An exhibition that documents, demystifies Indian abstract art

Seminal work

Admirers of art are often left flummoxed by what is described as ‘abstract work’.

 A fantastical creature of imagination, an insect examined under a microscope, a scoop of algae on a rock or simply geometrical patterns – they are often detailed and absorbing but almost always beg the question: What did the artist have on his mind while making this?

However befuddling this genus may be, it has a history of both practice and patrons. Abstract art, in respect of Indian modernism, surfaced in the 1940s, gaining prominence through the 50s to the 70s, and is recognisable even today in the context of contemporary art. The greatest of ‘figurative artists’ such as Rabindranath Tagore practised it as did many other relatively smaller personalities. They are today seen in top galleries and sold at auction houses like Sotheby’s.

Now is your chance to demystify this form of art and comprehend it in its entirety with a city-based gallery holding an exhibition on this genre alone. 

Delhi Art Gallery in Hauz Khas is presenting ‘Indian Abstracts: An Absence of Form’ – a seminal exhibition that charts the development of abstraction in Indian art from the 1950s to current times. Probably for the first time, this display brings together 60 abstractionists and 350 artworks – the largest such corpus of work seen under one roof at any time. 

Part of a series titled ‘Indian Abstracts’, this is Delhi Art Gallery’s attempt to document a whole era of work and educate enthusiasts on the many less understood aspects of modern Indian art.

Gallery director Ashish Anand says, “The history of abstract art in respect of modernism has been a short one. Given the longer histories of landscape, still-life or portraiture, the genus of abstract art appears like a Haiku in the changing dynamism of Western art medians in India; but even in this short period, abstract artists produced a vast range of art.”

“Some of it was more obviously informed by Western artists, but a language emerged that was also native, qualified by Indian roots and steeped in a lexicon that related to either the historical or mythological. Tantra-inspired art is an example. Yet, it was difficult explaining their theme to an Indian public, more easily swayed by the decorative sentimentalism of a painting. To practice in this milieu must have required a determination unequivocal.,” says Anand.

The exhibition pays tribute to prominent Indian abstractionists known for the maturity of their imagery such as VS Gaitonde, SH Raza, Ram Kumar, Nasreen Mohammedi, Zarina Hashmi and Jeram Patel among others. 

Additionally, it also brings together artists better known for their fidelity to figurative or representative art – MF Husain, Somnath Hore, Dharamnarayan Dasgupta, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Sunil Das and Rabin Mondal. Their abstract works are a delight to behold and add significantly to our understanding of Indian Modernism’s journey.

An over 400-page, substantial volume of art scholarship accompanies this exhibition, featuring colour plates of artworks and scholarship by leading art historians examining the journey of the abstract in Indian art.Catch this exhibition at DAG’s Hauz Khas facility from 10:30 am - 7 pm, Sunday closed. It is on till September 30.

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