Digestive Art-Munchies in and Across the City

The skyline of Indian art has grappled with vibrant energies yet again after a downward sloping of the art market resulting from the dramatic drop in average auction prices being 76% between Sept 2008 and March 2009. Supplemented by a collective expositive of activities and ventures heralded in the national capital, New Delhi with the second thriving of India Art Summit, the Indian art is being undoubtedly venerated as collector’s pride if not the investors. The man whose career accentuated and mirrored the changing fortunes of contemporary Indian art when in 2005 his 1997 painting Mahisasura sold at Christie’s New York for $1.58 million, bid his ultimate goodbye on July 2nd 2009 bringing an affirmation of stability, the Indian market will stand to command in the times to come.

Jitish Kallat’s work exhibited at ‘India Xianzai: Contemporary Indian Art’ at MoCA, Shanghai. Image Courtesy: ICIA & Seven Arts Ltd. (Detail).

As an evident product of a multifarious development, the city as a warm up exercise to the Summit witnessed the grand finale of the ‘Video Wednesdays@Espace,’ an event curated by Johny ML. The event programmed to screen videos of artists across the country every Wednesday for a breadth of a year at the Gallery Espace probed in its capacity questions related to the new media practice of Video art in India. The curator’s blog reports that sixty artists and ninety nine videos were shown during this span of a year.

The second edition of India Art Summit in August 2009 saw participation of 54 galleries including 17 foreign galleries exhibiting paintings, sculptures, videos, installations and other art works. Positing to be India’s equivalent of international fairs held in Basel and Hong Kong among other cities, a considerable notice was that at the end of the summit nearly 250 artworks valued at Rs 26 crore were sold; the total value of artworks on display at the fair was approximately Rs 40-50 crore. A simultaneous scintillating display of artworks in Collateral events drummed up atmosphere, bolstering the slump that had seized the city in the past for months together. Hereby the London-based art market research firm ArtTactic Ltd. report says that there is renewed confidence in the market, which had dipped to an all time low six months ago.

The first in the league of concurrent events began with The Devi Art Foundation presenting ‘The One Year Drawing Project’, an exhibition showcasing an experimental drawing exchange and involving four critically acclaimed artists from Sri Lanka besides a solo exhibition of the eminent Bangladeshi artist, Mahbabur Rahman, curated by Vidya Shivadas from the Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection. The Religare Arts Gallery, a new initiative in the Metro with a curious café and interactive space for discussion on relevant issues presented ‘Connaught Place- Thewhynotplace’ as the by-product of its Summer day-residency program involving 25 artists. A caboodle of activities supported by the British Council held on 21st August included ‘Navgunjar’, an interactive art project by Vishal K Dar held in collaboration with Experiential Design Lab on the main façade of the British Council building. PADMA: an online archive of densely text-annotated video material was available for the day at the British Council library while one could also experience Hawkers Ki Jagah (a place for Hawkers) a Sound Installation by Rashmi Kaleka in the same premise. Anant Art Gallery exhibited a solo of recent works of Atul Bhalla ‘In Another Sweat’ at its Noida Centre, while Vadehra Art brought a peculiar collation of works ‘Intertwining’ by the FICA Emerging Artist Awardee 2007 Rakhi Peswani. And if this impressive array of exhibits was little beguiling for the Indian audience marking attendance in the city on account of Art Summit, the southern posh corners of the city held store to the spurring ‘Action of Nowhere’ by Jagannath Panda at Peter Nagy’s Nature Morte with an ‘(IN) BETWEEN’ rendezvous with the recent works by A. Balasubramaniam at Talwar Art Gallery. The city in chase of its capacity as a resource centre, saw opening of a hi-end art and design bookstore CMYK named after the preliminary combination of colours in printing by Roli Books in a relatively subdued corner.

Installation view of Urgency of the Present – The Redemption of the Past, Fiberglass, automotive colours & vinyl, Variable, 2009. Image Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery.

The Indian Art fraternity too bowled over with its resplendent performance in the national capital let way to the financial capital, Mumbai to play its innings. Nothing could have made the best start than opening of the BMB Gallery in September 2009. A new venture formed in collaboration with of some leading business entrepreneurs along with the Gallery Director Bose Krishnamachari, presented its inaugural show ‘The Dark Science of Five Continents’ curated by Shaheen Merali. Holding cultic representation of artists of Five continents, the gallery laced and bridged the Indian and global nexus. Nonetheless Mumbai-based art promoter Vickram Sethi brought his 2nd Art Expo with participation of 29 galleries including four from overseas. The Expo was a commercial success creating reasonable buzz, if not equivalent to the Summit. In the same week, Tushar Jiwarajka’s Volte Gallery marked its opening with a show of four new-media artists. Alongside Artes Mundi Awardee N.S.Harsha continued his engagement with the absurd and metaphysical in his recent solo show ‘Cultural Debris,’ held at Sakshi Art Gallery. Mapping scale the new-age way, Mumbai has witnessed and promoted not only conventional art forms but the galleries based here have created benchmark in recognizing defying art forms like performances. Inder Salim, a multi-faceted activist-artist hailing from Kashmir performed ‘Evoking Nazir’ as part of the Open Studio of his residency hosted by The Loft. Mixed media artist Monali Meher, who lives and works between the Netherlands and India also gave a performance titled, ‘In Determination II,’ at Gallery Maskara, Mumbai. The three-hour-long performance was in collaboration with Project 88, where a solo show of Meher opened on October 2009.

In these developments, veterans were also bestowed with due honour setting best example in the row being the Retrospective of Bikash Bhattacharjee held in view to celebrate his 69th birth anniversary. Emami Chisel Art, Kolkata presented a retrospective exhibition of his sixty nine works in September at ECA premises and the same show travelled to the Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi in October. Also organized by Vadehra Art was ‘Bahurupi’ by A Ramachandran at Lalit Kala Akademi. Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai along with Foundation B&G recently exhibited distinguished artist Manu Parekh’s works in an exhibition ‘The Pursuit of Intensity: Manu Parekh, Selected Works 2004-2009’.

In Determination II, 3 hr. performance by Monali Meher on 6th Oct, 2009 at Gallery Maskara, Mumbai, Image Courtesy: Gallery Maskara.

Another most sought out exhibition after the post-art summit season was George Martin P J’s ‘Objective Voice’. Martin showed an impeccable control over the three-dimensional medium fathomed through means of steel, fibreglass, neon bulbs and even rice. A later conjunct of impressive displays included ‘Re-claim/Re-cite/Re-cycle’ curated by Bhavna Kakar under her new brand Latitude 28 with Seven Arts Ltd. at Bose Pacia, Kolkata. The exhibition in its second mounting in the year deployed significant meaning to the rhetoric of recycling in multiple contexts. Fathoming the nature of memory and the resulting existential predicament grasping the five leading contemporary artists was Ranjit Hoskote’s show ‘Retrieval Systems’. The show was organized by the Art Alive Gallery at the Visual Arts Gallery in November.

The art fraternity has also lately seen tragic demise of some of its vibrant members. Young and aspiring artist, Sakshi Nayar had passed away last year. The Ati Art Gallery in the city convened a memorial show ‘Ethereal’ dedicated to her. The show curated by the Delhi based Sushma Bahl was organized by the Kaka Sakshi Memorial Trust, set up by Sakshi’s mother and artist Kavita Nayar in the capital. The art community all over the nation also lamented over the sad demise of Bhupen Burman, the teaching faculty in the Sculpture Dept. of Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda. As a tribute to the deceased soul, the Faculty organized an exhibition ‘Tathagat’ in January at the Exhibition hall of the Faculty of Fine Arts. Around 1000 artists from Baroda contributed with their works to the show.

Directed at portraying the socio-political vulnerabilities vis-à-vis identity crisis was Sakshi Gallery’s initiated exhibition of simulating series of works ‘Dual Liquid’ by Sumedh Rajendran while Vadehra Art Gallery hosted an exhibition ‘Family/Families’ by Ashim Purkayastha. Maskara driven to bolster the young talent alongside raising pertinent questions of the times showed the first solo of Shine Shivan titled ‘Sperm Weaver’. Shivan grappled with the plight of the male in a Post-Feminist context using video, photographs and performance. Also promoting a young sculptor through its ventures was Gallerie Alternatives in New Delhi which organized a solo of Krishna Murari titled ‘Interactive Articulations’ at year’s end.

The Museum expansion plans have also geared up at the bay. The success of Devi Art Foundation run by mother-Besides, sugar mogul and art collector Rajshree Pathy is in process of establishing an art institute and contemporary art museum, collectively called ‘Contemplate’ in Coimbatore. Meanwhile, the National Gallery of Modern Art has already opened a new wing in the year start of 2009 that added an auditorium, conservation laboratory, café, library, and study centre. The Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) after an extended phase of renovation in its New Delhi headquarters reopened with a show sponsored by Vadehra Art Gallery of videos, photographs, and installations by Shilpa Gupta exploring the legacy of the partition and national-security concerns. In 2009, Khoj held its annual, two-week workshop at a nature reserve Tarumitra Ashram in Bihar with 23 local and international participations besides initiating an international residency ‘By Design’.

On an international scale, ‘India Xianzai: Contemporary Indian Art’ made a mark at MoCA, Shangai in the mid-year turn of 2009. Featuring the top league of 21 Indian artists, the exhibition organized collectively by Seven Arts Limited and The ICIA exemplified through the works an active thread of political and social engagement assimilated through the experience of Indian-ness. Hereby, the global maestro Anish Kapoor appeared with a revered solo at London’s Royal Academy of Art in the later part of the year. Alongside in Berlin, Christian Hosp inaugurated his new gallery with showing of Indian artist Gigi Scaria. Interestingly this was the ex Bodhi space!!

Installation view of Tathagat at The Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, Image Courtesy: Suruchi.

On local scale after a rejuvenating display of artworks by ten artists in Shrine Empire Art gallery’s anniversary show by Johny ML ‘If I Were a Saint’ was Dayanita Singh’s assortment of breathtaking photographs in ‘Dream Villa’, that freshly closed at Nature Morte. Around the corner concurrently was the analogical display of a dystopian world of J.G Ballard by Mumbai based curator Gitanjali Dang’s ‘Ballard Estate’, at Delhi’s Religare Arts i and the newly opened contemporary art space Exhibit 320’s inaugural show ‘Continuum Transfunctioner’ also curated by Dang. Not to be surely missed on current score are Anju Dodiya’s solo ‘Necklace of Echoes’ at Vadehra Art Gallery and Latitude 28’s eclectic presentation of artworks under the cover of ‘Size Matters…Or Does it?’ marking the inauguration of its physical space at Lado Sarai. The most awaited of the International lot includes Nalini Malani’s Retrospective at Musee Cantonal Des Beaux-Arts (MCB-A) in Switzerland in March this year besides the show indexical of Indian art’s endurance by Charles Saatchi’s titled ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Jitish Kallat will also exhibit his solo at Haunch of Venison, London later this month.

The spirits are raised and contemplation’s streak seems ripe to the core. In 2010, the Indian art scene looks substantially busy and plump. What option does one have but to sail with the tickling pink tide?

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About Author

Suruchi Khubchandani is an artwriter and researcher based in New Delhi. She holds M.V.A. in Art History & Aesthetics from M.S.U, Baroda (2009) and BA in Journalism (Hons.) from Delhi University (2007). Suruchi is also the recipient of the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) Research Fellowship 2009 and is the Editorial Coordinator of TAKE on art magazine.

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