Saturday, September 15, 2012

Art world headlines dominated by China and India

China and India were in news with The New York Times covering a major exhibition of Indian art that made ‘a rare stop’ in the country. Clare Pennington mentioned in an elaborate news report: “For the past half-century, China and India, the world’s most populous nations, have been uncomfortable neighbors.

There is no quick fix for these deep-seated problems, but there are murmurs of a widening dialogue between the two nations, at least on the cultural front. And as with the Buddhist scriptures millennia ago, paintings covered in bindis, sculptures crafted in the furniture markets of Mumbai and miniature cities bent from the metal of India’s scrap heaps have traveled east and moved into the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, one of the most prominent contemporary art museums in China.”

A traveling exhibition, ‘Indian Highway’, was produced in conjunction with the Serpentine Gallery in London. It features 29 artists and 130 individual pieces. This is the largest show of art from India to ever make it to China, where any display of culture from India is rare. From 2006 to 2008, the Arario Gallery here and the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art each held a group exhibition of Indian artists.

Between those years Arario sold 30 Indian works valued at a total of $2.5 million to Chinese buyers, but interest from Chinese collectors then appeared to dissolve. Artists and museums hope that “Indian Highway” will rekindle the flame. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones, directors of the Serpentine Gallery in London, said the exhibition was not meant to showcase differences between the strengths of India and China. But perhaps that was inevitable in any dialogue about the two nations.   

In spite of the art world’s enthusiasm for such cultural exchanges, the exhibit provoked mixed reactions in the country. Relations between the world’s most populous autocracy and its largest democracy are marked by competitive anxieties. In parallel to an economic fight, a military arms race is also occurring. The media in respective nations weigh in quite vocally. Some in China were concerned by the fact that the Ullens founders, Guy and Myriam Ullens, were apparently shifting their interests to Indian from Chinese art.

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