Year of revival

State of Art

Year of revival

Subodh Gupta’s ‘Line of control’ at Tate, London.

The economy may still be struggling to cope with the slump in the market, but Indian art has managed to hold its own, especially on the global stage. A study by ARCO-Madrid attributed this market surge to two factors — while younger artists were getting greater visibility both in shows and auctions globally, the gallery space also saw a boom this year. Though largely centred in New Delhi and Mumbai, new galleries and independent art centres were being created all the time in upcoming markets like Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata as well. An overview of the Indian art scenario in 2009, thus, threw up several interesting new trends.

One of the positives that emerged in 2009 was the success large scale art fairs and festivals witnessed across the country. Following close on the heels of the hugely hyped India Art Summit held in August in Delhi that traded art works worth Rs 26 crore with a display hamper of 400 art works from across the globe by 57 galleries, came the Art Expo at the Nehru Centre in Mumbai in September, an event that started on a lukewarm note, but gained momentum in its second day, and at the conclusion, was touted as a permanent feature for future years.

While art fairs are pretty much about selling, one cannot deny the educational aspect of these ventures as they have a great potential in developing an understanding about contemporary art practices within India. At the same time the fact that large crowds of the public got to see all of that art is a move in the right direction. In a country where there is still a nascent museum culture, perhaps art fairs have come to be of some significance to the Indian context.

The other trend that seemed to have gained momentum was of European art being showcased as never before. From a well mounted show of Pablo Picasso to cutting-edge sculptures by Columbian artist Claudia Hakim, European art in India has never had it this big before. Hundred original copper etchings of Pablo Picasso, one of the most recognised figures in 20th century art, were shown at Delhi’s newly-opened Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish Language and Cultural Centre. Made between 1930 and 1937, these works were shown in India for the first time ever. Delhi also got to see earlier this year nearly hundred graphic works by 15 of the most renowned Mexican artists of the second half of the 20th century!

2009 also saw a host of foreign galleries and museums showing Indian art in a big way. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) opened ‘Heroes and Villains’ in October which explored the comic book genre from past to present in South Asia and included folios from Mughal illustrated manuscripts, paintings and drawings from the northern Indian princely states, and story-telling paintings from central India. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s ‘Bharat Ratna’ showed a retrospective of Modern Masters, while The Frost Museum presented Navjot Altaf’s video installations of recorded testimonies from Gujarat riot victims.

Manjunath Kamath’s video artOne of the most talked about shows was at London’s Grosvenor Vadehra gallery that held an exhibition of new works by leading Indian painter Shibu Natesan, his second solo exhibition with the gallery. Younger artists like Pratul Dash and Rajesh Ram got an opportunity to show with Dubai’s 1x1 Gallery early this year.

An even more heartening development, more so a reflection of the price correction in 2009, was that this year also saw a steady flow of quality and cheaper art like video art, digital works, mixed media art, sculptures, installations, serigraphs and digital prints of works by masters which were authenticated and signed. In fact, two major video art festivals were held, one by Gallery Espace in Delhi and the other by Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore, to herald video art’s formal entry into mainstream Indian art.

No overview of Indian art in 2009 can be complete without mentioning the rise and rise of Subodh Gupta who perfectly illustrates the price explosion of contemporary Indian art. Unknown to the international art market before 2005, his works have now quadrupled in price! Since October 2008, 11 pieces have been bought in at all the major international auction venues including Paris, London, and New York. He is also the only Indian artist to have shown at Tate Britain, London, in April 2009 at Altermodern, the fourth Tate Triennial where his gigantic installation, ‘Line of Control’, made of stainless steel utensils was shown.

Quite a few modern Indian artists showed resistance to the art market crisis. In fact, they seemed almost immune to it! Jogen Chowdhury and FN Souza both tripled their estimates supplied by Sotheby’s at its Indian Art sale in June 2009. Jogen Chowhury even signed a new record with a 1979 water-colour titled ‘Day Dreaming’ which fetched £310,000. Younger artists like Jitish Kallat, TV Santosh, GR Iranna, Sudarshan Shetty, Bharti Kher, Manisha Gera Baswani and Mekhala Bahl saw a successful year with promise of more to come!

An eclectic canvass

Whew! 2009 has been a tough year. The art market suffered, just like other markets. And the price fall was very steep. Says S Nandagopal, senior sculptor who works out from the Cholamandal Artists’ village, “The market plummeted by about 40 percent, I should think.” But the ‘price correction’, as some have come to term this slump has not been without its silver streaks. “It is a good thing, considering that it filtered out the gimmicky artists,” says Ashvin Rajagopalan, Ashvita gallery.

Young names which stand out from the 2009 canvass include Kerala born and now Mumbai-based T V Santhosh, A Balasubramaniam, Rias Komu. Besides them, others have raised attention like Benitha Perciyal with her natural dye-based work, KK Raghava, Ramesh Gorjala who has become noticed for his kalamkari-based contemporary works, C Krishnaswamy famous for his yoga posture paintings, who has now gone digital and into installations, Cholamandal’s B O Sailesh and other.

Of course, TV Santhosh has established a league of his own with his fluorescent canvasses. At New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery in October, apparently, four out of the five canvas works he exhibited were already sold a week before the exhibition opened for public viewing. Another southie who has been getting international attention is Kerala’s Om Soorya. Somebody who rose unassumingly like a phoenix from a tiny village in Kerala, Om Soorya used to do art with the natural charcoal from his kitchen wood burning oven. Now, he has had an exhibition even in closed China (at the Galleria dell’Arco in Shanghai). Then there are artists like George K, Alexis Kersey, Lavanya Mani, N Ramachandran, PG Dinesh, who promise to deliver exciting work in the forthcoming years.

“The major trends this year include figurative, some attempts at conceptual ideas, some interventions of popular cultures, new media, installation-cum-sculptures, conceptual work, and photography in a very big way,” says Sharan Apparao, Apparao Galleries.

(With Hema Vijay in Chennai)

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