Monday, July 21, 2014

Sculpture mystery: Stolen Indian artwork in Canadian custody raises minor diplomatic storm

By BHAVNA VIJ AURORA, ET Bureau | 22 Jul, 2014, 04.47AM IST

NEW DELHI: The Department of Canadian Heritage has had an item in storage for the past three years that's decidedly not North American in origin. It's a life-size, red sandstone statue of a woman with a parrot on her bare shoulder. The voluptuous nature of the figure and various other unmistakable features clearly declare it to be a 12th century Khajuraho sculpture.
The Canadians have no problem returning the work but they're apparently unable to do so because no theft was ever reported and therefore India can't prove ownership.
 The picture of the statue — dubbed 'Parrot Lady' — is now being circulated to all field offices of the Archaeological Survey of India, but nobody seems to have a clue how it ended up several continents away. "The picture of the statue was first sent to the Bhopal circle office since Khajuraho comes under its jurisdiction.
They have reported that there is no record of any theft of such a statue," said ASI DG Rakesh Tiwari.The survey has also asked the CBI to check whether any complaint has been registered with the agency. "ASI wrote to us just about a week ago. There is no complaint with us and since it appears to be a case of trafficking of cultural heritage property, we are enquiring into it," CBI spokesperson Kanchan Prasad told ET.
"The statue is clearly a product of the Bundelkhand region and fits in perfectly with the other sculptures of Khajuraho but we can't do anything till we can show Canadian authorities proof of ownership," said a senior ASI official. Such proof would include an FIR reporting the loss or theft, details of investigations carried out and a certificate showing that it was actually registered either with the state concerned or ASI. The sculpture has been with the Department of Canadian Edmonton, capital of Alberta province, since 2011.
Canadian customs hasn't said how it came by the item. Interestingly, Canadian Heritage wrote to the Indian High Commission in Ottawa at the time. The Commission took three years to forward the message.
Experts said it appears to be clear that the statue was taken out of the country illegally. This is not the first time that ASI has been faced with such a predicament. The organisation discovered that a stolen idol of goddess Durga was on display at a museum in Stuttgart, Germany, only after they were told by New York-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor, arrested for smuggling and deported to Chennai. He's currently lodged in jail there. But in that case ASI is on stronger ground. Its J&K office had reported that the registered antiquity had been stolen from a temple in Pulwama in the late 1990s. The only hitch is that it's not registered as an idol of 'Durga' but under a local name.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

An exclusive edifice

Shuvaprasanna. Photo: Courtesy: kamalendu bhadra

Painter Shuvaprasanna dreamt of setting up a museum for Bengal art and the result is Arts Acre, Museum of Bengal Modern Art.

When social scientist and thinker Prof. Ashish Nandy visited Arts Acre, painter Shuvaprasanna's long cherished dream of creating a museum of Bengal Modern Art, he marvelled at the creation and remarked, “Shuvaprasanna has secured a place in the annals of history. This is a watershed in Indian Art.”
Arts Acre, Museum of Bengal Modern Art, is perhaps the country's first private museum and art centre, largely funded by an Indian painter. Located in the Rajarhat Newtown area in Kolkata, this self-contained mini city for artists and art lovers is situated amidst over four and half acres of lush surroundings.
Lifelong passion
The Arts Acre project is the brainchild and lifelong passion of renowned painter, sculptor, educator, writer and art activist Shuvaprasanna. Shuvaprasanna or Shuva or Shuvada as he is fondly called, is one of India's foremost painters and the city, it's urban milieu, the agony and joys of the people who live here has featured prominently in his work. Keen on experimentation, he continues to engage with new themes, media and forms. The scrap-metal installation on Arts Acre campus featuring his favourite crows, a recurrent motif in his work, is a case in point.
Shuvaprasanna's spouse, Shipra Bhattacharya herself a well-known painter, has been an unflinching source of strength and support since the inception of this dream and has worked tirelessly to realise the long cherished goal of her husband.
Says Shuvaprasanna, “Paintings and sculptures are human resources. As compared to other countries, there is a huge apathy and ignorance in India about our fine arts. When I visited Europe for the first time in 1974, I saw museums at every nook and corner. They know how to preserve their arts. I aspired to do something similar here but did not know whom to approach and if at all anyone would be interested to help. So, I have invested my own savings and earnings to create this exclusive edifice on Bengal Art. Many friends too came along and contributed. Anybody from the creative arts is most welcome to come and work here and I invite people from all walks of life to be part of this experience.”
The centre comprises four galleries with permanent display of over 300 art works voluntarily contributed by more than 100 artists and private collectors, thus chronicling Bengal's rich and diverse art history. All the artists featured in the museum, were either born in Bengal or had worked/ studied there at some point in their lives.
From English landscape painters, Thomas and William Daniell to several members of the Tagore family including the bard himself, from representative figures of the Bengal School to Kalighat and Battala paintings and a plethora of big names of the contemporary arts scene such as Jogen Chowdhury, Shakti Burman, Paresh Maity and Shuvaprasanna himself are part of the permanent display here.
Besides, Arts Acre is equipped with a Restoration centre, exhibition halls, workshop and studio spaces dedicated to various art practices such as sculpture, painting, graphics and ceramics, living quarters for artists, cafeteria, library and a state-of-the-art indoor auditorium, which has already begun to attract artists across disciplines. The accommodation and gallery rental charges are nominal to enable young, up and coming artists and other creative groups to showcase their art.
Arts Acre was originally conceived as an institution for nurturing artists in the field of visual arts. On March 3, 1984, Pandit Ravi Shankar laid the foundation stone for the initial Arts Acre site (in North Kolkata). Gradually, the campus became a shelter for budding artists and rendezvous address for intellectuals. Nobel laureate and Shuvaprasanna's long time friend, Gunter Grass visited the old Arts Acre campus in 1987 and held an exhibition of his drawings. Chintamani Kar, Mrinal Sen, Bhabesh Sanyal, Subhas Mukhopadyay, Ashok Mitra, Santosh Kumar Ghosh, Arun Mitra, Mulk Raj Anand, Khushwant Singh, Sibnarayan Ray, N.S. Bendre, Annada Shankar Ray, Satish Gujral and Manjit Bawa visited the campus on many occasions to encourage the artists. Invitee artists from around the world came and worked here. Exchange of ideas and workshops became a regular affair.
An exchange programme with international artists eventually led to exhibitions by Arts Acre artists in London and Washington. The new Arts Acre village is an enhanced edition of that vision. Inaugurated on March 6, 2014, by Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, the arts were adequately represented by stalwarts such as Pt. Birju Maharaj, Mahasweta Devi, Dr. Karan Singh, Dr. Balamuralikrishna and Anjolie Ela Menon.
Kolkata-based sculptor Samir Roy says, “I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful we are to Shuvaprasanna. This is a huge platform for all of us. Under one roof, you can see the entire history of art in Bengal. Any collector, curator visiting Kolkata now has access to our work. This is immense exposure to all artists.”
Independent curator Sounak Chacraverti remarks, “This is actually a great moment not only for Kolkata but also India's cultural history. Paritosh Sen used to often tell me that Shuvaprasanna will touch the sky one day. I think Shuvada has done that with Arts Acre.”


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Three curators who are changing the face of Indian art

Written by Vandana Kalra | New Delhi | June 29, 2014 3:33 am

Mumbai’s oldest museum, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum holds its head high thanks to Tasneem Zakaria Mehta.

Three curators who are changing the way Indian art is viewed across the world

Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, 60
Till a decade ago, Mumbai’s oldest museum, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, lay forgotten in the Victorian greens of Byculla, Mumbai, completely hidden from the art scene. Today, thanks to Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, it holds its head high, like the monolithic basalt elephant — once at the gates of the Elephanta — at its entrance. The carved doors open into imposing interiors with Palladian columns and richly painted ceilings, reflecting the green that envelops the museum — the colour chosen by Mehta to dress the space.
Every artefact on display is hand-picked and gives the 19th-century museum a new face. It merged the past with the present, the colonial with the contemporary. “We want to showcase contemporary culture the way the museum did earlier,” says Mehta, the managing trustee and honorary director of the museum, who reopened it after extensive research and renovation in 2008. The project was a public-private venture funded by the Ermenegildo Zegna Group. Soon, artists were invited to showcase their works. Sudarshan Shetty erected his own life-size statue next to the marble statue of Prince Albert and Jitish Kallat presented the city as an unfinished national project with makeshift scaffolding and rioting figures. “It’s about creating a dialogue between the museum and the city,” says Mehta, a JJ School of Art graduate.
She went on to pursue a degree in liberal arts from Columbia University, which was followed by a post-graduate diploma in modern art from Christie’s and a PhD on the establishment of museums and schools of art from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been working in the field of art ever since. Among other things, she was the governor of the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority Heritage Society and the vice-chairman of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
In the six years since the reopening of the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, there has never been a dull moment. “Curating is also a form of art, which, unfortunately, is not understood in India,” says Mehta. The biggest challenge, though, is interacting with the artists. “Artists can be very possessive about their work,” says Mehta.
Having learnt the fine art of maintaining a distance, and yet being involved, she makes active interventions in most projects at the museum. For instance, in Kallat’s 2011 exhibition, Fieldnotes: Tomorrow was Here Yesterday, the boxes that housed miniature resin figurines came from Mehta’s office. “He wanted them on the floor,” she says. Kallat yielded to her idea when she showed him a box they had. She has also worked closely with his wife Reena, who designed
the strings of rubber stamps trellised to form a cobweb that hung from the facade of the museum. Each stamp bore the name of a street in Mumbai changed as part of the renaming and decolonising of the city.
Efforts are now being made to bring the west to the east. Tie-ups with the Victoria & Albert Museum are in place. The museum is booked till 2017. Mehta, though, is booked far beyond.

Shanay Jhaveri, 29

If Amrita Sher-Gil is one of India’s most celebrated artists, Lebanese painter and sculptor Saloua Raouda Choucair popularised abstract art in the Arab world. Both of them led distinctly cosmopolitan lives, actively arbitrating between disparate cultural and geographical spaces. They found their calling in Paris, and returned to their homelands to discover modernism. Last year, Shanay Jhaveri brought them back to the French capital in Companionable Silences, a show that exhibited the works of non-Western women artists, who lived and worked in Paris from early to mid-20th century. “Collectively, the works gesture at modernism’s cross-cultural past,” says Jhaveri.
The quest to discover the vagaries in “modernism” across the globe has come to define the practice of the under-30 graduate in art semiotics from Brown University, US. “Each programme is a mode of new learning and research. In my programmes, I try to formulate rela-tionships between works that would never appear alongside one another, developing a constellation which asks questions instead of offering definitive statements,” says Jhaveri, who shuttles between the UK and Mumbai.
It was a 112-page guidebook to Mumbai that first brought him to the limelight. Published in 2007 by the magazine Wallpaper, it explored the city from a design perspective. Three years and several reviews later came his first publication Outsider Films on India: 1950-1990 in which, through 10 films in four decades, he studied how European filmmakers responded to post-colonial India. The book led to a film programme at Tate, followed by a large three-site exhibition in the city of Brugge in Belgium, titled India: Visions from the Outside. He further explored this cross-fertilisation of ideas and influence in his much-acclaimed publication Western Artists and India: Creative Inspirations in Art and Design.
While his PhD supervisor at Brown University, Leslie Thornton, left a lasting impact on Jhaveri, he learnt his early lessons in fine art during his stint as assistant to the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine Gallery, London. “There is a connection and back and forth between my writing and ‘curatorial’ work,” says the contributing editor for Frieze magazine. He is now in the process of organising an exhibition about various artistic responses to the city of Chandigarh.
With the absence of an active institutional infrastructure and very few private museums, curators in India, according to him, have to demonstrate agility and resourcefulness. “They have greater issues negotiating with the state and raising
funds than their counterparts in the West,” says Jhaveri. For now, he intends to be the bridge, linking the two parts of the hemisphere.

Naman Ahuja, 39

 Standing at  a spot within the 14,000 sq ft exhibition circumference, Naman Ahuja introduces its layout as a body wrapped around the viewers. The starting point, ironically, is from the door of “death”. This is where the curator begins his much-acclaimed exhibition, Body in Indian Art, that discusses how the body has been depicted in India through over 300 exhibits, spanning Chola bronzes to Rajput miniatures and contemporary art. He is at the National Museum in Delhi introducing the collection. Curatorial walks aren’t commonplace in India, but Ahuja believes they are essential.
The associate professor of ancient Indian art and architecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University brings together pottery and archival research in his work. A student of pioneering artist-potter Devi Prasad, Ahuja hasn’t practised his art in the last couple of years. Instead, he has pored over his personal archives comprising slides of over 20,000 objects from across India.
“Curating is not just about the physical staging of the exhibition, it is also about researching each exhibit and forming a narrative,” says the former curator of Indian sculpture at the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, London, and the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.
Being a co-curator of an exhibition, Divine Presence: Arts of India & the Himalayas, in Barcelona and his work at the British Museum helped him get trained as a curator. As co-curator of Devi Art Foundation’s Where in the World in 2010, he examined the impact of globalisation and economic liberalisation on contemporary art in India, which earned him critical acclaim.
This story appeared in print with the headline In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Spot Light | Finishing line

The unfinished works of MF Husain express a longing for the India of his imagination - By Sidin Vadukut

Spot Light | Finishing line
 A triptych from the Indian Civilization Series displayed at the museum. Photographs: Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.

Maqbool Fida Husain’s final, unfinished commission is now on display at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London, UK. Husain was still working on the Indian Civilization Series when he died. The unfinished commission is not so much a work of art as it is a final, frenzied expression of longing for the India of the artist’s imagination.

There is something at the heart of Husain’s unfinished series of triptychs that is often seen as inimical to good art: a purpose. Yet it is this purpose, or collection of purposes, that makes the series such important work, and a thought-provoking parting note to Husain’s remarkable career.

In 2008, when steel baron Lakshmi Mittal’s wife Usha Mittal first commissioned the work, she wanted an epic series of paintings that would “express all the colours and diversity of Indian history on canvas”. Mittal, who responded to a set of emailed questions, said she commissioned Husain after he showed her his Mughal-E-Azam series.

That commission, of 51 paintings, was completed by Husain in London in 2007 for Akbar Asif, son of K. Asif, who directed the 1960 classic film that the series was inspired by, and named after.

When Husain showed Mittal that series, she says, “I knew that if he was to paint the history of India, it will be a great expression of Indian history.” Mittal’s objective was to capture the breadth of Indian history on canvas. And Husain, she says, was the only contemporary painter who could do this.

Three years later, by the time Husain died in June 2011, the controversial artist had completed eight panels of three canvases each. The triptychs, each with a theme, are dense with ideas, stories and detail. Yet, Divia Patel, a curator at the South and South-East Asian section of the V&A’s Asian department, tells me these are just a small part of what would have been a substantially larger project. “He said that he was going to do 96 canvases. That’s 96 of these to be made into 33 triptychs. It’s a series that was infinite. A series that would have been huge.”

Three Dynasties (2008-2011). oil on canvas. Photo: Usha Mittal/Victoria and Alber Museum
I ask Patel how the series compares with the rest of his work thematically, and from the perspective of idea and execution. Is this an adequate swansong for Husain?
Patel says her approach to these canvases—both as a curator and as an enthusiast—is different. “He died before they were finished. They’re of interest because they have such celebration of his passion for India. I think they really conveyed that. These canvases are important for that reason.”

They are even more useful, Patel says, from a curatorial perspective. Yes, they have never been displayed in public before. But there is more attraction here.

“They’re important because they expose this audience to something they’ve never seen before. One artist they can cope with, maybe multiple artists in contemporary Indian art they’ll find difficult to cope with.”

With a big India season planned at the V&A through the next several months, Patel says the triptychs are an accessible, enjoyable way to get audiences to engage with contemporary India and contemporary Indian art.

The eight themes captured in the canvases Husain completed before his death are: Hindu Triad, Indian Dance Forms, Indian Households, Language Of Stone, Modes Of Transport, Tale Of Three Cities, Three Dynasties and Traditional Indian Festivals. The exhibition starts with a 25th, single canvas, a Ganesha.

Indian Households (2008-2011), oil on canvas. Photo: Courtesy Usha Mittal/Victoria and Albert Museum

This Ganesha, Patel says, was Husain’s first painting in the series. And his purpose for the series is very clear within this work. “This is the painting that started the series. He’s got a terracotta modern goddess figure in there. It’s almost immediately telling you, ‘I’m going to talk about India.’”
The names of the triptychs sound like the chapters of a sweeping DVD box-set on Indian history. In fact this “documentary” quality manifests itself not just in the titles of the works, but also through the works themselves, and in Husain’s handwritten notes behind each canvas.

Take, for instance, the triptych or tribhang titled Three Dynasties. Behind the right panel, Husain scrawls: “Queen Victoria of England appointed herself the Empress of India. It took about two centuries for Mahatma Gandhi to lead the multitude of Indian people to fight for the freedom non-violently. By 1947 the columns of British power crumbled.”

Thankfully Husain is an infinitely better artist than he is a caption-writer. The three panels of this triptych are all wonderful to look at. There is, as Patel puts it, “so much going on in one painting”. The most pleasing element of all, perhaps, is Husain’s dramatic take on India’s national symbol. In the central panel, as emperor Ashoka wages fierce war, three lions scramble up a pillar of victory to find a place on top. Up in the sky a monochrome Buddha slowly begins to come into view, symbolizing Ashoka’s imminent enlightenment.

Hussain, who died in 2011. Photo: Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum

There are many such rewarding details in all the canvases. Clever little interpretations of elements of the India story. Yet on the left panel of the same triptych, you see some of the compromises the “documentary” purpose of the series forces Husain to make. Emperor Akbar is crammed into the panel along with dancing girls, an elephant, a peacock and princess Jodha in a litter. There is a screen draped over the princess in the unmistakeable shape of the Indian map. The panel feels stiff and a little claustrophobic.
It could also be unfinished. Husain appears to have started work not chronologically but with the more “modern” themes. But he did move back and forth from canvas to canvas. That is one of the details Patel is keen to point out. “We can’t be completely sure that this is how he envisioned the final series to look like.”

There are horses here, of course, and dancing girls and other signature Husain themes. It is unmistakably Husain. But by this point Husain was almost 100 years old, and Patel says that shows. Not in his enthusiasm or the energy of his canvases—there is no shortage of either—but in his attention to detail and the way he applies paint to canvas. “Also he’s doing these much larger-scale paintings that the earlier ones weren’t. They weren’t quite as large, or quite as large in his thinking, either, so there is a difference there. When you look at these you also see the repetition of motifs. You see similar things, themes that he’s familiar with come back here. He plays with them, he experiments with them. I love some of the compositions. They are really very clever.”

Patel says the V&A will present the exhibition in the way Husain would have wanted viewers to engage with the paintings. The triptychs will be placed in a long, narrow gallery so that viewers “go on a journey”, Patel says, absorbing Husain’s telling of Indian history as they go along.

Mittal says the series has great appeal both for people who know Indian history and those who are curious about it. “The artist’s objective was to represent India’s enduring civilization and he does this with a deep understanding of both, history and humanity.”

Looking at her commission now, Mittal says, she is filled with pride and emotion. “They evoke so much that is central to Indian life and identity.” By recreating a vision of his India in the eyes of his audience, the artist seeks to reclaim what he had lost.

M.F. Husain: Master Of Modern Indian Painting is on till 27 July at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.

Art is anything but ‘elitist’, says Kiran Nadar

Chandna Arora,TNN | Jun 15, 2014, 12.00 AM IST

Art is anything but ‘elitist’, says Kiran Nadar 
Kiran Nadar, founder of India's only private art museum, says that she wants the common man to go to museums regularly

 All the things you think of when you hear the words 'art' and 'museum' together in the same sentence, are absent when you visit the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. It's inside a mall, a couple of minutes from one of the busiest shopping-eating-chilling hubs in South Delhi. There's nothing subtle or boring about it - even before you enter, you're greeted by a gigantic mushroom cloud of utensils, Subodh Gupta's Line Of Control, towering 36 feet above you.

 However, museums as Indians know them are usually state-funded and slightly academic - what is, then, a 'private, philanthropic' museum, which KNMA is? Founder and chairperson Kiran Nadar explains, "Basically, a museum is a place of learning, intended to expose people to various tracks of cultural activity and art, in various forms. The state has certain responsibilities (to build museums), but in America - let's take that as an example, since it has the maximum number of private museums - most museums are not state-funded, and are comprised of collections of various people who've collected through their life and then donated it to form a private museum, which is how this culture of private museums started. Our thought was that I had a collection, and I felt I should do something meaningful with it, not just put it into storage."

 "And from that came the idea of setting up a private museum along the lines of what is in abundance in the US, thereby fostering the arts and sharing the collection with people," says Nadar. "Basically, I also get to see my own collection, which I wouldn't if it were in storage! I felt that art dissemination and art knowledge translation was what something we could do." To that aim, it's also "not for profit," she says. "The collection has been deemed to the museum, and entry is free. We do school outreach programs, workshops - whatever we can do to foster the arts, we try to do."

 Nadar has stressed that she'd like to see 'sustained dialogue' and 'visibility for modern and contemporary Indian art' - but doesn't Indian art have visibility globally already? Or is it that the Indian is less aware of Indian art than the rest of the world? "It has limited visibility - I wouldn't say less or more - but Indian modern and contemporary art, compared to, say, Chinese modern and contemporary art, is definitely on the backburner. Chinese collectors are definitely more (in number), and it has a more sophisticated, larger collector base. In India, that base is very small. Because of that base being small, the dialogue with art is also much less. You don't find a museum being part of people's activities on a regular basis. If you go to any western city, you find that people visit museums in the normal course of things - if a show opens, the common person, not just the art connoisseur or art-interested - will go and visit. But in India, that hasn't happened. Even at the NGMA - take a show like Anish Kapoor's - it got visibility, it got footfalls, but again, I feel they could have been much more. The wider audience did not go in the numbers that they should have," she says. "There is a gap in the dissemination of knowledge to people, which needs to be bridged so that they decide that a museum is not a stultified, boring, moth-eaten place. It is vibrant, like going to an exciting movie. It has the same kind of stimulating possibilities. Therefore, people have to get interested in doing this, they have to go to a museum once in six weeks, once a month; it has to become a part of their to-do list. India has such a great heritage of art, and it's a shame that culture is not disseminating further."

 Art is anything but 'elitist', says Nadar, and she'd like people to learn that through the various outreach programs that the museum does. "When we have a school project, we try and tell the kids to bring their parents. Normally, it's the parents who bring the kids, but the reverse might happen if the kids become interested. The dialogue with the lay person is important. Unless the lay person gets interested, it'll remain 'elitist', and the aim is to keep it for everyone," she asserts.

 One of the few instances when 'everyone' does get to hear of art is when Indian works are snapped up at exorbitant prices in global auctions. Is that one of the reasons people think it's elitist? "Prices do have a curiosity value. It's like a 100 crore film, but people are not going to watch it just because it's a 100 crore blockbuster, they're going because of the entertainment value of the movie. That is what we want to inculcate. The curiosity of a painting going at a certain price is always going to be there, it always has an 'awe value', but if that value can be translated into people saying ok, this artist's work is showing at the museum, then there should be a natural curiosity of people going to see that work. But when you have a show, you can't always have trophy works to lure people. The aim is to show work which is part of a theme. Like this show (Is It What You Think?), it has a work on the Babri Masjid, which has a historical perspective. Even though there are no trophy works, there is a Nalini Malani retrospective. The show has a social ambit, social messages that are very strong. We want people to feel motivated to see and relate to these works," she says.

 Nadar starting collecting art 'for herself', but that changed when she set up the museum. "Initially, it was completely subjective to what I felt I should buy, and that stays - if I feel a work is important, I'll buy it. But today, I look at it in more depth, I look at the collection as a whole, and if I'm collecting Indian art, then I look at gaps in my collection. If someone asks, are you buying this for yourself, I tell them there's no 'self' left at all, unfortunately - it's all for the museum. I'm still emotional about art, but I don't buy as impulsively as I did. I study a lot more before I go in and get a work," she says. She's also planning a third building for the museum, an iconic structure in Delhi with the 'destination value' of the sort that the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has.

 The museum has three ongoing exhibitions currently - one is Chapter 2 of Nalini Malani's Retrospective (1964 - 2014) - You Can't Keep Acid In A Paper Bag. The second is Unfinished Portraits, which features in-depth oeuvres of 16 Indian artists from the KNMA Collection. The exhibition displays a contextual history of Modernism in India, its ideological moorings at Santiniketan with Nandalal Bose, Binode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij, Krishna Reddy, Somnath Hore and Ganesh Pyne from Kolkata, two artists - FN Souza and MF Husain from the Progressive Artists' Group (Mumbai), and Jeram Patel, Himmat Shah, Arpita Singh and Bhupen Khakhar from Baroda and Delhi, and also contextual photographs of Madan Mahatta, Richard Bartholomew and Ida Kar. The third is Is It What You Think? - Ruminations On Time, Memory and Site, a group exhibition showcasing the work of 17 artists. The exhibition is intended as a compliment to the three-part retrospective of Malani's work.

 Nadar says that this momentum started last year with their Nasreen Mohamedi retrospective last year, the largest retrospective of her works in the world, with 138 works. On Is It What You Think?, she says, "This particular show has 17 different artists with their perspectives on war, on various things that have happened socially in the Indian fabric. There's a perspective this year - society has slightly greater awareness. We're showing Amar Kanwar's video installation on rape, but it's a burning subject, with the Badaun rape, Nirbhaya... Bengal to UP, everywhere it's a malaise, and it's incomprehensible how depravity of this kind can exist. And yet these artists have talked about it in an earlier period of their lives. There is a great social fabric to this show and it mirrors society in more ways than you'd expect. Babri Masjid (demolition) on one level happened many years ago, but today again, the issue of a Ram temple might emerge. There are issues to be seen and to be connected with."

 But the Modern masters remain closest to her heart, because "that collection is completely from the KNMA collection, it's part of what I have collected. It's a very intimate show because all the works are small and paper works, and it's I suppose easier to comprehend for the lay person, because it's translatable into a figurative rendering. It's very dear to my heart because all these small works I collected out of complete passion for the art, at the stage when I was buying for myself," she says, smiling fondly.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Life in Art

An exhibition at NGMA brings to life the idiosyncrasies of Amrita Sher-Gil


On the second floor of National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Kala Ghoda, two paintings hanging close to each other stand out. One depicts a bride’s chamber before her wedding as she gets ready, flanked by her friends. In the other are six young men, with bare torsos, their stark white dhotis in contrast with their dark brown skin. Titled Bride’s Toilet and Brahmacharis respectively, these artworks — part of Amrita Sher-Gil’s famous trilogy — have one thing in common, the large mournful eyes of their subjects.

These two paintings, perhaps, encapsulate what Sher-Gil is today best remembered for. “The trilogy showed the grace and nobility of ordinary folk. Sher-Gil was enthralled by common people, their beauty, sadness and struggles,” says Yashodhara Dalmia, the author of Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life.
Art historian Dalmia recently conducted a gallery walk of late artist Amrita Sher-Gil’s paintings as part of a show at NGMA in commemoration of the birth centenary of the late artist, born in Hungary to Sikh father and a Hungarian Jewish mother. The collection of 95 paintings belongs to NGMA in Delhi and has made its way to the city after a showing at NGMA, Bangalore.

A celebrated artist today, Sher-Gil’s ideas and expressions were thought of as isolated, especially for a woman, back in her time. “Her paintings about India depicted people in their true, gritty form and not in a sunny disposition,” says Dalmia, of Sher-Gil’s work after she moved to India in 1934. The Nawab Salar Jung of Hyderabad as well as the Maharaja of Mysore had chosen other artists’ works over Sher-Gil’s.
 However, Pandit Nehru was one of the few who recognised its free-flowing and cosmopolitan nature.
 Sher-Gil’s art was recognised only after her death in 1941, at 28 years. “She ushered in a way of expressing contemporary reality through modern art, something very few artists depicted,” says Dalmia.
 Her Indian paintings, rooted in colour, however, were a complete change of palette from her days in Paris, where the influence of European art styles shows in her paintings, such as Young Girls, which led to her election as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933. Young Girls depicts her younger sister Indira and her friend Denise facing each other. “The painting showcases a stark contrast between the cultures, the dark and the fair, and is a result of Sher-Gil’s desire to show the fusion of the East and the West, an environment she grew up in,” says Dalmia.

Sher-Gil’s fascination with the physicality of humans is evident in her nudes, many of which adorn the first floor of the gallery space. The attention to detail in the contours of the female body and in the faces of women looking away, shows that Sher-Gil didn’t want their persona to be fixed and
formulated but open to development, says Dalmia. The floor also features Sher-Gil’s self-portraits that show her vivacious, flamboyant self with dark lips and flowing hair. There’s also a painting of Marie Louise Chessany, who many believe Sher-Gil was involved with.

The exhibition also features photographs of Sher-Gil and a rare collection of her letters to art critics like Karl Khanadalavala. For art critic Ranjit Hoskote, who holds Sher-Gil in the league of Rabindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy, the exhibition brings her works to an audience that may not have see them before. “Sher-Gil has been a foundational figure for decades now. I wouldn’t say a showing like this aims to restore her acclaim, but in fact celebrates her as an artist,” says Hoskote.

Rare Indian art to go under the hammer

Rare Indian art spanning a period from the eighth century to the twentieth century will be put up for sale at an auction later this month.  Titled ‘Significant Indian Art’, the exhibition sale features some of India’s best known artists including prominent Bengal school artists as well as contemporary Indian artists.
The art works are sourced from private collections with quite a few of the masterpieces coming from the estate of Udaychand Mahtab, the erstwhile Maharaj of Bardhaman, in West Bengal. The value of the 86 works, being put up for auction is estimated to be between Rs 18 and 25 crore.
The sale is organised by Bid & Hammer, a Bengaluru-based auctioneer backed by the Dadha family of Rajasthan, which has business interests in pharmaceuticals. Some of the rare works on offer are those by masters including Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Hemendranath Mazumdar and Sailoz Mookerjea, a statement from the auctioneers said.
‘Art dedicated to art’
The auction — to be held next week — will be led by a series of works by M.F. Hussain, the highlight being a large oil on canvas depicting horses against a saffron background. A letter written by the artist to accompany the 1977 painting (which was gifted by Hussain) says “this piece of art is dedicated to the art itself”. Another piece by Hussain that is on offer is one that he gifted to a former Miss India, actress Namrata Shirodkar Babu. Part of the proceeds of this sale will go to Heal A Child Foundation promoted by her husband Telugu movie star Mahesh Babu.
The auction catalogue also includes early works by Bombay Progressive Artists group member Vasudeo Gaitonde (whose work fetched a record price recently), S.H. Raza, Francis Newton Souza, Ram Kumar and Tyeb Mehta. The auction will take place in New Delhi.

By - Indrani Dutta
The Hindu