Tuesday, February 18, 2014

EDITORIAL - Some Issues of In-Between Art and Some Good Humble Works of Subodh Gupta..


Some Issues of In-Between Art and Some Good Humble Works of Subodh Gupta 
(Artist Subodh Gupta)
( image courtesy: clubm.in)
I think I no longer understand art. Is it my failure or the failure of the works of art that I see these days, I ask myself. From an insider’s point of view as well as from an outsider’s point of view, I have all the reasons to believe that art has something to do with its milieu. Art need not suggest solutions but it should flag out issues. If it is not flagging out issues of the society, it should at least flag out the issues of art itself. When I look at a work of art these days my mind goes blank; it resists with all its might to respond to the works of art that it perceives because it feels that there is a fair amount of hypocrisy in these works. They try to deal with the existential takes of the artists, vis-à-vis the society that they live in but what about the works of art that come out of their engagement? They seem to be absolutely hiding things deliberately or they are trying to give some over(t) explanations so that I miss the point. The obscurantism that the artists and even the curators resort to these days seems to be putting off most of the art lovers. This must be one reason why people now would like to look at the works of the modernists with some kind of history to go with it. In the days of instant aesthetical gratification through various ways, people are attracted to high art if only it could arrest their attention and make them stand a few minutes before it. There are two extremes of viewing, as far as visual arts is concerned; at one end they want to see something substantial and thought provoking and at the other end they want to see something really spectacular. The ‘in-between-ness’ of the works of art and also of the artists seems to be the real problem these days. Neither do these works of art give something to ponder over nor do they give something really spectacular. Literature and films rule the roost mainly because, even the so called chic lit and 200 Crore club movies are able to give either something to think about or to wonder at. The bottom line is clear: invest your works of art with something that would grab the attention of the people. If not you are bound to doom.

As an art critic who is willing to degenerate into the old school at the earliest, I am willing to face criticism that it is absolutely my problem that I do not understand or I am not sensitive enough to understand the in-between kind of art that neither flags out issues nor shows any spectacular character. But unlike many people just avoid in-between kind of art, I try to stand in front of them and test my incapability and often these works win and I fail. Even when I accept that it is my incapability to comprehend new ways of thinking in visual art, I completely understand, enjoy and even think over some of the works of Subodh Gupta. His works, as all of us know, are thought provoking at times and at other times spectacular in nature. Sheer size is something that draws people to Subodh’s works quite often. They cannot escape the magnitude and magnetism of some of his works. While some other works are very small in size they do set you thinking, not only about the works themselves but about the mind of the artist that devised those pieces. I became very fascinated by two works of Subodh Gupta in his retrospective at the NGMA, New Delhi. 

( Subodh Gupta's Installation work 'Atta')
(image courtesy: huffingtopost.com)
One of them is titled ‘Atta’ (Dough) and the other one is titled, ‘Glass full of water’. Atta is a lump of dough cast in bronze and accentuated with real wheat flour. It is kept on a high table. Inconspicuous in appearance though, it evokes curiosity in a viewer. What is it all about? I need not explain how and why atta is important in Indian life (at least in North Indian life). Roti is made of atta. People toil in any city like Delhi, metaphorically speaking, for ‘do roti’ (two pieces of bread). With this simple work, Subodh captures the sociology, economics, politics, history and culture of a country; exactly the way he had done with his bronze cast of lathis, cars, bikes, milk cans and so on before launching himself to be a wholesale ‘bartan’ (steel vessels) artist.

( A Glass full of Water by Subodh Gupta)
(image courtesy:hauserwith.com)
'A glass full of water' is a glass full of water; the way a rose is a rose and if you want, is a rose. A steel tumbler is filled with water to its brim. Any disturbance could cause the water to spill. It is kept on a table. Richard Wilson’s installation with a room full of diesel would come to mind. But we could forget it because that was a spectacular work; Subodh’s is a humble one, as simple and complicated as Indian philosophy. It is an Eastern work of art, full of Zen and full of Sufi. Subodh is Subodh in these humble works. He becomes a bartan contractor in other spectacular work. But then that is an eventuality of any artist who is international by force and accent. Today even if Subodh does not want to do any bartan art, someone will keep a gun at his temple and make him to do it (incidentally, you have steel cast guns also for the feast laid out by Subodh). But my point is different. Subodh is a very contemporary artist with some amount of history with lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes. But that adds to the beauty of Subodh when he speaks from his heart; provided he is not dealing with larger issues like knowledge and availability of library in art colleges etc. Some mistakes make people beautiful; their inner truth is seen only when they are ready to err. To err is human and to forgive is divine. Our art criticism is full of divinities; they just forgive even before seeing the work of art. Digressions apart, I would say, Subodh makes a lot of sense in his small works. So my point is, it is not spectacle that makes a work of art relevant or grab er…the (eye) balls by force. But history does and even humility does.

If that is the case my degeneration also is forgivable. It is not that I do not understand the contemporary works of art. They really fail me as a viewer. They do not tell me anything. The best example I recently had was at the Mati Ghar in IGNCA, New Delhi. INSERT is one exhibition program that incorporates everything cutting edge under the sun. I went into the cave (not Plato’s) and stood in front of the displayed items there. I am afraid to call them works of art because I do not want to call a collection of sounds and documents, works of art. I would prefer to call them archives. They would then say that it is an archive. If it is so, I do not want to see a random collection of archival materials stitched around a curatorial theme. I better go to the National Archives a few paces away from the Mati Ghar. I understood one thing though. I understood from the young boys and girls standing guard to the archival materials, adequately ‘kajoled’ and ‘weeded’, and appropriately and methodically disheveled, that they understood everything that was on display there. At least they exuded such confidence that they understood. I thought, perhaps twenty years ago when I used to be disheveled (no method was needed, however I tried I looked like that only then) people might have thought the same thing about me too. I am happy to think that they ‘understood’ me then the way I understand these kids. But I have only one question to ask, why when Raqs Media collective curates something, I fail to understand it? Why do I understand them absolutely when they involve in issues like censorship, Nirbhaya and Jan Lok Pal bill etc.? Mea culpa Mea culpa Mea Maxima culpa. I take the responsibility of not understanding Raqs Media Collective as artists and curators.

To sum it up, I would say, “Mere pyaare behenon aur bhaaiyon” (My dear brothers and sisters, in Narendra Modi’s tone, to be a bit politically incorrect), do works of art that engage people with thoughts and forms. Don’t make dead bodies to hang up on the walls and from ceilings. You can’t pickle these dead bodies in any curatorial formaldehyde which would obviously look like a dead show as in Sacred/Scared at Latitude 28, curated by Nancy Adajania. There are a couple of master word players who have exhausted themselves by now; Bose Krishnamachari and Valsan Koorma Kolleri. Adajania does not reach anywhere near them in word play for at least titles. When I reach Exhibit 320, I see a set of good paper installations by Sachin George Sebastian. But I wonder why all those small little human figures cut out of newspapers. That makes the show a bit ‘forcefully’ intellectual. Sachin, you are a good paper engineer, believe in it and work on. Last not but the least, one question to my gallerists in Delhi and elsewhere, do you really understand what you exhibit and sell? I know that you sell only what you understand.

Johny ML

Parikrama : Around Gandhi

Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi presents a solo show of renowned artist S H Raza, titled, ‘Parikrama : Around Gandhi’. Raza saw Mahatma Gandhi in a public meeting in Mandla, his hometown in Madhya Pradesh, when he was 8 years old. This ‘darshan’ left an indelible mark on him. Whenever he visited Delhi from Paris between 1950 and 2010, Raza visited Rajghat to pay respect to the great soul at his samadhi. He has always been inspired by Gandhian deeds, concepts and words.

Since his return to Delhi, Raza has been working on a series inspired by the teachings of Gandhi. He explores them in his own inimitable style without falling into traps of representation or illustration. They are tributes to a great human being by a master of our times.

The show previews on 21st February 2014 at 6:00 pm and is on view till 26th March 2014.

7 Horses
( Work by Nayanjeet Nikam)
Pradarshak Art Gallery, Mumbai presents a solo show of paintings by artist Nayanjeet Nikam. The show titled, ‘7 Horses’ depicts the seven inherent qualities of the animal which the artist sees reflected in human beings.

Horses have had a strong bearing on him from the very beginning and have trained his artistic thoughts. Nayanjeet elaborates on his muse, “Horses commit to memory, people and the events of the past by heart, and have no anxiety of the future; they simply survive in constant awareness and have amazing instinct. I had to toil hard and face challenges to be in the present moment—horses gave birth to my approach of unbreakable faith in my style of painting and have influenced my technique considerably.”

Not merely depicting the pictorial aspects of an equestrian muse, the artist has tried to capture the vigour, supremacy and momentum of the animal in his paintings. The show is on till 1st March 2014.

Artistic recalls

Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, New Delhi presents “Artistic Recalls – The Hungarian Connection: Amrita” a group art exhibition that will be showcasing various paintings by Hungarian, German, Indian and also Swedish artists who participated at the art residency program at the Prazanta – The Tranquil Resort in Kerala.

This exhibition is to mark the birth centenary of the legendary Amrita Shergill and some of the artists whose works are on display are Imre Szakács, Ilona Deák, Tibor Bráda, Monika Elisabeth Siebmanns, Karin Margareta Holgersson Schuff, Heinz-Jürgen Meyer, Seema Moghe and few others.

The show is on view till 28th February 2014.

(News reports by Sushma Sabnis)

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