Monday, August 13, 2012

Rubin Museum hosts Indian art in a group show

A few of other artists who feature in the group show, entitled ‘Approaching Abstraction’ at Rubin Museum are mostly those who have been known to been outside India, their home country. They are attached to some of the Western art movements, which is understandable.

Two of these, Nasreen Mohamedi and Zarina Hashmi are renowned Minimalists. The former studied in London in the 1950s, whereas Ms. Hashmi has settled in New York since the late ’70s.  Nasreen Mohamedi’s drawings on graph paper deftly work against the grid, with slanted lines of differing weights and lengths.

White-on-white relief prints by her, threaded with silk cord, are perhaps not as abstract in overall approach. Yet they create a sort of loop wherein both paper and string get endlessly self-referential. Another work seems like a spool, whereas one more much like an envelope.

Few of the artists in this show seem to quietly engage Indian culture or spirituality at least on the surface. The paintings done by G. R. Santosh and Biren might be one exception to this. Both are identified as ‘neo-tantra’: there are luminous, interlocked forms that signify the union of male and female form, whether in embryonic cells’ clusters or some barely abstracted images of coitus.

“Radical Terrain,” the third installment in the museum’s series, centers on the post-independence landscape and is due in November. Unlike the first two shows it will include some contemporary artists who are not of Indian descent.

In the meantime this show argues for a comprehensive look at Indian modernism (as opposed to just surveys of Indian contemporary art, which seem to have proliferated along with talk of emerging markets). Such an undertaking might include more film and more history, and a little less Western art jargon.

To judge from this group show, modernism in India seems most ‘modern’ in content and form when it opts to take the form of film, specifically those made in the 1960s. This was when the National Films Division (NFD) in India as well as other private foundations offered grants to some of the talented painters in the country.

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