Ambivalent hues

Ambivalent hues

Undoubtedly, the big event that attracted art lovers across the country at the beginning of the year was the third edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) (12/12/16 - 29/3/17). Curated by artist Sudarshan Shetty and featuring nearly 100 visual artists, poets, writers, dancers and performers from 31 countries, the KMB reportedly enticed more than six lakh visitors. In addition to sanctioning a working fund of Rs 2 crore for the Biennale, the Kerala government announced its decision to allocate five acres of land to set up a permanent venue for it. Well-known artist Anita Dube would be the curator of its next edition.

Among other significant events, the 58th National Exhibition of Art (NEA) was organised at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Bengaluru, by Central Lalit Kala Akademi (February 23 - March 12, 2017). On display was a range of works in different mediums like painting, sculpture and graphics by over 100 artists from different parts of the country.

Fifteen artworks were chosen for the national award, which came with a cash prize of rupees one lakh, along with a plaque and certificate. An expansive 'Artists' Enclave' was organised by the Akademi at Chitrakala Parishat from February 25 to March 5.

Recently, the Government of Rajasthan, in collaboration with Saat Saath Arts, has opened The Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace, Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur. The park aims to turn the palace into an art gallery with sculptures by top Indian and international artists, displayed indoors and outdoors. The first exhibition, curated by Peter Nagy, features artworks by 15 Indian and six international artists including Arman, Anita Dube, Vibha Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher, L N Tallur, and Ravinder Reddy.

Major exhibitions

2017 seemed to be an important year for several past masters and present-day Indian artists whose exhibitions were held in prestigious galleries and museums. Among the major shows held during the year were Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh (at the MET Breuer, New York);  EARTH as HAVEN: Under The Canopy of Love, by Jayashree Chakravarty (at Musée National Des Arts Asiatiques, Guimet, Paris); Terrain: Carrying Across, Leaving Behind by Nilima Sheikh (Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai); The Euphoria of Being: Himmat Shah, a continuing journey across six decades (Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur);
In the Presence of Another Sky: Sakti Burman, A Retrospective (NGMA, Mumbai); Sketchbooks and Diaries by Bharti Kher (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA); Covariance by Jitish Kallat (Galerie Templon, Brussels); All About This Side by Gigi Scaria (Aicon gallery, New York); Altaf Mohamedi: A retrospective (At  DAGModern, Mumbai);  Terraoptics by Vivan Sundaram (sepiaEYE, New York); Tying Down Time by Arpita Singh (Talwar Gallery, New York); Charming Journey by N S Harsha (Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan), and Spectres by Sudhir Patwardhan (Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi).

In Bengaluru, Ravinder Reddy's solo exhibition,  Heads and Bodies, Icons and Idols - his  first solo in India after nearly a decade - was held at RMZ Ecoworld Gallery. Celebrating 70 years of India's independence, The Art Institute of Chicago is presenting India Modern: The Paintings of M F Husain as a tribute to the artist and the Indian art.  In 2008, Husain was commissioned to create 32 large-scale paintings depicting the sweep of Indian history and culture. He finished eight before his death in 2011, at 95. Those triptychs, his final works, are on display in the United States (till March 4, 2018) for the first time.

Indian-American Sandeep Mukherjee  has been awarded  the prestigious 2017 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship,  granted on the basis of demonstrated  exceptional creative ability in the arts.  The Los Angeles-based artist, originally from Pune, is currently professor of art at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Indian photographer, installation artist and women's rights activist Sheba Chhachhi won the second Prix Thun for Art and Ethics Award. This art prize, endowed with 25,000 Swiss Franc, aims at promoting artists who support a sustainable world.  

Eminent photojournalist Raghu Rai was conferred with Lifetime Achievement Award at the 6th National Photography Awards by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry for "his remarkable contribution to the field."

Rai, who began his career at the age of 23, has been a photographer for over 50 years. He is also a Padma Shri awardee and has served on the jury of World Press Photo and UNESCO's International Photo Contest.

Recognising Asia's rich cultural and artistic legacy, and a rising global focus on Asian contemporary art, the Asia Society India Centre and the Asia Society Museum announced the first Asia Arts Awards in India.

The winners were Abir Karmakar  (b. 1977) -  Asia Arts Future Award; Krishen Khanna (b. 1925) -  Asia Arts Vanguard Award; and the artist collaborative  teamLab (founded 2001 in Tokyo, Japan) -  Asia Arts Future Award.

Odisha-based installation artist Sitaram Swain was chosen as the Glenfiddich's Emerging Artist of the Year 2017. Swain, 28 years old, will represent India at the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence (AiR) programme, where he will spend three months at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland with seven artists from around the world.

The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) announced that the Emerging Artist Award, 2017 was granted to Moonis Ahmad Shah for his interdisciplinary body of work that uses text, photography, cinema and historical documents. Originally from Srinagar, Ahmad is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Melbourne. The FICA also announced that the Ila Dalmia FICA Research Grant 2017 was given to the Delhi-based ceramic artist and research scholar, Kristine Michael.

Her research project titled Artisan to Artist - The Stylistic Development of Indian pottery through Colonial Intervention of early Art Schools of Bombay, Madras, Jaipur and Lahore (1850-1910)  is a continuation of her PhD thesis being currently pursued at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Obituaries

Several artists passed away in 2017. The list included award-winning wildlife photographer TNA Perumal who passed away in a city hospital in Bengaluru on February 8, aged 84, senior sculptor S Nandagopal, a long-time resident of Chennai's Cholamandal Artists' village (April, 14); renowned photographer S Paul, often called 'the father of modern Indian photojournalism' (August 16); and Bengaluru-based artist Amaresh Bijjal (October 9).

In a tragic incident, Santiniketan-trained artist and illustrator Sumitro Basak (1975-2017) allegedly committed suicide on January 26, 2017, by jumping from his sixth-floor flat in Sonarpur area of West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district.

Art market

By many accounts, the art market continued to be scrappy during the year, with collectors maintaining a wait-and-watch policy. Artists, gallerists and collectors complained that the art scene was severely affected by the twin blows of demonetisation and GST. Reports also indicated that 2017, which witnessed more than 20 auctions by 15 auction houses, had been particularly weak in terms of market performance of Indian contemporary art.

After four years of live auctions, the international auction house Christie's decided to shut shop in India. Late last year, after a lacklustre show in Mumbai, Sonal Singh, specialist head for Christie's India, reportedly told a newspaper: "I think the overall mood in India is not buoyant, thanks to the financial events of the last month."

Controversies  

The year was not without its share of controversies.  On November 11, an FIR was registered in New Delhi against Rohita Jaidka, former executive director of Air India;   the action followed an internal inquiry by Air India, which found Jaidka and other unidentified persons guilty of stealing a painting by well-known artist Jatin Das from the airline's collection between 2004 and 2009.

In Bengaluru, when Dr  M S Murthy, painter and former chairman of Karnataka Lalit Kala Academy, was conferred with the Varnashilpi Venkatappa Award, a section of the artist community questioned the credentials of the awardee and protested the manner in which his selection was ratified.    

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