#DHRecaps | Clean canvas, a few spots

Hues & expressions - a bird’s-eye view of some of the good, sad and unsavoury happenings in the art world in 2018
Last Updated 29 December 2018, 20:02 IST

At the time of writing this piece, all eyes are on two very important art events: Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 12, 2018 – March 29, 2019); and Serendipity Arts Festival (December 15 – 23, 2018).

Curated by contemporary artist Anita Dube, the fourth edition of Kochi Biennale will be constructed around the theme of ‘Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’; and held across nine heritage venues in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, as well as Durbar Hall in downtown Ernakulam. The 108-day biennale will feature as many as 95 artist projects before it concludes on March 29 next year.

The third edition of Serendipity Arts Festival, an eight-day affair in Goa, curated by a panel of artists and institutional figures, is focused on fostering cultural development, and supporting emerging artists across South Asia through several disciplines including photography, visual arts, theatre, dance, craft, and music.

Other major events that attracted attention during the year included the India Art Fair (Delhi / Feb 9-12, 2018). Under the stewardship of its new director Jagdip Jagpal (former international programme manager at the UK’s Tate Gallery), the fair recorded the participation of 70 galleries displaying works of more than 400 artists. Good sales and reserve options were reported by several participating galleries from India and abroad.

The Elephant Parade India, launched on February 25, 2018 in Mumbai, featured 101 sculptures of elephants, each designed by an artist, designer, or a prominent personality. The event sought to draw attention to the dwindling population of the Asian elephant and, to secure elephant corridors across India.

The first ever ‘Print Biennale of India 2018’ in Delhi (March 25 to April 22, 2018) elicited interest from the UK, USA, Sri Lanka, Italy, Mexico, China, Israel, Sweden, Lithuania, Poland, Argentina, Greece, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Mauritius, besides the host country. Original prints created by Indian and international artists were displayed at Lalit Kala Academy galleries in Delhi. Concurrently, the Eminent Printmakers of India exhibition organised at NGMA, Delhi featured the works of 98 artists.

A bronze Rhinoceros from Maharashtra (1500-1050BC) at India and the World show. PHOTO BY GIRIDHAR KHASNIS
A bronze Rhinoceros from Maharashtra (1500-1050BC) at India and the World show. PHOTO BY GIRIDHAR KHASNIS

India and the World: A History in Nine Stories, a landmark exhibition to commemorate 70 years of India’s Independence, was set up at the National Museum, New Delhi (May 5-June 30, 2018). The show offered insights into two million years of history, and chronologically encapsulated the evolution of Indian civilisation and its interconnectedness with the outside world. The British Museum, London collaborated with National Museum, New Delhi; and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai in putting up the show.

Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, in collaboration with the Contemporary Clay Foundation, presented the first Indian Ceramics Triennale titled ‘Breaking Ground’ (August 31 to November 18, 2018). 35 Indian and 12 international artists participated in the event which offered a fresh perspective on the possibilities of the medium while exploring new aesthetics, techniques, and processes.

Boundless: India — Sotheby’s inaugural auction in the country — held in Mumbai on November 29, reported a cumulative sale of Rs 55.40 crore. The highlight of the evening was the sale of two paintings: Tyeb Mehta’s Durga Mahishasura Mardhini for Rs 20.49 crore, and Amrita Sher-Gil’s The Little Girl in Blue for Rs 18.69 crore.

Awards & honours

Professor Balkrishna Doshi became the first ever Indian to win the architecture world’s most prestigious award this year. The 90-year-old academic urbanist who has taught, mentored and motivated many architects in a career spanning six decades received the esteemed 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize (which included a cash award of $100,000). “I owe this prestigious prize to my guru, Le Corbusier,” said Doshi. “His teachings led me to question identity and compelled me to discover new regionally adopted contemporary expression for a sustainable holistic habitat.”

Eminent Goan artist Laxman Pai was among nine eminent persons conferred with the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in January 2018. The 92-year-old painter, known for his evocative landscapes, had participated in the Goa Liberation Movement when he was still a minor.

Internationally-acclaimed Gond artist Bhajju Shyam (born 1971) was conferred with the Padma Shri for 2018. The versatile artist from a small tribal village in Madhya Pradesh received worldwide acclaim in 2003, and has since participated in several international exhibitions.

He has 10 books to his credit, which have cumulatively sold nearly 1,00,000 copies worldwide.

The Government of West Bengal honoured R Siva Kumar with ‘Lifetime Achievement Award for Art History and Art Criticism’. Prof Kumar has, for decades, taught, lectured and researched on Indian art, particularly the Bengal School and Santiniketan masters. He also curated exhibitions of several artists, the most prominent being The Last Harvest: Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore, shown in India and abroad.

Twenty-eight-year-old Biplab Sarkar became the winner of Glenfiddich’s Emerging Artist of the Year 2018. He will represent India at the Artists in Residence (AiR) programme and spend three months at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland with artists from around the world.

The Organising Committee for Yokohama Triennale recently announced the appointment of New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective (Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi & Shuddhabrata Sengupta) as the artistic director of Yokohama Triennale 2020.

Bidding adieu

Ram Kumar, one of India’s foremost abstract painters, died on April 14, 2018 in Delhi, aged 94. The Padma Bhushan awardee was associated with the Progressive artist’s group formed after the Independence by artists such as F N Souza and M F Husain.

Another senior artist, Dhiraj Choudhury, whose colourful paintings depicted cityscapes, socio-political subjects as well as religious icons like Durga and Ganesha bid goodbye on June 1 in Kolkata. He was 82.

Professor Krishna Reddy, a father figure to generations of artists and printmakers, passed away on August 22 in New York, aged 93. He was a long-term resident of NY and served as the director of graphics and printmaking in the art department at NYU. The renowned printmaker who had maintained close contact with India all his life was awarded the Padma Shri in 1972 by the Government of India.

Mehlli Gobhai died in Mumbai on September 13, aged 87. Occasionally referred to as Mumbai’s Mark Rothko, the outstanding abstractionist had lived and worked in New York for over two decades before returning to the city of his birth in the 1980s.

One of the most popular Indian paintings, Lady with the Lamp, is part of the prized collection of Jaganmohan Palace in Mysuru. The watercolour picture (also referred to as Glow of Hope) was painted by S L Haldankar (1882-1968) in the mid-1940s.

The artist’s daughter, Gita Haldankar (later Uplekar), who modelled for the painting, passed away on October 2, aged 102.

Anoop Skaria, who promoted Kashi Art Gallery and Café in Fort Kochi in the late 1990s, passed away on October 21, 2018, aged 57. Kashi became a hub of many creative activities including art exhibitions and film screenings attracting national attention. It also organised art residencies and helped many young artists, particularly from Kerala, to reach and thrive on the national scene. (Kashi changed hands in 2012).

Dark spots

The #MeToo movement cast its shadow on the art world as well with several women alleging sexual misconduct and harassment by prominent Indian artists. Coming under attack were Padma Bhushan awardee Jatin Das; KMB co-founder Riyas Komu; curator Rahul Bhattacharya; photographer Pablo Bartholomew; sculptor Valsan Koorma Kolleri; and photographer Shahid Datawala. While Das denied any wrongdoing, Komu tendered an apology and stepped down from all management positions connected to KMB till the matter was resolved.

Later in the year, Gaurav Bhatia, managing director of the auction house Sotheby’s India, was sent on indefinite leave by his employers following allegations of sexual harassment which surfaced on social media. Out of the four complaints of harassment against Bhatia, two were reportedly by men and dated back to his stint with a luxury goods conglomerate.

The next wicket to fall was of Subodh Gupta, often described as the poster boy of contemporary Indian art. The 54-year-old high profile artist was accused of repeated sexual misconduct by a former co-worker who recounted the alleged experiences of several women on the social media. Gupta denied the allegations but withdrew from the Serendipity Arts Festival of which he was a co-curator.

(Published 29 December 2018, 19:30 IST)

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