the repetitions, and the obsessions, she simply relishes drawing. She terms her work as a way of entering a universe attuned to the ritualistic and symbolic meaning, necessity perhaps, of ‘making marks.’

Amina Ahmed was born in 1964 in Africa and is a Kutchi Turk Indian. She grew up in England and has lived in Iran and the USA. She is a graduate of Winchester School of Art and the Chelsea School of Art. She received her MFA from the Royal College of Art in 1991 and is an artist, educator, curator and activist.

Her work has been exhibited at the Africa Centre, UK, Queens Museum NY, Lincoln Center NY (with Engendered Human Rights Org), The Jersey City Museum, NJ, The RCA, London, among many others. She is married, has three children, lives in NYC and sleeps in NJ.
(Information courtesy: Seven Art, New Delhi)

Works that explore ‘Beauty and Transience’

A group show curated by Andreas Hoffer at Vienna’s Essl Museum has artist stances commenting on existential issues. The main hall turns into a reflection zone presenting works by Jörg Immendorff, Jannis Kounellis, Zoran Mušič, Marc Quinn, Daniel Spoerri and Antoni Tàpies, accompanied by an art reader with literary contributions by 17 young writers.
The exhibition presents works that, at first glance, run counter to traditional ideas of beauty. Explaining the concept, an accompanying essay states, “For centuries, artists have been exploring the notion of beauty, which in western civilization took its origin in Classical Antiquity and was only challenged in the 20th century through the study of non-European civilizations.

The show is not designed to postulate views, but to facilitate, through art, a discussion on central human issues and to inspire viewers to challenge their own ideas and contemplate the subjects presented.” The idea for it was inspired by an installation by Jannis Kounellis, which the artist designed in 1999 for the inauguration of the museum and which, as so often with his work, is invested with associations to the site and, in this case, the nearby River Danube.

The work of artist Daniel Spoerri also highlights everyday materials and objects. In his trap paintings, Spoerri takes the opposite approach to a painted still life by entrapping the most transient thing, the present moment, and perpetuating it in “eternal life”.

Since his student days, the late German artist Jörg Immendorff, who died in 2007, sought to connect art and life, albeit in a different way from Spoerri, viz. in a radically political sense – one of the key issues Immendorff explored was the social relevance of art. Each of the elements of Antonio Tàpies’ five-piece work, Dietari I-V from 2002 stands for itself, like the unbound pages of a diary which reports of the same repetitions of everyday actions day by day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Artist Raghava KK’s solo at Art Musings

Mumbai-based gallery Art Musings hosts an exhibition of works entitled ‘Exquisite Cadaver’ by Raghava KK. This is his third solo exhibition at the venue. He says of his new body of works, “It’s a series of artwork that has arisen from a recent diasporic dilemma. I perform many roles - artist, Indian, American, father, husband, parent, child, student, teacher. Even within the art world itself, I am a thinker, a philosopher, an ingénue, and also a seller of beauty, a businessman, a politician.
“So fragmented is my identity, that I find it rather caricatured to identify with any one predominant role. ‘Exquisite Cadaver’ is a game that represents a more complex search for identity and truth. Now, I play exquisite cadaver with my fragmented selves, creating a series of mythological characters, borrowing from tradition, history, and even my own nostalgia. Each of the works has been created simultaneously in parts, fragmenting the storyline that runs through the series. Through this body of works, I am creating the mythology of the post-post-contemporary diasporic Indian, one that becomes coherent only in its entirety.”
A self-taught, multi-disciplinary artist, Raghava KK began as a cartoonist in 1997 with leading Indian publications. He works in genres as disparate as iPad Art, painting, film, installation, multimedia and performance. His work conceptually grapples with the construct of identity, gender and sexuality, and the absence of interpersonal context in today's world of online identity performance.

His exhibits at Purdah 2.0 (New York), Brooklyn Bound R Train (Art Musings, Mumbai), Carre d'Art Musee d'Art Contemporain (Nimes, France) and Radical Topography (Giacobetti Paul Gallery, New York) focus on how his recent move to New York City has shaped his identity transformation. More recently, he created and taught a course on art, technology, and storytelling at NuVu Studios, a program out of the MIT Media Lab (Cambridge, MA, USA), which he will continue to teach.

CNN named him as one of the ten most fascinating people the world is yet to know of. Raghava KK is always exploring new avenues to expand his creativity. Legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon invited him to create a painting that featured as the artwork for his 2011 global tour.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Art and articulation often don’t go together

Writer and journalist Shoba Narayan puts a question mark over the link if any, between art and articulation and whether they go together.

For a recent column on this topic, she requested Pratiti Basu Sarkar of the Centre of International Modern Art (Cima) in Kolkata to introduce her to some artists who are emblematic of Kolkata? After they were located, here’s was her trick question: “Why did she pick these two out of the dozens of artists that Cima represents?”

The columnist wrote: “She (Sarkar) can’t say that she likes them as it would upset the others (artists) in her stable. And if she says that she chose them since they’re gaining ground in the world of art, I will suspect commercial motives and perhaps discount her picks. You see why I feel this is a question with no good answer.”

The CIMA gallerist chose artists Sumitro Basak and Shreyasi Chatterjee whose work forms part of a group show at the Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Norway. Basak was recently in Bangalore, for a residency at the 1.Shanthiroad gallery there. He showed her photographs he took in the city. The dramatic, colorful images of the writer’s hometown appear like his paintings. More impressed by his three-dimensional books, Narayan terms them vibrant, playful and thoughtful.

On the other hand, Shreyasi Chatterjee skillfully stitches on canvas; it’s a more original take on captivating kantha embroidery. She also teaches art history at a local university. The vertical storytelling in the artist’s large size canvases reminds of Chinese watercolors, to an extent, they make the eye move upward

Shoba Narayan then asked some usual questions as what inspired them, how did they work and so on. Chatterjee and Basak exchanged notes on Charles Wallace grants. And then the former sprang her question on Sarkar, in front of both the artists. Why did the gallerist recommend them, out of all those that CIMA represents?

The challenge for artists of expressing themselves beyond a canvas

“Do artists need to talk about their work? Isn’t it enough that the work speaks for itself? Years ago, I lost a master’s of fine arts degree trying to prove this point—my professors failed me when I couldn’t articulate what my sculpture installation was about—so I have strong views on this subject.”

Above is the observation of writer-journalist of The Mint, Shoba Narayan, who wants to check the link that exists between art and articulation. She approached Pratiti Basu Sarkar of the Kolkata-based Centre of International Modern Art.

The CIMA gallerist recommended the names of artists Sumitro Basak and Shreyasi Chatterjee mainly because they are articulate, as she put ut. It is a brave answer because it does not pander to the two artists sitting with us.

“One of the challenges that faces a lot of artists, particularly in Bengal, is that they cannot articulate about their work in English.” Sarkar tells the columnist about a poor, self-taught artist represented by CIMA. Shakeela primarily works in paper collages, but she just cannot talk about or explain her work, stated Sarkar.

On the other hand, Chatterjee and Basak talk about how ‘cumbersome it can get writing pages of fellowship applications, as you’ve to prove what you are doing. Sarkar nodded to state: “I think the auction houses and the art market have been very detrimental influences on contemporary Indian art.

Shoba Narayan quips: “I wonder if I should tell her that the person who pointed me to her was the director and country head of Sotheby’s India, Maithili Parekh, even as Sarkar continues, “Yes, the world now knows that there’s such a thing as Indian art. But I don’t think they’re convinced by it. The buyers are mainly still buying India’s ancient art.

Barring a handful of mainstream, genuine foreign art collectors, contemporary art from India is mostly being brought by NRIs. What the West wants to see of India is the kitsch, the color, the street scenes, and the exoticism. To me, that’s untruthful and insincere..”

‘Whom do you wish to represent your work - a romantic or a hustler?

Here are the excerpts of an interesting essay by The Mint columnist Shoba Narayan who spent time with two of the artists, namely Sumitro Basak and Shreyasi Chatterjee, recommended by Pratiti Basu Sarkar of the Kolkata-based CIMA.

“What do we art lovers expect from our artists? Do we want them to be worldly and articulate like the late M.F. Husain or reclusive and free from market influences, like the late Tyeb Mehta or Biren De? Should artists engage with the market or be removed from it?

Sarkar believes that artists ought to engage with the real world but not the market. She believes they should study philosophy, read books, form communities. “There is a correlation between artists who read and the thoughtfulness of their work. Artists today come to openings to figure out not content but technique… They have become too involved in the wheeling-dealing. In the West, the galleries do that for you.”

Artists, of course, believe that the galleries don’t do nearly enough. I tell Sarkar about a Delhi art couple who attend openings, parties and deal with media. They complain that it is boring to repeat the same things about their art; but see it as necessary.

“Oh, come on,” Sarkar scoffs. “There is such a word as ‘No’.”

“Yes, but artists are afraid to use this word,” says Sumitro Basak softly.

Are there any successful artists who are reclusive, I ask.

They all think for a minute and come up with one name: Ganesh Pyne. Need to check him out.

The difficult truth is that the world views artists like we Indians view women. They are the repositories of our integrity and emblems of our better selves. We hold artists to higher standards because they are engaged in what we believe is a profound pursuit. As Sarkar says, “If art is about anything, it is about a truth. Somewhere in that work, there has to be a truth. It’s why we read literature: to find a truth.”

Sarkar is a romantic. The more interesting question is, why is she engaged with the market? When I was an art student, Leonard DeLonga, my sculpture professor who I revered, told me I had to “hustle” to sell my work. The question Shoba Naraya finally wants to pose not just to CIMA artists alone is: Do you want a romantic or a hustler to represent your work?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Works by Shilpa Gupta at Fonderie Darling, Montreal

A solo exhibition of Shilpa Gupta takes place at Fonderie Darling in Montreal, Canada. Her work seems to stem from an acute alertness to global political and economic churnings as they greatly shape everyday aspects and broader experiences of life.

In recent years, the artist in her work has tried to probe the polarities of anxiety and security as these facets manifest in a sort of formalized cultural mundanity of both threat and defense. It often has a strong base in process or interactivity and looks to check upon the sufferings of marginalized persons. It addresses charged situations in the lives of groups.

The transcultural relevance of the artist’s work testifies the reach of her exploration of core issues, which act as points of anxiety or contest in today’s complex globalized world. At the same time, it has an almost conversational feel, personal and even intimate character that it exudes.

Shilpa Gupta’s oeuvre takes form according to the basic conceptual foundation and intrinsic concerns of each piece she makes. This new exhibition, primarily revolving around new work commissioned for it, consists of a video projection and mixed media installations as well as book works, large-scale photography work, and more.

She reworks in her new installation objects of everyday life, such as scissors, plastic knives, tweezers, cigarette lighters etc, confiscated from travelers by security services at Trudeau International Airport considered devices of potential danger.

A related concern to go with this act has been the intersecting issues of identity, nations, borders and militarism. These take on a distinct emphasis in a documentation of maps hand-drawn by Montreal residents, randomly approached in various parts of the city and asked, in English or French, to ‘please draw a map of your country’. And the ensuing sketches delineate imprecise landmass and borders, even as they exude diverse, discordant national identifications.

The exhibition curated by Renee Baert continues until November 27, 2011.

Works by Manish Nai, Yashwant Deshmukh and Sheetal Gattani at Gallery Espace

New Delhi-based Gallery Espace is hosting a three-person show, entitled ‘Abstract Articulations’, featuring the recent works of artists Manish Nai, Yashwant Deshmukh and Sheetal Gattani.
Yashwant Desmukh’s work embodies his search for space beyond forms with impeccable minimalism of expressions. The elements, such as volume, shade, light and movement play minimal role in his canvases wherein each line, angle and curve is to be viewed in its entirety. It’s an iconic representation of an individual’s self-contained universe.

Sheetal Gattani has established herself as an abstractionist of repute, who has mastered the medium of watercolor. Born in Mumbai in 1968, she obtained a diploma in Art Education from J.J, School of Art in 1990 and completed her Master’s degree in painting there. Her solo shows include those at Gallery Espace, New Delhi (2007); Bodhi gallery, Singapore (2007); Galarie 88, Kolkata (2006); Apparao Gallery, Chennai (2004), and Gallery Chemould (2007, 2001, 1998).

In 2001, when she had a solo show at Chemould, eminent artist-abstractionist Mehli Gobhai commented he was first apprehensive about her work, but was pleasantly surprised to see her work. Her paintings seem to be throbbing with new life-forms from another world. Her earthy, roughly textured paintings, with their highly reduced visual vocabulary, are built with several layers of watercolors, which in some places erupt on the surface and cause the paintings to resemble flaking, damp walls.

The exploration of space is not in physical sense alone. It’s the space that appeals through one’s perception akin to the deep silence of nothingness that beckons him at a deeper level. He explains: “I look to explore space – seen or unseen; empty or filled. I try to establish, interpret, feel and experience it."

On the other hand, Manish Nai’s preoccupation with unusual textures began in the year 2000, when his father owned a small wholesale business selling jute cloth. Pushing his practice further, Nai utilized the jute threads left over from these ‘paintings’ to create his very first sculptures.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An online art fair in India to suit all budgets

A group of art-minded investors is trying to draw some portion of the rising wealth in India toward the art market, via India Art Collective, an Internet-based art fair, reports Shane Ferro of Artinfo.

While many of the country's newly wealthy are already comfortable with technology, they may not be that comfortable or conversant with the mores of the established art world, thus making the relative anonymity and transparency of the Internet model a way to start to grow art collecting base.

The fair boasts 41 galleries, around 200 artists, and more than 800 works of art, including those by revered artists such as S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain, apart from contemporary Indian superstars like Anish Kapoor and Anita Dube. The works will be on offer from November 19 until 26 on the IAC website.

While many other online fairs have emerged less than successful, ARTINFO described why this one just might do well. According to a co-founder/ director of the fair, Sapna Kar, the whole event is based on the reach and simplicity of the Internet.

That idea is already working well for Saffronart, launched by Minal and Dinesh Vazirani over a decade ago, now among the world's most successful Web-based auction houses. Its business model has been so successful that it was used as a case study by the Harvard Business School.

The new fair has been geared towards an online platform similar to the VIP Art Fair in New York that took place earlier this year, trying to modify them a bit. The IAC is looking to change things up. Instead of having to enter in contact with an art gallery by hone to check the prices, they will be displayed on the site. This may prompt buyers on a limited budget.

The fair resembles three exhibition halls. The first one features work below $12,000. The second features those between $12,000 and $45,000, and the last one includes works above $45,000. This will enable people to browse based on the budget they have.

A glance at the new global hub of collecting

With the nation’s economy thriving, Chinese collectors have become a growingly powerful force in the art market, exhibiting a palpable interest in both Western and Asian art including that from India.

Chinese auction houses are apparently offering works of art at a pace and zest that was associated with those in New York and London formerly. “We have observed exponential growth especially by mainland Chinese buyers brought up during the Cultural Revolution. These are successful businessmen having huge amounts of money at their disposal,” stated Sotheby’s vice chairman (Asian art), Henry Howard-Sneyd.

As the world’s top auction houses swing into action for their fall art sales, it is expected that Chinese collectors will give a boost to the market, likely to raise their paddles for big-ticket works, in spite of persisting global economic turmoil. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s point to the fact that Asian buyers, especially those from India and China, have become a major force in recent years.

Interestingly, though the warring Asian superpowers might not see eye to eye in diplomatic spheres, boundary disputes and security matters, one common thread that binds them is their mutual appreciation and admiration of each other’s traditions, histories and cultures, bringing them closer. The development is significant for the evolving Asian art scene.

Among younger generation of new art buyers in Asia, 47 percent are from mainland China, and they’ve only recently started to focus on the Chinese contemporary art scene. With more education and awareness, experts believe, the proportion of buyers with a genuine appreciation of the artworks will only grow.

The market is still very young, and with China’s strong history and more knowledge about the contemporary trends, they will eventually learn to appreciate art. In this context, it is heartening to notice the trend of increasing visibility and prominence of Indian art in this new, powerful hub of art collecting. More conscious and coordinated efforts are needed though, to gain from the rising power of Chinese collectors.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What is driving China’s stupendous artistic surge?

The sudden surge in Chinese collecting is not merely a reflection of rising prosperity, experts feel, but also a sub-conscious reaction to the repressive Mao years during which the country was deprived of culture.

For the countrymen, who watched art made out as a frivolous exercise except while put to didactic use, the new-found freedom to explore pure aesthetic pleasures, to repossess historical artworks and to flaunt recent affluence has indeed been a liberating experience!

In some ways, the tide of art buying is an effort to make up for lost time. “For 5 or 6 decades, nothing happened in China,” observes the Asia Society president, Vishakha N. Desai, “That’s a big break! The last two and a half centuries were those of humiliation. They now feel an obligation to prize art again.” So they are placing their bets primarily on the art of their homeland.

No surprise, much of the Chinese artworks of the last many decades respond sometimes more subtly, sometimes more directly -to the regulation of artistic expression by the country’s leadership. From calligraphy to gunpowder, Chinese artists have a wealth of cultural elements untouched by Western artists to bank on. The socio-political challenges they face in their homeland has helped shape powerful, iconoclastic pieces, which can very well hold their own against more famous contemporary Western art.

Underlining the trend, Colin Gleadell of The Telegraph UK mentions in an elaborate essay: “Since China entered the WTO, its art market has grown at a staggering rate. It rose by 200 percent to some £2.1 billion per annum between 2004 and 2009, overtaking even France. Add the Hong Kong sales and there is a combined auction turnover of £3.6 billion, which is 14 percent of the global art market.

"During the global financial crisis of 2008-09, mainland Chinese buyers emerged as a dominant force. While America’s wealthiest lost 20 percent of their cumulative wealth, China’s increased theirs by 84 percent. Currently, there are more billionaires in China than in any other country, apart from America, and art is just one of the commodities they are looking to invest in...”

India-China look to build bridges in the domain of art

Arario Beijing was probably the first commercial gallery in China to host a major group show of contemporary Indian art (‘Hungry God’; 2006) in response to the growing demand for Indian works from clients in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It then managed to sell three works for roughly $200,000 to Beijing collectors, whereas, it sold not less than 30 works to Chinese buyers worth $2.5 million in three solos for artists Jitish Kallat, Subodh Gupta and Nalini Malani, in 2007-08. In the ACRO Madrid, Abir Karmarkar’s work interested a Chinese collector, and a buyer from Hong Kong was keen to acquire a piece by Sarika Mehta. Clearly, China seems to be a new unexplored market for Indian art, where spending on art is not as unthinkable as other badly hit economies of the world.

The museum show at MoCA, Shanghai (2009) was one of the largest ever contemporary Indian art collection ever displayed in China, including top names like Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini-Kallat, T V Santhosh, Subodh Gupta, Hema Upadhyay, Riyas Komu, Jagannath Panda, Anju Dodiya, Justin Ponmany, Schandra Singh, Suhasini Kejriwal, Chitra Ganesh and Suryakant Lokhande. ‘India Xianzai’ (India Now) touched upon the topic of cultural assimilation concerning not only India, but also many expanding Asian countries.

‘The Silk Road’, a show of artists from the Asian subcontinent last year courtesy The Saatchi, alluded to the ancient trade routes established between Europe and Asia that linked in particular China as well as the Middle East via India as early as from the 2nd century BC. The exhibit offered an overview of the most recent artistic production from the three regions, drawing attention of the international art world.

One may state that a common thread that binds art connoisseurs from the two countries is their mutual appreciation and admiration of each other’s traditions, histories and cultures, bringing them closer.

Efforts to bring closer the two cultural powerhouses from Asia

The global marketplace is getting reshaped by the tastes and demands of Chinese collectors, who are making informed decisions driven by their own cultural lineage rather than blindly taking a cue from the West, as the Features section essay of this edition emphasizes.

Importantly, there is now a wider interest in Indian art among the Chinese collectors even though they are more passionate about their ‘home-grown’ art. They are equally keen to check where Indian art stands vis-a-vis Chinese art. Senior specialist (Asian contemporary art) at Christie’s Hong Kong, Ingrid Dudek, reveals: “We’ve witnessed an increasing amount of cross-fertilization and pan-Asian bidding and buying over the last several seasons.”

According to the expert, Chinese buyers have shown particular interest since 2006, when the auction house started to include top pieces from Indian artists alongside work from their contemporaries across Asia. For them, contemporary Indian art probably is of significance because of the comparable circumstances artists from both the countries face today, like cultural and aesthetic history coupled with the fast modernization, leading to an intense search for a distinct artistic identity and vision within that realm. Incidentally, prices of contemporary
Chinese art have zoomed up in comparison to Indian art.

To further enhance the cultural collaboration, the Shanghai Biennale initiated an elaborate project in order to make the people of China view India with a fresh eye and perspective. The aim of ‘West Heavens’ was to reshape their imagination about India. From Mumbai to Shanghai via Sardar Sarovar and The Three Gorges was a journey Tushar Joag embarked upon on a motorcycle. He named it ‘Rocinante’, after Don Quixote’s horse.

Atul Bhalla opted to connect recent historical sites on the verge of being forgotten, within site of inner Shanghai, as a ‘Listener’: to water, to streams, harbors, rivers, canals, wells etc. Anant Joshi’s work was based on cultural icons and architectural monuments like the Gateway of India in Mumbai, or the Zhengyangmen in Beijing. Gigi Scaria’s installation included two parallel projections - selected archival images about Mahatma Gandhi and Mao Zedong. Simultaneously, a series of lecture-forums engaged renowned Indian and Chinese scholars in a dialogue.

Clearly, now more conscious efforts are being made to bring together the two cultural powerhouses from Asia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

‘Everyone Carries a Room About Inside’ at Chemould Prescott Road

A new solo exhibition, with a curious title ‘Everyone Carries a Room About Inside’ takes place courtesy Chemould Prescott Road and Artslant (5 November to 8 December 2011).

The talented artist, Aradhana Seth, for this series of works, has given homes made from makeshift material on makeshift land a sense of permanence. Working as a production and set designer for more than a decade, she has translated her vision into films, both Indian and international, period and contemporary. As photographer, designer and film-maker, Seth has researched, archived and investigated both architectural history and popular culture, together with the personal and public trajectories of both maker and made.

Everyone carries a room about inside is Aradhana Seth’s first take on ‘space’ within the context of contemporary art. Though modern technology has been at her fingertips, she has always been drawn towards the rawness and elementarily of plain paint and metal. Paint and metal are integral components of the common and the uncommon object: the street signboard and the Golden Gate Bridge. The virtual divide between the outsider and the insider, the élite and the common, somehow dissolves with the use of these materials.

In this exhibition, the home and its ingredients, both material and immaterial, find their way onto signboards. The gallery will turn into a site-specific installation, where hundreds of these paintings of household objects will stare at the viewer, beckoning her or him to realize that they are solitary beings in the rooms of an uninhabited home.

The study is the one room that contains Seth’s photography, also of household objects, work created over many years in a deeply intimate style. With the layering of ideas between set design and the reality of a home, Seth’s installation will not only weave a nexus between worlds but will also open an intriguing path that will not approach us in disguise.
(Information courtesy: Chemould Prescott Road)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Indian artists who feature in a grand touring show

‘Indian Identity and Histories’, ‘Exploding Metropolises’, and ‘Contemporary Tradition’ are the three distinct themes that form part of ‘Indian Highway’ show at Maxxi, Rome. The latter looks to explore the revisiting of exquisite ancient forms of expression from rich Indian culture, including miniatures, ceramics, ink paintings etc.

The site-specific installations, ‘Growing’ by Hemali Bhuta and ‘Strands’ by N.S. Harsha are examples, as are the large enameled panels by Nalini Malani, alluding to the mythological stories.
Among the other noteworthy works on view is Valay Shende’s sculpture work Transit. The huge truck in aluminum discs that contrast with Autosaurus Tripous, the skeleton of a rickshaw in resin bones by celebrated artist Jitish Kallat is attention grabbing. The 27-meter-long installation by internationally renowned practitioner Subodh Gupta is composed of pots and pans. It alludes to the workers’ lunch.

Other artists who form part of the ambitious art showcase are Ayisha Abraham, Ravi Agarwal, Sarnath Banerjee, Hemali Bhuta, Nikhil Chopra, Desire Machine Collective (Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya), Sheela Gowda, Sakshi Gupta, Shilpa Gupta, Abhishek Hazra, late M.F. Husain, Amar Kanwar, Bharti Kher, Bose Krishnamachari, Nalini Malani, Jagannath Panda, Prajakta Potnis, Raqs Media Collective (Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta). Tejal Shah, Valay Shende, Dayanita Singh, Sumakshi Singh, Kiran Subbaiah, Thukral & Tagra, and Hema Upadhyay.

Among the site-specific installations are:
  • N.S. Harsha’s ‘Strands’: Visitors are welcomed by a gigantic garland of 700 faces that are painted directly onto the concrete piazza employing the traditional miniature technique.

  • Desire Machine Collective’s ‘Trespassers will (not) be prosecuted’: Once inside the venue, in front of the impressive work by Anish Kapoor ‘Widow’, visitors are embraced by this interactive sound installation that reproduces the sounds of the Law Kintang sacred forest.

  • Hemali Bhuta’s ‘Growing’ is composed of suspended incenses that inundates the entire space with the fragrances of India. Sumaksi Singh’s ‘Circumference forming’ is another site-specific work.
The grand international traveling showcase of contemporary Indian art is on view at MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome till the end of January 2012.