Wednesday, January 25, 2012

World-renowned singer-artist debuts in India

A dazzling and diminutive diva, now just 78-year-old, Yoko Ono has moved on from music to fine arts. She is in India for her new exhibition series, entitled ‘Our Beautiful Daughters’. This is only her second visit to the country, the first one incidentally in the late 1960s, after marrying to John Lennon.

According to Ono, her experiments in the early 1960s with the avant-garde in NY were influenced by John Cage, La Monte Young and other musicians, apart from artist George Maciunas. Her early art practice involved installations like ‘the Eternal Time clock’, a piece with just a seconds hand put in a plastic bubble.

The central piece of her new show at New Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery, entitled ‘Remember Us’, is a large-scale installation with wooden coffins that bear disembodied girls & women. It has been made in collaboration with a Bikaner (Rajasthan)-based women’s crafts group. It apparently addresses the peculiar gender issues in India. She has been engaged with the socially sensitive subject for quite some time. The work is a sort of a tribute to common Indian women, who hold their own in spite of suffering and discrimination.

Ono is happy and pleasantly surprised by the fact that she has come across many intelligent and influential young women. Her instruction-based works, six of them, depend solely on the viewer participation. For instance, ‘My Mommy Is Beautiful’ invites them to write what they felt about their mothers. ‘Soprano’ asks them to yell ‘against the wind, against the wall, and against the sky’ into a microphone.

A parallel display, called ‘The Seeds’, documents her earlier works to give a contextual framework. Simultaneously, public art projects spread across 20 venues in Delhi, accompany the show, her well-travelled ‘Wish Trees’. Having branched out from the wishes strung in most Japanese temples, the ‘Wish Trees’ have made to different countries of the world since the 1990s. Her performance ‘To India, with Love’ was another highlight of her show and a memorable visit to India.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An international training program for India’s museum professionals

In what can be termed as a first-of-its-kind move, which will allow India’s museum professionals to equip themselves with best practices and tools in the domain, an international training program has just been launched.

The five-month long Leadership Training Program is aimed at training both senior and mid-level museum officials from all across the country. The project is being executed with support and active involvement of the British Museum experts. An experts’ team is led by Neil MacGregor, the world-renowned institution's director.

The comprehensive program is part of the reform agenda of Union Ministry of Culture in the domain of archeology and conservation. Its idea is to put a core group of museum professionals in close touch and meaningful interaction with the very best in the world in order to help groom a solid base of professionals, who will then pass on the inputs by others in the field.

The Minister of Culture, Kumari Selja, feels that such broad-based knowledge dissemination exercises will give a much-desired thrust to the process of grooming trained professionals at India's top museums that have suffered thus far owing to lack of skilled staff apart from their failure to maintain fast-evolving international standards, hampering their management.

This has also adversely affected the performance and hence public image of museums in the country. There are also plans in the offing to understand their problems so as to customize the training program in keeping with their specific needs. The long-term goal is to give them freedom to let them take their own decisions at some stage.

The initial training session as part of this international training program for India’s museum professionals took place in the third week of January in New Delhi, involving up to 20 professionals drawn from a dozen or so museums. It's to be followed by a session in March in London and the concluding session in May in Mumbai.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Painterly meditation on the passage of nature’s cycle in a woman’s life

The woman is at the center of love and life cycles, growth and decay – the various emotions and stages of her life in a new series of works by one of India’s emerging and talented female artists. Their focus is on the female form, indulging in a sort of meditation on the passage of nature’s cycle, temporal flow and regeneration.
The images are at once macabre and degenerate, generative and sensuous, as well as opulent and awe-inspiring. Within them, they carry the vulnerability of decay and the vitality of the living.

There is also a set of small works based on the video that reinforce the feminine position. Explaining the basis of the series on view at the New Delhi-based Palette Art Gallery, writer Deeksha Nath notes in an essay: “Julia Kristeva has written that with the beginning of motherhood, she becomes passionate about herself. This passion for self manifests in an inward ‘looking’ that is a turning away from the outside stimulants of man-lover-world towards the growing fetus-baby-child.

"Motherhood is in some ways outside of the woman’s control; it’s characterized by instability, it happens to the organism not the subject (that is the ‘self-aware thinking person’): it happens but I’m not there. It is the unspoken, almost unimaginable that allows me to view the Transient Hyperbloom series as quite complicated, the petals, algae, coral patterning evokes ideas of decay in its application on the facial skin.”

A video and sound installation has in its wordy monologues, austere costumes and movements, dramatic lighting, pregnant silences and meaningful gazes a sort of cross between Greek tragedy), Rembrandt’s paintings, instances from the extensive visual tradition, especially European, of women as muse and the visual gestures and evocative translations of mime.

The piece of work is choppy and disturbing, because in that immersive space surrounded by the three screens, multiple audios and populated by the histories, memories, stories, vulnerabilities and desires of so many unknown women the viewer becomes the one watched and observed.

It forces you to confront your own anxieties but robs you of the language with which to articulate a personal narrative because the words attack you, enter you and take over your own voice, the critic-writer observes. What does it feel like, to have no voice? Can you hear your thoughts amidst the cacophony? What does it feel like to be a vessel, a channel? What does it feel like to experience uncontrollable change? What does it feel like to be consistently human? These are the questions to ponder over for us...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

‘Perception of patterns & complexities demands history, memory plus a computation.’

Prayas Abhinav’s section (This & this) as part of his joint show with Baiju Parthan at The Guild comprises his individual as well as collaborative works tread in the spaces along the follow thought lines as explained in an accompanying note:
“Characters in the global pipelines of information flow are not simple-minded anymore. Multi-faced, holographic personas are now the model. The poetry of this game of smoke and mirrors is performed with a zest shared on all the sides of the fence: the agents and the actors.

Courtship is now a cinematic experience, a kind of biding time for another; a cinema which is performed as much on the screen as in our memory. These times are like any other and also with our capacity to dream things which we cannot understand, tangents of progression can go anywhere. This is a pattern which is not genetic; it is accidental and algorithmic at the same time - generative with a history.

Perception of patterns and complexities demands history, memory and a computation. This processing is a learnt characteristic for our epoch and species. The instruction line is the instant, the moment where dimensions get compiled into our experience. This is where resistance is. What I see is different from what you see. To unravel the onionskins of the apparitions is where the decay starts. That is when the static sets in," Prayas Abhinav emphasizes.

There are two approaches for dealing with perceptual drift in this exhibition. Questions not easily answered, and questions not asked often enough as they inspire the delirium of division by zero. An impossibility.

The prevailing conditions of art requires the vocalization of intent in a way that demands itself to be treated as a singular reality. Besides being a paradox, this is often a too heavy a burden to carry. To escalate a crescendo and then to climb down... as a part of the same performance, is a balancing act.

Perception is trained by illusions. Agreements, negotiations, deals happen between faculties to establish the most basic ways of looking at the world. When this deal-making is challenged in the most radical ways, we experience things that we cherish. In this game, playing by the rules is not playing at all. Not that there are any rules to speak of, really. Every time the smoke clears and the dust settles there is a re-calibration happening.

We are talking of scales which do not have any markings. Scales which are not imposed but are discovered to be existing. The discovery of each such scale is either becoming a part of a weave we call truth or adding to the violence and disarray of our confusion. That is the pendulum we must swing on.
(Information & image courtesy: The Guild)

The RPG Art Camp 2012

One of India’s leading newspapers, The Hindustan Times, carried a report on The RPG art camp, aptly describing it as an art jamboree of sorts, courtesy chairman of RPG Enterprises and art connoisseur, Harsh Goenka, along with the chairman of Arts Trust, Vickram Sethi. Both have been pooling in their artistic resources since 1991 to put together this keenly awaited event.
Starting off as an art sanctuary for as few as eight artists, the event has now grown into a calendar-marked affair that features more than 20 artists. Providing further details of the event, writer Megha Mahindru mentions: “The six-day long camp will see works created by 23 artists, expressing their signature styles on canvas at an idyllic bungalow outside city limits. Those participating this year are veterans like Anjolie Ela Menon and Paresh Maity and young talents like Viraj Naik. Besides creating new artworks during their stay, the artists also discuss and interact with art lovers at the end of the camp.”

“Like families catch up at weddings, the RPG art camp is an annual meet that allows artists from across generations to come together, share ideas, learn and create. We have Kim Seola, who is a Korean artist, though she has been residing in India for two years. “Money is not our driving force. It’s the experience. There are times when we haven’t sold a single piece, but the experience has been enriching,” Sethi has been quoted as saying.

Harsh Goenka’s beach house in Marve gets transformed into an artist residency during this period. “Anjolie is the grandma of the camp. She has been a great guiding force for us since the beginning. The art camp is a great place that allows creative energies to flow, but artists are touchy people with big egos, and Anjolie has the tact to take care of any tiffs that may arise during the creative residency,” adds Sethi.

The camp concluded on January 21.

‘Variable Operatives’ at The Guild India

The Guild Art Gallery presents a new joint show, entitled ‘Variable Operatives’, featuring Baiju Parthan and Prayas Abhinav.
An introduction to the former’s section, Vector, asks: “Is virtuality an escalation of the real, augmented and exponentially raised to the nth power? Or is it the antinomic twin gradually and stealthily devouring its sibling…?”

Quoting French theorist Paul Virilio (“The invention of the ship is also the invention of the shipwreck.”) it refers to the artworks as located at the interstice of the ethereal virtual and the objective real. The suggested motif - Reality is essentially an epiphenomenon by virtue of it being an interpretation of sensory data filtered through cultural and gender bias and virtuality the inevitable effervescence a probable dystopian adjunct modifying the real, it adds.

These art objects are collision points aimed at presenting the erosion of the implicit 'faith in perception' which is the foundation on which solidity and predictability that we associate with the objective real are built upon, Baiju Parthan explains. An inter-media artist, he works simultaneously with the traditional media of painting as well as digital technology based installation art.

Born in Kerala in 1956, he has a rich academic background that has played a significant role in his art practice. Along with degrees in Painting, Botany, Philosophy, and a Post-grad diploma in Comparative mythology, he has done studies in computer game level design at the Pratt Institute Manhattan USA. He has done his BSC in Botany, studied painting from 1978-83 at the art school in Goa and he has a Master’s degree in Comparative Mythology at the Mumbai University.

Baiju Parthan is one of the early exponents of new media art and mediatic-realism in the Indian contemporary art scene. Essentially, his work is about world views or cosmographies that are on collision course affecting and transforming each other, and the resulting ontological fallout felt and lived by us all.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The London Art Fair 2012

The keenly awaited event has a clear emphasis on Modern British art. Apart from an elaborate paintings showcase, it also includes a curated segment of contemporary photography. Here are its highlights:
  • The London Art Fair presents over 100 galleries featuring many of the known and not-so-famous names of 20th century British art and exceptional contemporary work from leading figures and emerging talent.

  • UK-based contemporary galleries include CHARLIE SMITH, Danielle Arnaud, Other Criteria, Pertwee Anderson and Gold, Purdy Hicks, Scream, UNION Gallery and VIGO. Modern British specialists such as Agnew’s, Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, Offer Waterman, Osborne Samuel, Piano Nobile, Robin Katz Fine Art and The Fine Art Society. International galleries include: Artêria (Canada), FOLEY Gallery (New York), Galerie Olivier Waltman (Paris), JECZA Gallery (Romania), and whatiftheworld gallery (South Africa).

  • Visitors get to see solo shows and curated group displays in their Art Projects section, with galleries drawn from across the world, while Photo50 is a showcase for contemporary photography, this year curated by critic Sue Steward.

  • In 2011 the organizers expanded Art Projects to encompass selected projects by galleries from London, New York, Germany and Ireland, alongside public galleries and foundations such as The Whitechapel, Saatchi Editions and Serpentine Gallery. Art Projects features curated solo and group shows of contemporary work – painting, photography, sculpture, editions – as well as large scale installations, video and film.

  • The Art Projects Film Screening Room is hosting a curated program of experimental film and video that explores the overlaps between humor, satire and beauty in contemporary moving image artworks.

  • The fair exhibit under the title, The New Alchemists, collates a dozen contemporary photographers, who have in common the will to take the so-called ‘fastened-down’ photographic image and infuse it with a whole new dimension through the process of destroying, rebuilding and re-creating.
Meanwhile, fourth edition of the annual London Ice Sculpting Festival just concluded. Eight teams from across the globe carved dazzling designs from 2m ice blocks alongside Canary Wharf in London's Docklands. People were invited to make their own sculptures.

Should art be for art's sake alone?

Following are the key points in a thought-provoking column by Rudroneel Ghosh in The Times of India that tries to underline the fact that art should be for art's sake alone, ideally…
  • The Indian art circuit should insulate itself from the lure of commercialization. The concept of packaging art - be it in fairs, well-attended summits or branding exercises - is well-intentioned, seeking to bring art to the people.

  • The focus on marketing is antithetical to the very goal of educating people about art. Creation and promotion of art with an eye on moneymaking breed a vicious cycle: talented artists eventually compromise artistic value to cater to popular tastes that become their bread and butter. Art doesn't have to justify itself to anybody. It's only when art is for art's sake that artists can push the boundaries of creative imagination and create masterpieces.

  • Being an artist is not like any other profession. Nor is a painting or sculpture like a washing machine. Great artists of bygone years like Vincent van Gogh weren't even recognised for their genius during their lifetime. Art for them was a calling, which they took up without expecting material benefits. Many suffered in poverty, their contribution to the art world only recognized posthumously.

  • Today, their works, exhibited in prominent art museums, are deemed to be priceless. In contrast, the propensity for commercialization can lead to artistic mediocrity. Or it spawns works known more for their shock value. Take contemporary artist Damien Hirst's sharks floating in formaldehyde.

  • Besides, the emphasis on marketing and advertising doesn't always work out to the artist's advantage. As focus shifts to the retailer, credit for the original artist can be diluted. A case in point being tribal artists from remote corners of the country who hardly get recognition for their talent, even though art traders significantly profit from their works acquired for a pittance.

  • Hence, providing Indian art access to international markets doesn't necessarily benefit all artists. If artistic genius is to flourish, art must guard against crass commercialization.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

'Milon Mukherjee's new solo

'Milon Mukherjee's colors claim a bright intrepidity. They organize themselves in a dramatic way. Milon creates a colorful world made up of throbbing lines, persuasive textures and ever changing colours. Milon creates a world of forms and colours which are larger than life. In a way it is a world of magic, as modern as it is ancient.' - Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni

'He is no dispassionate observer. His is an art that emphases the values of compassion : following after the goodness whose presence he invokes in his paintings, Milon Mukherjee has learned to accept the violence of the universe without permitting it to corrode his emotional capacities for nurturing and love.' - Ranjit Hoskote

This is how two renowned critics from India have summed up the artist’s practice and processes. Like himself, his work remains very much in-your-face: encasing bright colors, bold strokes, and the ever-present sun or moon just somewhere in the background. Music has always been in his blood and even today, it reigns on his captivating canvases full of elegant strokes, the the bold figures; the ‘bansuri’, the ‘dhol’ and the ‘tabla player, all blurring in rhythm….

The embryo, his latest show of works at Mumbai based Jehangir Art Galley to be followed by that at Cymroza Art Galley, originated at the spur of a moment while awaiting a local train in 1993 just after the communal riots and bombings in the city; there was fear and suspicious around.

The artist recalls in an interview to Jayeeta Mazumder of The DNA India, “I still remember how a group of people from the slums around gathered on the railway platform, each one carrying a musical instrument like harmonium, flute and dholak. They all of a sudden began playing them together.”

And that’s when he actually thought of collating all the memories on his vivid canvases that form part of his new exhibition that resemble the cacophony.

“I’ve always been a colorist’

“I was always a colorist. I’ve always had a phenomenal love of color… I mean, I just move color around on its own. So that’s where the spot paintings came from—to create that structure to do those colors, and do nothing. I suddenly got what I wanted. It was just a way of pinning down the joy of color.”

This is how celebrated artist Damien Hirst sums up his art practice and processes. Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present “The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011” by him. The exhibition takes place at once across all of its eleven locations in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Athens, Geneva, and Hong Kong, opening worldwide on January 12, 2012.

Most of the paintings are being lent by private individuals and public institutions, more than 150 different lenders from twenty countries. Conceived as a single exhibition in multiple locations, “The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011” makes use of this demographic fact to determine the content of each exhibition according to locality.

Included in the exhibition are more than 300 paintings, from the first spot on board that Hirst created in 1986; to the smallest spot painting comprising half a spot and measuring 1 x 1/2 inch (1996); to a monumental work comprising only four spots, each 60 inches in diameter; and up to the most recent spot painting completed in 2011 containing 25,781 spots that are each 1 millimeter in diameter, with no single color ever repeated.

In conjunction with the exhibition will be the publication of The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011, a fully illustrated catalogue of all spot paintings made by Hirst from 1986 to the present. It includes essays by Museum of Modern Art curator Ann Temkin, cultural critic Michael Bracewell, and art historian Robert Pincus-Witten as well as a conversation between Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari.

The third issue of the Gagosian App for iPad will also launch January, providing an interactive, in-depth look at the series that features more than ninety spot paintings. ‘Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011’ precedes the first major museum retrospective of his work opening at Tate Modern in London in April, 2012.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Famous French artists send your personalized portraits online

Those lucky few of you, who have toured Paris, would perhaps be aware of Montmartre. If there ever was a ‘Silicon Valley’ for European artists, that would be the place. Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, you take a name, and all of them worked or lived there at some point in their lives.

Today it’s fondly identified as Paris’s prime artistic district. Its lanes and public places are akin to second home to many caricaturists and artists, all looking to attract curious tourists with a portrait. But now we can soak into its tradition sans actually going their; well, almost! One can check Google Earth/ Street View for a quick tour, but that won’t be a substitute for the amazing interaction with the artist community of Montmartre.

And while it is rather unlikely for a digital product to replicate the whole experience, Artistoon has taken a step in that direction. Thanks to the French startup, street artists can get digital. Cleverly terming itself the ‘Montmartre of the web’, it resembles Wittygraphy, the California-based caricaturist community.

The venture, officially launched in November 2011, let one get a personalized caricature or portrait from the local artists you would meet on the streets of Montmartre. There are 15 artists, selected through a meticulous process, are working with Artistoon. It’s developing its artist base on basis of Based on an actual portrait test and/or their portfolio quality.

The site visitor gets to see various portrait & caricature styles that cost between €18 and €400 depending on the finesse, size, style, and the medium. Select your options, send your digital photograph (after payment) and receive their portrait. That’s all it takes. Users can opt to have up to 6 faces in a single portrait and can send requests for additional image personalization during check out.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Major shows of video art underline its rising stature

Internationally videos have been around in the mainstream visual culture for a long time now. However animation films as a genre of video making has gained ground recently. Several young emerging artists especially with training in art/design/technology are experimenting and coming up with new genre of works.
  1. Mumbai based Guild Gallery presented VAF@The Guild, 2011 curated by JohnyML, revolving around the new concepts of video and animation filmmaking. Explaining the background of this unique project, the curator stated: “With the collapsing boundaries between different art genres more and more interdisciplinary practices get space and appreciation in the field of visual arts as a part of the general cultural production.”

  2. New-Delhi based Gallery Espace recently unveiled the 2nd edition of Video Wednesdays II, collaboration between Gayatri Sinha/ Critical Collective and Shanghai’s Minsheng Art Museum artist/curator Zhou Tiehai. The two brought together new media art from India and China. Incidentally, Video Wednesdays @ Espace was the first ever year long video art shows in 2008-09. On the other hand, the third edition of International Documentary & Short Film Festival (IDSFFK) in Kerala provided a chance to view video art put in the space and context of a film festival.

  3. A unique event at Berlin based Deutsche Guggenheim, entitled ‘Being Singular Plural: Moving Images from India’ collated film and video works by some of the innovative media practitioners like Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia, Sonal Jain & Mriganka Madhukaillya of Desire Machine Collective, Amar Kanwar, and Kabir Mohanty.

  4. ‘Once Upon a Time: Fantastic Narratives in Contemporary Video’ focused on how fantastic stories and modern fairytales are represented in modern video art. It investigated how contemporary artists adapt motives and narrative techniques from myths, fables, and fairy tales to mirror current social phenomena and events in recent history.

  5. On the other hand, ‘Indian Highway’ at the Reykjavík Art Museum traced the impact of early technology stretching to the information superhighway, a major contributor to India’s economic progress and to the artistic development. Berlin based Arndt & Partner (ARNDT) hosted Jitish Kallat solo ‘Likewise’, incorporating grotesque-surreal and ironic imagery composed of video, sculpture, photography etc.

Painting the grandeur and glory of New Delhi

A recent exhibition in the capital city of India celebrated the grandeur and glory of its heritage. What made this event worth noting was the fact that the images were painted by a seventy-seven-year-old artist. Septuagenarian Uma Lohtia spent hours at sites like the Humayun's tomb, Red Fort and Jama Masjid. The passion and persistence reflects in the meticulousness of her works.

Naturally gifted in the fine arts, the unassuming artist originally from Khurja in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and now based in Delhi, has been painting for last several years, spurred by the time she spent at an art school in Delhi and the evening classes she attended there.

After completing her graduation from Lady Irwin College, Lohtia began painting for her own joy. Her family members encouraged her to paint, as she continued to explore various mediums like oil on canvas, watercolor, mixed media etc apart from some wonderful wash paintings, a medium that she is keen to revive. She applied her flair for color and design to her own line of apparel and its exquisite embroidery, with an imprint of her unique workmanship that won her a client following worldwide.

For several years, she was at a finishing school, teaching art. Having lived in Delhi for last so many years, she has been inspired by its monuments, mosques, tombs, gardens etc. In a tribute to the rich heritage, she recently created a series of paintings, entitled ‘The Living Legends/ Legions of Delhi’, which celebrates the spirit and ethos of the city during its centenary year.

She has stated: “Each monument in Delhi has its very own story to tell that makes it even more interesting. In a way, my paintings are efforts for a revival of history. And I have painted the monuments that have survived for so many years to draw attention to them. “I picked books on these monuments and studied them from different angles.” For example, she painted an angle of the Humayun's tomb, a side view of Lodi Gardens and Diwan-e-Khas, showing dancers in a live performance.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Asian art gallery at the MFA, Boston

In a significant development, two new galleries at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston celebrate rare sculptural gems from India as well as other countries from South and Southeast Asia, starting with a collection, entitled ‘Gems of Rajput Painting’.
This exquisite stream of Indian painting, commissioned during the 16th to 19th centuries by rulers (Rajputs or ‘sons of kings’) in Rajasthan who shared a culture centered on Sanskrit poetry, Hindu worship and the fierce pride of warrior clans, was discovered only in the past 100 years by Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877–1947), the MFA’s first curator of Indian art.

The paintings and manuscript illustrations on view represent the peak of the artistic traditions developed at workshops associated with the many Rajput courts. Usually painted on paper in watercolor (gouache), often brightly hued with gold accents, they often illustrate poetic texts and are small in size. A 21st-century take on the Rajput vision of elite court life reflects in ‘Horse with Gold Head’ Dress (Udaipur, 2007) by contemporary artist Raja Ram Sharma, who has used traditional Rajput techniques to create it.

Thematic groupings in this exhibit are designed to let viewers easily follow the material, illuminating the conventions these artists followed and played with in their wonderful work. “Rajput painting is one of the great traditions of Indian art, and yet for some, the exaggerated bodies, incredibly bold colors, and use of multiple perspectives can be dizzying,” the curator Laura Weinstein explains.

Over 100 works in the all-new South Asian & Southeast Asian Sculpture Gallery highlight the rich artistic traditions of countries like India. Many of the art objects on view have only recently been conserved. These exquisite pieces are celebrated not only for their unique cultural identity, but also as distinct reflections of 2,000 years of major exchange of ideas and aesthetics.

The world-renowned museum strives to present South and Southeast Asian art from a new angle. A series of special programs will complement the exhibition so that the people can explore Indian art and culture through the lens of epic stories, religious rituals, sacred space, contemporary literature and film.

(Image courtesy: The MFA, Boston)

‘Listen to your Eye’ by Sharmila Samant

A new solo show by renowned artist Sharmila Samant takes place at Mumbai-based Lakeeren Art Gallery. Elaborating on its theme, a press release poses questions a few that she looks to answer in her series: “How do we see? What is the hidden agenda behind appearances?”
These are the issues that she looks to solve in her monographic show, entitled ‘Listen to your Eye’. In essence, it tries to investigate the core aspect of our viewing and perception process. A press release elaborates: “Comprising of sculptural-installation and neon, her new body of work subverts the materialty of the objects in relation to its function bringing to a fore issues of corruption, notions of progress and making visible the detritus in society through a trompe-l'œil.

Born in 1967, Sharmila Samant studied at the Sir J.J. School of Arts, Mumbai, India (1989) plus a Residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam (1998-99) and the Gasworks Studios in 2000. Her new series, ‘Listen to your eyes…’ could be viewed as a cautionary note of events taking place in our world that need to be urgent addressed as they pose consequences for us if they continue to go unaddressed and unarticulated in the future.

She has also featured in several national and international shows including ‘Century City’ - Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, The Tate Modern, London, UK; Liverpool Biennale, UK (2002); ‘Sub terrain’, House of World Culture, Berlin (2003); ‘The Werkleitz Biennale: Common Property’, Volkspark, Halle/Saale, Germany (2004), ‘Edge of Desire: Recent art in India’, curated by Chaitanya Sambrani; and ‘Indian Summer’ Ecole nationale superieure des beaux-arts de Paris, Paris, curated Henry-Claude Cousseau, Deepak Ananth, Jany Lauga 2005, Subcontingent The Indian Subcontinent in Contemporary Art, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rabaudengo, Torino, Italy, curate

Exhibiting after a gap of 15 years in the city, she retrospectively draws on her earlier projects continuing her critique of globalization, genetically modified foods and commentary on current socio-political undertakings.

‘Painting the Modern in India’ at PEM

‘Painting the Modern in India’ courtesy Massachusetts-based Peabody Essex Museum takes place in the Contemporary Native American Art, Wheatland Gallery. It features seven renowned painters who came of age during the height of the movement to free India from British rule.

Elaborating on the showcase, a curatorial note states, “To liberate themselves from a position at the margins of an art world shaped by the colonial establishment, these artists organized path-breaking associations - the Calcutta Artists Group in 1943, the Progressive Artists Group in 1947 Bombay, and the Delhi Shilpi Chakra in 1949. They pioneered new approaches to painting, repositioning their own art practices internationally and in relation to the 5,000-year history of art in India.

They created hybrid styles that are an under-appreciated yet essential component of the broad sweep of art in the 20th century. After independence in 1947, they took advantage of new opportunities in art centers around the world, especially Paris, London and New York, intensifying their quests for what the Bombay Progressives termed ‘aesthetic order, plastic coordination and color composition’.

At the same time, they looked deeply into their own artistic heritage, learning from the first exhibition of Indian art in 1948 at Raj Bhavan in Delhi and taking inspiration from ancient sites like the old city in Benaras and the temples at Khajuraho.”

The works on view are drawn from PEM's Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, the most important holding of 20th-century art from India in this country, and The Tina and Anil Ambani Collection, one of India's leading private collections.

In its effort to bring out the beauty and thematic relevance of Indian art, the museum had hosted an exhibition revealing visual conversations between India’s contemporary and traditional artists. ‘ReVisions: India’s Artists Engaging Traditions’ presented select contemporary works in tandem with traditional pieces exemplifying the artists’ source of inspiration, including Mughal court painting, medieval temple sculpture and photography.

(Image courtesy: The PEM)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

World-renowned institutions show interest in Indian art

The Louvre Paris is one of the most renowned museums in the world. Its president Henri Loyrette is looking forward to engage with talented contemporary Indian artists.

The art aficionado visited the country last month, to take stock of its thriving art scene. Keeping in mind the vitality and dynamism of their work, the institution is eager to associate with top names like Subodh Gupta.

Louvre currently possesses only Mughal miniatures that form part of its Islamic arts department. They constitute just a drop in the vast ocean of the thriving Indian art scene. This is exactly why he wants to know more about its dynamic art scenario.

Loyrette has emphasized in a media interaction that India, just like China, cannot be ignored, adding:“We've been inspired by the exhibits of Indian art in Paris and a growing number of Indians are now visiting the Louvre. I don't know much about artists from India. I'm hoping to do so in near future. This visit should help me in that regard.”

In fact, he reportedly explored the different possibilities of collaboration with established gallerists, leading museums such as the NGMA, the government officials, intellectuals, top collectors including Kiran Nadar, the Ambanis, the Poddars etc, and of course, the artists themselves.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, London’s Tate Modern is establishing new acquisition committees, specializing in African and Indian contemporary art - a sign that the institution is expanding curatorially as well as physically.

Picasso and Mondrian paintings stolen

It took all of seven minutes for thieves to make their way through a balcony door and lay their hands on precious paintings by Mondrian and Picasso from the National Art Gallery located in Athens.

In the latest case of art theft, reported by Associated Press (AP), the police sources were quoted as saying that the thieves set off alarms intentionally to catch the guards off-guard, lulling them into disabling a sensor at the museum site. One alarm subsequently went off, but they arrived too late.

The paintings stolen were a representational work of a riverside windmill by Mondrian done in 1905, the 16th-century painter Guglielmo Caccia’s pen & ink drawing of St. Diego de Alcala, and Picasso’s cubist female bust with a dedication, reading ‘in homage to the Greek people’. Another painting by Mondrian was removed from the frame but dropped as the burglars fled. Incidentally, the museum was just starting renovation work.

In December 20101, in another case of daring art theft, a gang drove off in a van filled with works by Pablo Picasso and renowned sculptors Fernando Botero and Eduardo Chillida after breaking into a warehouse near Madrid. The thieves took 22 sculptures and paintings worth an estimated €5m from the warehouse in Getafe at the weekend. They drove off using a key left in the van's glove department.

Only about half of the works, which were being returned to Spain from a German gallery, were insured. According to David Fernández of Madrid’s Juan Gris gallery was quoted as saying: "I am furious and upset. A day had already been decided for some of these works to be delivered to his gallery and five more in Madrid and Barcelona . Nothing like this has happened to us in four decades."

According to The Guardian news report, the van that carried these works had been parked at that point of time inside a warehouse just having arrived from the Stefan Röpke art gallery in Germany. The structure (warehouse) belonged to the Crisóstomo transport company. Three thieves managed to break into it during midday hours.

Spotlight on one of India’s young and talented art practitioner

With his work, Praneet Soi strives to express the encounter of different eras, skillfully synthesized in an archaic two-dimensionality that’s expressed with raw and violent lines, reflecting contemporary society.

His visual idiom recalls that of the 16th-17th century tradition of ‘Rajput’ painting in Rajasthan, and that of the iconographic ‘Kalighat Pata’ from Kolkata. The Indian folk art and its techniques have influenced his style apart from the traits of realism that they carry in a ‘western’ sense of inferring the term.

Among the select few contemporary artists from India who featured in the 2011 Venice Biennale at the country’s first eve official Pavilion, this young and talented artist is greatly influenced by the issues that touch our daily life. For instance, when onion prices touched a record high, housewives took to the streets last year. Food inflation was soaring and this staple of Indian cooking turned a political hot potato.

But for Praneet Soi it proved to be a source of inspiration, as he felt the onion crisis was an issue directly affecting common people in India and beyond. He researched the subject and created a series inspired by food inflation recently on display. The artist took photos of routine trading in Okhla’s fruits & vegetables market. When the inflation reached its peak, he decided to work with geometry for giving them new perspective.

His idea was to draw fresh attention to ubiquitous images many had become accustomed to – those typically paired with inflation news stories. But he did not want to make any political statement. He was quoted as saying: “It’s kind of an interesting story since it depicts the varied textures of India sans being too particular. It’s about something (inflation) that happens all over the world.” However, he is opposed to the idea of making images to narrate a story, and simply wants people to ‘build their own stories from these images.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What constitutes 'a painting'?

‘Painting is a Painting is a Painting’, an interesting group show takes place at Initial Access, Wolverhampton, featuring John M Armleder, Rashid Johnson & Dirk Skreber.
A selection by Nicolai Frahm and Samuel Leuenberger, it features three artists working who all playfully question what constitutes 'a painting'. They all come from different backgrounds, working visually, conceptually, even ideologically very differently, albeit each one challenging our expectations of what really a painting can, feel and look like.

The title adapts Gertrude Stein’s 1913 poem ‘Sacred Emily’ – “a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”: in Stein's view, using the name of a thing immediately invokes emotions, expectations and ideas. A curatorial note elaborates: “The exhibition presents artists who adopt the language of painting, but present it on a larger scale, creating a grander impact that allows the viewer to collaborate in the narrative of the final work. They engage in a great variety of artistic practices from sculpture to photography to graffiti, incorporating domestic items, images and iconic symbols from mass media into their work, but they always return to the seductive nature of painting.

The resulting amalgam, sometimes even Gesamtkunstwerk, invites questions of the very nature of painting itself, long before we consider questions of social, artistic, personal and political interpretation. For instance, works by Dirk Skreber such as Untitled, 2000 (exploding house) present the dystopian vision typical of his work, distorting elements of form, perspective and nature.

The artist’s work has a sculptural quality, his canvases bound with thick duct tape that elevates the painted surface. On the other hand, Rashid Johnson’s floor and wall works have a luscious physicality, Souls of Black Folk, 2010 consist of tiled shelves filled with objects redolent with Afro-American symbolism, books, shea butter, LP covers, moon rock.

Initial Access, a gallery launched to present works from Frank Cohen’s collection of contemporary art just on the outskirts of the millennium city of Wolverhampton. The venue presents different aspects of the Collection in a series of curated exhibitions. As readers may well remember, the gallery had hosted two ambitious ‘Passage to India’ shows in 20080-9 to celebrate the richness and diversity of contemporary Indian art.

(Image courtesy: Initial Access)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A spotlight on India’s late legend

A month-long show of late MF Husain's works at The Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA), Mumbai ends on January 13. In a tribute to him, we present some interesting facets of his life and career:
  • Husain was considered a maverick. He chose to go barefoot, like most poor Indians, twirling an oversized paint brush at posh parties and coffee shops. He remained a painter who enjoyed street art, and the color and popular forms of art.

  • Husain was most captivated by the cinema and relished the moving images. They had a lasting impact on him. In 1967 his film “Through the Eyes of a Painter” won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.

  • The Bollywood-loving painter also made Hindi films that celebrated Indian womanhood, especially peasants and women in traditional dress. His series of lithographs and oils on Madhuri Dixit, a Bollywood diva of the 1990s, were very popular.

  • He directed the film Gaja Gamini as a tribute to the actress in whom he said he had found a muse. He also directed a film, Meenaxi - A Tale of Three Cities. The lead was played by another Bollywood actress, Tabu, whose grace Husain said inspired him to make the film.

  • The maverick artist belonged to the elite club of Indian painters like Tyeb Mehta and SH Raza whose works have sold for more than $1m. In 2008, his ‘Battle of Ganga and Yamuna’ fetched $1.6m at Christies even as angry Hindu protesters lined outside the auction house condemning him.

  • His decision of a self-imposed exile upon himself, pained by a spate of notices, cases and threats to his life. His deities painted in the nude, first in the 1970s, invited charge of obscenity. Despite the controversies, which dogged him, he was a genius and a torchbearer of creative freedom. Husain was working till his last breath, dividing his time between Qatar, London and Dubai where he had his home, a studio and a museum.

The life and journey of late MF Husan

Maqbool Fida Husain, born on September 17, 1915, in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, and grew up in Indore. His father was an accountant. Rather than becoming a tailor’s apprentice, he decided to try his luck in Mumbai, where he found work as a ‘graphics wallah’ painting the vibrant billboards advertising Bollywood films. He also designed toys and children’s furniture.

Though he attained immense fame as a painter, he remained a film fan throughout his life. After seeing Ms. Dixit in ‘Who Am I to You?’ (1994), one of the most successful Hindi films ever made, he adopted her as his muse, painting hundreds of portraits and directing her in the 2000 film ‘Gaja Gamini,’ which he also produced and in which he invested $2 million. He later directed in ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities’ (2004). Neither film was a commercial success.

His political troubles stemmed from a group of paintings, made in the early 1970s, that included a depiction of the goddess Durga copulating with a tiger, the goddess Lakshmi perched naked on the elephant head of Ganesh, the god of success, and a nude Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge.

In response to them, several lawsuits were filed against him for “promoting enmity between different groups.” Although the Delhi High Court dismissed the complaints in 2004, Mr. Husain became a lightning rod for political and religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims. An angry mob ransacked his gallery in Ahmedabad, and members of the far-right Hindu group invaded his house and vandalized paintings.

The lawsuits kept coming. Mr. Husain observed the turmoil with a cool eye. He once invited a panel composed of an art critic, a lawyer and a Hindu nationalist to review his work. If they found any of it offensive, he said, he would throw it into a fire in a traditional Hindu sacrificial rite.

In 1986, as a reward for his status as a national treasure, he was appointed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the upper house of the Indian Parliament. After leaving India, Mr. Husain, divided his time between Dubai and London in exile. But he always remained an Indian at heart and in his art. India’s arguably most internationally famous painter, MF Husain died on Thursday in London at 95, last June...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

‘Buying art gives get a psychic reward.’

Sociologist Mitch Abolafia, who has studied Wall Street financiers’ methods, states sometimes money speaks for itself. As a trader told her, with glee in his eyes, ‘Well, you can’t see it, but there’s money everywhere in this room.’ It was probably a generalized excitement about money that she could also feel.

And that’s exactly the excitement we all draw from expensive art. One ardent collector, who believes that art should be purchased for art’s sake, acknowledges happily basking in the ‘glow of prosperity’ his purchases exude once their value has gone up. “We don’t really consider art an investment.

In fact, we get a psychic reward,” reveals Eli Broad, a renowned collector based in Los Angeles. (He bought some early Cindy Sherman photos for a modest $150,000 at the Basel.) In a way, aesthetics forms the solid bedrock the art market. But, for lack of any other reliable yardstick, they tend to get tallied in dollars. A major dealer in New York once told Velthuis, the respected Dutch sociologist, art collectors ‘permanently have to explain to themselves as why they spend so much money on it, sometimes up to 40 percent of their net worth.’

When you’re looking for great art, you may spot it simply by its price tag. Of course, top collectors aren’t simply shoppers like anyone else. If they spend right, they can buy the status of cultural patron. No one looks up to you for buying a fleet of Bentleys, but do possess a flock of Richard Serras, and you well become a supporter of culture, Blake Gopnik concludes in a recent essay published in The Newsweek magazine courtesy The Daily Beast.

In effect, it can be argued that most collectors spend their surplus millions on art because they have a genuine belief in its aesthetic value. And the easiest way to gauge the aesthetic ‘sense’ of an art purchase is to check out the ‘cents’ the thing is selling for.

What does prompt high-profile collectors to buy art?

At this critical and challenging point of time, when only the 1 percent has spare cash to burn, investing in art is more about the cultural value of money, and of art than about finance; about underlining the intrinsic Social Meaning of Money. So the dollars spent at extravagant Art Basel art fair in Miami are more of ‘cultural dollars’, explains the great Princeton sociologist, Viviana Zelizer.

This underlying perception makes them obey their own strange rules. Otherwise why would an ambitious customer spend whopping $575,000 for Ai Weiwei’s perplexing pile of battered stools converted into a nest? In spite of the big celebrity names associated with these objects - and whatever their perceived artistic worth - any curious observer would still wonder: Stools, for good half a million dollars? And three times that for a ubiquitous plain paint on canvas? So ‘why is art so damned expensive?’

This is the question posed in a thought provoking essay recently published in The Newsweek courtesy The Daily Beast. “There’s a pile of simple, and basically unsatisfying, explanations, notes the columnist Blake Gopnik, who discussed the topic with several renowned market players and analysts to dig out the answers.

When Gopnic quizzed the Phillips de Pury auction house chairman, Simon de Pury, as ‘why’s art so damned expensive?’ he emphasized that a bigger picture was always worth more than a smaller one. He pointed out you would pay a hefty premium for a work once possessed by someone famous, apart from that something shown in a museum was worth extra (premium).

“But such explanations only tell us why one object might sell for more than another. They don’t tell us why so many buyers in Miami spend more on a picture than the rest of us spend on a house,” the essayist notes.

Probing the link between art prices and classic economics

Investing in art is more about the cultural value of money, and of art than about finance; about underlining the intrinsic Social Meaning of Money, argues a new essay published in The Newsweek magazine courtesy The Daily Beast.

Its author Blake Gopnik has worked as chief art critic with The Washington Post before serving as an arts editor-critic in Canada. He has done a doctorate in art history from Oxford University, and has extensively researched and written on topics related to both culture and aesthetic.
Gopnik’s idea is to probe the link, if any, between art prices and classic economics – to know why would Ellsworth Kelly’s blue lozenge on a white rectangle fetch a whopping $1.5 million? Is a glass cabinet carrying surgical instruments created by Damien Hirst really worth $2.5 million?

As we all are aware, despite the flatlined economic conditions, the international art market has been literally roaring. Total worldwide sales touched a record of $5.8 billion in the first half of 2011, up almost 34 percent from the corresponding period in the previous year, according to

The online research company mentions that 663 works soared past the significant million-euro mark during that time period, 200 more than in the first half of 2008 that held the earlier record. Have the top art prices anything to do with classic economics? If I can’t sell something, I just double the price.” That’s what Ernst Beyeler, the great Swiss dealer who helped found Art Basel, reportedly said.

So, have the top art prices anything to do with classic economics? According to market expert and author of ‘Art of the Deal’, Noah Horowitz, your investment in art is as good as your holdings in bonds, albeit with higher risk. But, that’s not so bad, emphasizes a major New York collector, especially if you’ve nowhere else to park your money. And then bonds aren’t that great to look at! Isn’t so?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

‘Westfailure’ at Project 88

Mumbai-based Project 88 hosts The Otolith Group’s show, entitled ‘Westfailure'. Here is a quick look at their works on view:

The Group’s new work ‘Anathema’ might be understood as an attempt to make visible the archetypal power of what Jodi Dean calls ‘communicative capitalism’ that works by enthralling populations at the level of libido. It recombines magical gestures, isolated from hundreds of advertisements for mobile phones, laptops and flat screen televisions, from the UAE to US and beyond, purchased by the artists.

By confronting the gestural regimes of touching and clicking with images of liquid crystal that provides the material substrates for digital screens, by demoralizing the value of the high definition image and by descending beneath the dimension of the high resolution image into the world of post-cinematic abstraction, it can be understood as a prototype for a counterspell assembled from the occult economy.

‘Timeline’ offers an insight into the scope and scale of ‘The Otolith Trilogy’ (2003–09). Conceived as an epic fabulation, it introduces events and figures from the trilogy, beginning in the late 19th Century and extending into the far future.

Installed in Westfailure as a single channel work, ‘Communists Like Us’ assembles archival photographs produced by Soviet and Chinese agencies that record journeys made by Indian stateswomen to the USSR, Mao’s China and Japan from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s.

Some photographs from ‘Communists Like Us recur’ in Otolith II and in ‘Daughter Products’. ‘Daughter Products’ offers insights into forms of socialist friendship. ‘Be Silent for the Ears of the God…’ dramatizes the figure of the guru as the recurring enactment of a prosthetic Indophilia, characterized outside India, within and across Europe and America and beyond, as a series of over-determined projections, mistaken attributions and persistent phantasms.

One out of many ‘Indophilias’ approaches the supports of the vinyl album record sleeve as a platform for the visions of prosthetic spiritualism. As a medium that invents the public it addresses, the record sleeve facilitates the circulation of a stylistic imaginary that create spaces of identification through which, in the words of Paul Gilroy, ‘cultural and aesthetic exchanges between different populations across the diaspora’ can be constructed.

An Absolut achievement for Bharti Kher

In another indication of the growing prominence of contemporary Indian art, Bharti Kher has been recently invited to join the Absolut Vodka campaign. The artist addresses a number of sensitive issues like class and consumerism, and draws on her personal experiences to reflect on these. She is known for her appropriation of the motif of bindi, a red dot on the forehead of married women in India, looked at as a curious fashion accessory in the West.

Following in the footsteps of her celebrated artist-husband Subodh Gupta, she has interpreted deceptively simple-looking, albeit amazing Absolut Vodka bottle as part of its iconic ad campaign. Witty, yet sophisticated; contemporary, yet timeless; it has stretched the boundaries between art and ads, starting with the godfather of pop art, Andy Warhol. Damien Hirst, Stella McCartney, Francesco Clemente, Louise Bourgeois, and Gianni Versace are among the other celebrity contributors to this hugely applauded concept, all preserved at the Museum of Wine & Spirits, Stockholm.

A two-dimensional, six-feet tall bottle-shaped magnificent mirror installation by the renowned contemporary artist sports a swirl of bewildering bindis that she often uses as a metaphor for the third eye, to articulate and animate her intentions, conveying a range of connotations and meanings whilst transforming surfaces and objects.

When one stands before the dazzling design of Absolut Vodka bottle, blended in a bindi design with a contemporary touch, one can look at one’s own reflection in the broken mirror, well-framed in a vodka bottle’s shape.

It’s like seeing one own self inside - akin to a genie in a bottle. She elaborates: “I have used broken mirror to convey that it actually provides a chance to see your real self and that there’s nothing like considering it as a symbol of bad luck. It’s a reflection of your true self.” Her work will be displayed in different metros of India before being presented at the Indian Art Fair.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why are investors looking for alternative asset classes including art?

Investment assets are seldom treated as objects of intense or hardcore desire. They are mostly considered as mere means to drawing good returns. However, these assets do offer a dual benefit – not just by accruing a reasonable return on their investments to the owners but also a lot of satisfaction and joy by virtue of pride in ownership. Such investments are referred to as passion investments.

What are the investment types/ avenues that one can consider? Various investments would come under this interesting category denoted as passion investment A broad list of it can include investments in works of art, jewelry, collectibles, antiques, watches, wine, sports clubs, luxury automobiles, luxury yachts, music, and performing arts.

It’s not merely about absolute returns. The major goal behind such types of investments is not just monetary gains. While factors like risk-reward ratio and scope for return play a part in these peculiar investment modes, the deciding factor is more often than not preference and inclination of each individual investor based on his or her tastes for owning and taking an active part in the compilation and savoring of the offbeat asset itself.

Interestingly though, the aspect of trying to fulfill aesthetic aspirations yet to become a reality or trying to relive the experience through direct or indirect participation is also there. This mostly holds true in cases where high net worth (HNI) investors spend sizable amount of money on sports clubs’ ownership. It could perhaps be a liking for the sport or the fact that they were not in a position to pursue it in the past. Collecting the items create a sense of active participation and latent satisfaction.

Why are people looking for alternative asset classes? Falling investment yields in most mainstream asset classes including equity and increased market volatility are prompting investors to look for other unconventional investment opportunities that also bring a tangible joy of ownership.