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March '07

art gallery
New Delhi

Curated by
Johny ML

Cover Story - Johny ML
  • Arpita Singh
    'Woman changing Clothes', Oil on canvas, 101.5 cm x 101.8 cm
  • Atul Dodiya
    ' Sitaharan (The Abduction of Sita)', Media: Cast paper, cotton pulp, linen pulp, water soluble crayon, synthetic hair, gold leaf, watercolour, carborundum, handmade STPI cotton and linen paper.Dimensions: 66" x 52",.
  • Piyali Ghosh
    'Last rain drop', Tempera on canvas, 48" x 60"
  • Prantik Chattopadhyay
    'Magic masala(Indian)', Mix medium, 22.5" x 37"
  • Rajan M Krishnan
    'Embryo', Acrylic on canvas, 72" x 60"
  • Reji Arackal
    oil on canvas, 48" x 36"
  • Rekha Rodwittiya
    'Once upon a time', Acrylic and oil on canvas, 84" x 48"
  • Riyas Komu.
    The Third Day
  • Santhosh TV
    'Across An Unresolved Story', Oil on Canvas, 72.8" x 48.4"
  • Sudarshan Shetty
    'Untitled' , Media: Found object: Braille Typewriter (Single edition) Dimensions: 36" x 44" x 24"
  • Sumedh Rajendran
    'Nation Incarnation', Media: Wood, ceramic tiles, leather and aluminium sheet, Dimensions: 48" x 100"
  • Varunika Saraf
    'Gathering storm', Water color on rice paper pasted on canvas 51" x 38"
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Farewell to Thee, Blithe Spirit, 2006

JohnyML looks back at the Indian contemporary art scene of 2006 and says that until India develops a proper funding system for art, the bullish market is going to call the shots.

“Dear friend, I have become a conservative buyer. Sorry to say this but I feel that whatever we see in the name of art these days are simply mediocre. Chinese art market is slowing down. There are rumors of an impending slump in the Indian art market also. In this situation I would like to sit in the gallery and watch rather than go down there and play.” - email from an art collector

I was amused to see an email like this from an art collector friend of mine. As he is a veritable globetrotter and genuine pursuer of contemporary art from all over the world, I could not just skip that mail cynically. His words strangely ring in my ears when I sit at my desk for writing this stocktaking article on our art scene during the year 2006.

Though ‘euphoria’ is the word that still qualifies the Indian contemporary art scene, the word ‘skepticism’ also has got its place in the whole discourse of contemporary art and its commercial and aesthetical sides. The major players in the art field proclaim that the demand for contemporary art is still strong and they substantiate their point by citing the entry of innumerable young artists in the field in an hourly basis. The skeptics cite the exit points of several artists who have come, saw and never conquered. While the former set gives a term of five years to the ongoing euphoria the latter group says that it would last maximum for two years. Then everything will settle and settle for the good, they add.

The year 2006 saw the price hike of several artists thanks to the fortune that their representatives made in the auction circuits. From the modern masters to the contemporary youngsters could hike up their prices as their works commanded roof blowing prices in national and international auctions. Another reason for the price hike was attributed to rigging and deliberations by certain power groups in the art market. However, those who approached the buyers with bloated and ballooned prices had to come back with their un-exchanged booties. Obviously the market pundits say that not only the Indian market but the Indian buyers too have come of age. But the mad sense of euphoria reached to the levels of newspaper advertisements that claimed planetary alignments would make further growth in the art market. In India Business is always mixed up with unexplained superstitions so most of the players looked at these advertisements with amusement sans irreverence.

Generally speaking, Indian contemporary art scene showed several shifts in the very production of aesthetics. Mediatic realism that made all the bucks for the artists and gallerists during 2004 and 2005 was found in a waning mode in 2006. The major exponents of this genre like Shibu Natesan, Bose Krishnamachari, Baiju Parthan, Jitish Kallat, Chintan Upadhyaya and so on changed their tracks. Shibu Natesan moved from large scale canvases to small scale watercolours. He is reported to have said that when every other artist was working on huge canvases he liked to paint in small format. Bose Krishnamachari, though did not abandon his works on canvases completely, worked more on technology and knowledge based art (as seen in Ghost Trans-memoires and LaVa). Chintan Upadhyaya continued with his Smart Alec series but this time he changed the way of presentation. He made them more into a part of challenging installations questioning the very notion of white cube displaying.

Jitish Kallat and Baiju Parthan turned towards refined experimental works while retaining their love for the canvas. Other two major exponents of mediatic realism, Riyas Komu and T.V.Santhosh held their fortresses quite strong by doing their signature style works. Riyas Komu went a bit ahead by doing sculptural installations loaded with socio-political meanings. T.V.Santhosh engaged himself with the critique of imperialism in his paintings with a devoted fervor of a human rights activist. Anant Joshi and Justin Ponmany experimented with mediums and images, which turned out to be quite impressive in many ways. Jagannath Panda, G.R.Iranna, George Martin and Manjunath Kamath enthused the art lovers through their animated painting styles and sculptural renderings.

While Arun Kumar H.G staged a coming back with his traveling solo show, those artistic talents like E.H.Pushkin, Reghunathan and so on, who were forced to sit in the sidelines for long time got their due in 2006. N.S.Harsha presented a solo show after keeping himself off from regular showing for some time. K.P.Reji, Binoy Varghese, Roy Thomas, Farhad Hussain, Suneel Mamdapur, Zakkir Hussain, T.M.Aziz, Murali Cheeroth, Vivek Vilasini, Prakash Babu, Pradeep Mishra, Babu Xavier, Tanmoy Samanta, Ashim Purkayastha, Gigi Scaria, Manil Gupta, Pratul Dash and so on made their mark with meaningful solos and group exhibitions. Jyothi Basu, Anil Kumar Janardhanan and Rajan M.Krishnan produced a number of worth remembering works as expected from them. Sudarshan Shetty, Atul Dodiya, Vasudevan Akkitham and B.V.Suresh came back with solos after a brief interval.

Indian artists going international was one of the developments in 2006. Subodh Gupta, Bharati Kher, Anita Dube, Sunil Gawde, Biju Joze, Bose Krishnamachari, Hema Upadhyaya, Chintan Upadhyaya, Manjunath Kamath, Benitha Perciyal, Sonia Khurana and many others made their presence felt in the international art events. The Delhi Biennale organizers continued with their efforts in 2006 also by organizing seminars and lectures on the issue. Presenting Indian artists internationally became a fad as many of the major Indian galleries opened their shops in other shores or collaborated with foreign galleries in executing shows. In this context, it is to be noticed that Indian modernists’ works commanded more price than Picasso’s graphics and small scale paintings in 2006.

2006 was a year when the Indian women artists got their due acclamation. Rekha Rodwittiya presented her large scale works in a solo show accompanied by an autobiographical catalogue. Senior artists like Madhvi Parekh and Arpita Singh came out with their new works in ambitious solo shows. Kanchan Chander and Mimi Radhakrishnan presented their three decades long career in comprehensive solo exhibitions. From the younger lot the ‘three little birds’ (no chauvinism intended) from Mumbai namely Prajakta Potnis, Prajakta Palav and Minal Damani underlined their presence with aesthetically strong works. Hema Upadhyaya and Mithu Sen continued to be in their best through out 2006 doing both national and international shows. Benitha Perciyal from Chennai and Sosa Joseph from Kochi also made their presence felt with interesting works. Manisha Parekh, Sheila Makhijani, Gayatri Gamuz, Manisha Gera Baswani, Heeral Trivedi, Sheetal Ghattani, Rupa Paul, Lavanya Mani, Varunika Saraf, Piyali Ghosh, Mahula Ghosh, Pranati Panda, Vibha Galhotra are the other young women who could command the viewers’ as well as buyers’ attention.

Abstract art that was pushed to the back benches in the yester years came back with a thud in 2006. Seniors like S.H.Raza, V.Viswanathan, Akkitham Narayanan, Anwar, Akhilesh and so on presented their works with conviction. It was interesting to notice that two Delhi based artists namely, Sudip Roy and Dharmendra Rathore, who were clearly pursuing figurative kind of works changing the track and traversing into the field of abstraction. Manish Pushkale, Sunil Gawde, Seema Kohli, Sujatha Bajaj and so on produced interesting abstract works in 2006.

Sculpture became one of the interesting areas of art production during 2006. A.Ramachandran made a set of new sculptures, which is an artistic interpretation of Mahabharata. K.S.Radhakrishnan, Ravinder Reddy, Dhruv Mistry, Himmat Shah, Laxma Gowd, Madan Lal, Valsan Koorma Kolleri and N.N.Rimzon did their best in 2006. ‘Jaipur based sculpture making’ became a fad for a while. Bronze, a show curated by Madan Lal brought in a cross section of contemporary Indian sculpture. Sudarshan Shetty, Sunil Gawde, Riyas Komu, G.R.Iranna, Arun Kumar H.G, Manjunath Kamath, Reghunathan, Chintan Upadhyaya and so on made interesting sculptures. Sumedh Rajendran, with his unconventional way of sculpting became one of the best sculptors that South East Asia has ever produced.

Apeejay Media Centre, Khoj International and Sandarbh Parthapur retained their position as the centers for alternative art practice. Apeejay Media Centre presented international and Indian video art works while Khoj made platform for Sonic art and Light based art. Sandarbh involved local knowledge in the production of art and many young artists participated in Sandarbh workshop held in rural Rajasthan. The alternative art camp conducted at the Kashi Retreat in Kochi was noticed for the enthusiastic participation of young artists from all over India. Artists like Ashok Sukumaran, Abhishek Hazra, Anoop Mathew Thomas, Ravi Agarwal, Atul Bhalla and Raques Media Group infused their alternative ideas with art for making the alternative practices a field of critical and aesthetical engagement.

The year 2006 witnessed the Indian curatorial practice going haywire once again. Though innumerable shows came as ‘curated’, none of them could make a mark. Bose Krishnamachari curated a show titled ‘Maarkers’ for Bodhi Art Gallery but unfortunately other than bringing four interesting artists together it could not bring forth anything in terms of ideas or practice. However, when Bose curated his own works (in Ghost Transmemories and LaVA) they looked quite convincing and impressive. The shows curated by Sushma Behl, Suneet Chopra, Alka Pande, Madan Lal and so on did not create any impact. An object based show curated by Nancy Adajania made some temporary ripples in the scene but after that nothing much was heard. Two shows curated by myself, though tried to generate some dialogues on medium (Paper Flute) and notions of modernism and belief (Compensation for What has been Lost), and noticed for the freshness of works, did not work as expected as those had to be confined within the available circumstances.

There was a time when the market ruled the production of art. Now it is the production of art that rules the market. New names are sought after and old names are discarded without much discretion. The business of art has become the art of business. However, this art of business has helped the artists to live in dignity and pride. Unless and until India develops a proper funding system, art market is going to be dictated by the galleries and buyers, though they have given the impression that the artists have the last say. (They can dump you dear within the fraction of a second a la Charles Saatchi). But to be truthful to myself, I would conclude in this way, when we have a proper funding system there will be very few artists with the ability to avail the funds. So let us resist funding systems and help this market grow into a mature and level playing field.


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