Must-Attends: Beyond the India Art Fair

Manjari Sihare shares details of some must-attend exhibitions and symposia in New Delhi coinciding with the India Art Fair 

New Delhi: If you are in India right now, Delhi is the place to be. The art world is gearing up for the country’s biggest annual art extravaganza, the India Art Fair starting on Friday, February 1 (with a preview the day before). Each year since its inception in 2008, the fair has grown larger. The 5th edition is bringing together 105 exhibiting galleries from 24 countries, presenting over 1000 works by some of the most exciting artists from across the world. But the action is not just limited to just the Fair. Outside of the Fair, there are some collateral exhibitions and events that I believe are MUST ATTENDS. Here is my list:

KNMA Noida EInviteA private museum for modern and contemporary Indian art, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) is known to line up an ambitious program each year to mark its birthday (three years ago in January 2010, KNMA opened its first location in the HCL campus in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi). The museum lives up to its reputation once again this year by unveiling an ambitious series of events. The first in line to open on January 18th was Zones of Contact an exhibition curated by three young and dynamic curators, Deeksha Nath, Vidya Shivadas and Akansha Rastogi. The curatorial note for the show notes that it is an attempt “to envision the museum as a site and an idea in flux, as a catalyst that by undergoing redefinition allows for concretized notions and experiences of modernity and post-modernity to be revisited and rethought.” In a country where there is really no state owned museum of contemporary art, an exhibition such as this one speaks volumes of the mission this private museum has set for itself to showcase and re-define contemporary art in the region.

On view from today is Difficult Loves , a trilogy of exhibitions curated by the Director and Chief Curator of KNMA, Roobina Karode. This includes the largest retrospective ever of the late Nasreen Mohamedi, an artist whose minimal works leave an unforgettable impression on the viewer, a tribute to India’s Frida Kahlo, Amrita Sher-Gil, and a group exhibition featuring iconic installation works of seven leading contemporary  women artists – Ranjani Shettar, Anita Dube, Sheba Chhachhi, Bharti Kher, Dayanita Singh, Sheela Gowda and Sonia Khurana. My personal favorite is Sheba Chhachhi’s Water Diviner, a version of which I first saw at the National Museum of Natural History in 48’c public. art.ecology curated by Pooja Sood and organized by the South Asian Network of Goethe Institutes in 2008. This series of shows promises to be spectacular. Not to miss at all!

KNMA exhibition

Tomorrow, the museum will be hosting two talks under the Critical Collective Symposia conceptualized and organized by veteran Delhi based critic and curator, Gayatri Sinha. The first of these is panel discussion between renowned South African contemporary artist, William Kentridge and Indian veterans, Vivan Sundaram and Nalini Malani. The second one is a talk by UK based art historian, TJ Demos, who is best known for his published work on the conjunction of art and politics.

KNMA talkThe India Art Fair always ends with the opening of an exhibition at the Devi Art Foundation. This time, it will the third and last edition of the Sarai Reader, an exhibition conceptualized by the Devi Art Foundation and Raqs Media Collective. Sarai Reader 9 is a nine month long project envisaged to draw on ‘exhibition’ as an evolving process, introducing new forms of creative thinking and methodologies. Invitations were open to anyone and everyone with an interesting idea and an engaging means of presentation, limited to a fixed duration and applicable within a space. The first  episode opened for viewing on 13 October, 2012, followed by another on 15 December last year. Read more about these episodes. This current episode will be on view until April 16, 2013. For more information, click here.

Devi Art Foundation - Sarai Reader

All the activity is not limited to Delhi only. Mumbai will see the opening of the first ever exhibition of William Kentridge’s work in India hosted by Volte Gallery. Of South African descent, Kentridge has exhibited worldwide in major venues such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in New York. His works mostly deal with subjects of apartheid and colonialism. This show featuring Kentridge’s eight multichannel projection installation, sculptures, drawings, tapestries, videos and prints, promises to be a blockbuster. The exhibition will be on view from February 6 to March 20, 2013.

William Kentrdige @ Volte Gallery

The Secrets of Collecting

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart stumbles across the Center for the History of Collecting in New York

Portrait of Henry Clay Frick. Image Credit:

Portrait of Henry Clay Frick. Image Credit:

London: Unlike most of our posts on this blog, in this one I explore an institution that does not deal directly with artworks, but with the ‘art form’ that makes the art-world tick: collecting.

The unique Centre for the History of Collecting in New York was established in 2007 as part of the Frick Collection in New York, with the aim of providing support and encouragement in the creation of private and public art collections in Europe and in America. Its particular focus is on art from the Renaissance up to contemporary times.

In order to provide support, the centre, along with the Frick Collection’s reference library and photo archive, regularly organizes seminars, symposia and study-days, and holds a collection of catalogues and records on collectors, artworks and dealers. In addition, the institution actively publishes reference books and offers fellowship programs.

One of the more interesting scholar’s workshops held by the centre in association with the Metropolitan Museum in New York focused on collecting Byzantine and Islamic art, and was documented on video by the Museum.

If you are considering starting a collection or if you already a collector attending any of the lectures and paying a visit to the centre is a must!

More information on the center can be found here.

Guggenheim Museum’s South and Southeast Asian Exhibition

Medha Kapur of Saffronart on an upcoming exhibition of Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia at The Guggenheim Museum. 

Mumbai: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, one of the world’s most renowned museums, will host the exhibition ‘No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia’. This inaugural exhibition of the  Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative presents works by 22 artists from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It is a five-year program involving curatorial residencies, touring exhibitions and new acquisitions. After New York, the exhibition will be travel to venues in Singapore and Hong Kong. All the works featuring in the show have been acquired by the museum and will become part of its permanent collection.

The exhibition includes works by Tayeba Begum Lipi, one of Bangladesh’s leading contemporary artists, Filipino multidisciplinary artist Poklong Anading, Indian multidisciplinary artist Shilpa Gupta and more. Works showcased in this exhibit will vary across a range of paintings, sculptures, photography, video, works on paper and installations.

Here is a selection of the artworks that will be on show:

Tayeba Begum Lipi -“Love Bed”

Tayeba Begum Lipi -“Love Bed”
Image courtesy:

Norberto Roldan F-16, 2012

Norberto Roldan
F-16, 2012
Image courtesy:

Poklong Anading Counter Acts, 2004

Poklong Anading
Counter Acts, 2004
Image courtesy:

Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo Volcanic Ash Series #4, 2012

Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo
Volcanic Ash Series #4, 2012
Image courtesy:

The Ghost of Mohammed Bin Qasim

Bani Abidi
The Ghost of Mohammed Bin Qasim, 2006
Image courtesy:

‘Vernacular Architecture’ in Chandigarh: Nek Chand’s Rock Garden

Guest blogger Tracy Buck visits the Nek Chand Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India

Chandigarh: In a project that paralleled Le Corbusier’s ‘master plan’ for the creation of Chandigarh, an Indian Government roads inspector named Nek Chand created and populated a fanciful, labyrinthine city from the refuse of the nationalist, official project of capital-building. Started in secret in 1958 and opened to the public in 1976, this sculpture garden popularly called Nek Chand’s Rock Garden occupies some 18 acres of land and is supported by the Nek Chand Foundation.

Working with urban and industrial waste – the cast-offs of the project to build an Indian capital for the post-Partition state of Punjab – Chand claimed and fashioned a landscape that might be thought of as a replacement for the village he left behind in what became Pakistan after the events of Partition. At its heart, the Rock Garden is a project of location amidst displacement, a coming to terms with and reorienting oneself during upheaval, of shifting together a new world in the wake of nation-building and Nehruvian positivist politics. It is a fantastical act of world-creation, that, while Le Corbusier’s ‘master plan’ operated at the official, highly visible, and nation-building level, Chand enacted in secret, a personal vision that would be today called ‘outsider art’ for its folk style and existence beyond the established borders of the art world.

In a manner perhaps similar to Vivan Sundaram’s trash projects of recent years (, 2005; Trash, 2009; and Gagawaka, 2011), Chand’s work is in dialogue with issues of world-creation, waste and value, and the personification of discarded items that once had lives intimately connected to those of their owners. In Chand’s created world, people are fashioned out of broken glass bangles and bits of shattered pottery – refuse is assembled to resemble those who discarded it – and recognizable animals are placed alongside multiple-headed fantasy beasts. Fields of people and creatures are on display and oriented towards the pathway, while others seem to exist more for their own accord, positioned almost beyond sight atop a waterfall or behind a serpentine wall structure. To the visitor, the Rock Garden reads like a place that would exist whether anyone were there to see it or not, a created realm that is not contingent on viewership but that feels autonomous in its pleasantly rather haphazard construction.

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A small, hand-painted sign near the exit of the garden announces that Chand, aged 89, will meet with visitors to discuss the project and answer questions by appointment. A project that was threatened with destruction upon its discovery in 1975, ultimately supported by the government and opened to the public in 1976, and featured on an Indian postage stamp in 1983, today sees an estimated 5,000 visitors a day. Situated in Sector 1 of Le Corbusier’s planned city – beyond the official buildings of modernist architecture and the designed gardens that reflect Nehru’s efforts to ‘catch up’ with the West – the Rock Garden stands as a monument to the personal vision of Nek Chand.  An informal architect and ‘outsider’ artist, Chand has created a world that gives voice to the impulses of memory, fantasy, to the continuing lives of discarded objects, and to the unofficial projects that attempted to sort out at a personal level a post-colonial, post-Partition India.

For further reading, consider Nek Chand’s outsider art: the rock garden of Chandigarh, by Lucienne Peiry, John Maizels, Philippe Lespinasse, Nek Chand. Published by Flammarion, 2006.

For some spectacular  interactive panoramas of the Garden, visit the Nek Chand Foundation’s website.

Guest Contributor Tracy Buck is currently pursing a PhD in Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles.  She holds MA degrees in South Asian Cultures and Languages and in Museum Studies, and has worked as Collections Manager and Curator in several history and art museums in Seattle and Los Angeles.

Raja Ravi Varma’s Oleographs: The Making of a National Identity

Riddhi Siddhi Ganpati

Raja Ravi Varma
Riddhi Siddhi Ganpati

Manjari Sihare shares some insights about Raja Ravi Varma’s oleographs

New York: This week, The Story features a curated selection from the vintage print archive of well known advertising guru, Cyrus Oshidar. Among these is an eclectic selection of oleographs by India’s first modern artist, Raja Ravi Varma. Ravi Varma (1848-1906) is credited for many-a-firsts: probably the first Indian artist to master perspective and the use of the oil medium; the first to use human models to illustrate Hindu gods and goddesses; the first Indian artist to become famous, before him painters and craftsmen were largely unidentified; and the first to make his work available not just to the rich elite but also to common people by way of his oleographs.

Even while catering to a specific class of patrons with his oil paintings, the artist harbored an underlying concern to make his works accessible to the so-called common man in the hope that it would help the general populace cultivate artistic values and draw inspiration from the religious figures and Pauranic episodes represented in the works. The master artist’s biography in Malayalam by Balakrishnan Nair further elaborates this point. It records an exchange between Ravi Varma and a Brahmin scholar at his studio in Kilimanoor, Kerala. The artist had asked a bystander for his opinion of a certain painting, and the scholar argued on the pretext of how could the artist expected a commoner express an opinion on a work of art? “True” said Ravi Varma, “these people do not have the means to get the pictures painted, but who knows if in the time of their children, these very pictures now painted for Maharajas and nobles will not become their property as well, and find their way into museums. I have heard that there are public galleries in Western countries.”

The idea of printing and distributing oleographs was given to Ravi Varma by Sir T. Madhava Rao, former Dewan of Travancore and later Baroda, in a letter in the 1880s which read: “There are many friends who are desirous of possessing your works. It would be hardly possible for you, with only a pair of hands, to meet such a large demand. Send, therefore, a few of your select works to Europe and have them oleographed. You will thereby not only extend your reputation, but will be doing a real service to the country.” At the time, Ravi Varma had promised his friend and patron that he would give his suggestion his earnest deliberation, and although it took the artist nearly a decade, he did so eventually.

Ravi Varma Press Shri Ram Janki

Ravi Varma Press
Shri Ram Janki

The Ravi Varma Lithographic Press was started in 1894 in Bombay, a carefully chosen location, for the expediency of importing machinery from Germany and distributing the prints. Ravi Varma sought the partnership of a local entrepreneur, Govardhandas Khataumakhanji in this venture. Additionally he solicited the services of German technicians for the Press. It is worth noting that original suggestion in the letter of T. Madhava Rao was to send works to Europe to be oleographed, but what Ravi Varma eventually did was to set up a press himself employing Europeans to do the job for him in his homeland.

Oleography was a comparatively new form of printing then, mastered by an Englishman, named George Boxter in 1835. It came into commercial use by 1860, but was already an exhausted force by the end of the century in Europe. In India, until Ravi Varma’s prints, oleography was used for gaudy ‘calendar art’ and commodity packaging. In the context of fine art, it is essentially a method of reproducing an oil painting on paper in such a manner that the exact colors and brushstrokes textures are duplicated. This litho-printing (stone printing) thus requires as many litho-stones as there are colors and tones in a painting. Oleo is the Latin for oil, which helps to explain the word.

Raja Ravi Varma Lakshmi and Saraswati

Raja Ravi Varma
Lakshmi and Saraswati

It is commonplace that Raja Ravi Varma is vastly celebrated. In the year following his death (1907), the inaugural issue of Modern Review, a monthly magazine which emerged as an important forum for Indian Nationalist intelligentsia celebrated Varma as “the greatest artist of modern India, a nation builder who showed the moral courage of a gifted ‘high-born’ in taking up the ‘degrading profession of painting’ and displaying a remarkable ability to improve upon a received idea; to grasp a situation clearly and to act upon it swiftly.” Varma projected these characteristics many-a-times throughout his illustrious career.

The period of production of Ravi Varma’s oleographs coincided with the rise of Calcutta as a rapidly expanding urban center, both politically and culturally. The print medium became the ideal channel for the wide circulation of images and ideas to the general populace. Correspondingly in Western India, Bombay and Poona emerged as the two major centres for mass print production. Some important presses of the time included the Poona Chitrashala Press, Bombay City Press and Bombay New Press.  The mass prints mainly represented Indian’s past ethos inspired by the two main epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. This mass production made information available to one and all, helped forge a national identity in modern India, creating a unified visual culture – a culture that was the need of the hour in a country where the dialect changed every 5 kilometers.

MV Dhurandhar Vishnu

MV Dhurandhar

No popular print maker or printing press at the time could match up to Ravi Varma in reputation. Varma is known to have worked with two German technicians, chief among whom was a gentleman named Schleizer, to whom the artist eventually sold his press. He was also assisted by a group of Indian artists such as M.V. Dhurandhar, M.A. Joshi and his brother, Raja Raja Varma.

Oshidhar’s collection on The Story includes a print by Dhurandhar, who was a famous artist in his own right, known for his stint as the first Indian director of the Sir J. J. School of Art in Bombay.

Raja Ravi Varma Shrimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya

Raja Ravi Varma
Shrimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya

The first picture printed at Varma’s press is said to be The Birth of Shakuntala. This was followed by an array of images of gods from the Hindu pantheon, including Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganpati, and Vishnu and his avatars such as Rama and Krishna. Other images included those of revered gurus and saints such as Adi Shankaracharya and Vaishanava Guru. We also see extensive series of oleographs representing women figures from Hindu mythology such as Damayanti, Menaka, Shakuntala, and Rambha. View Oshidar’s selection on The Story.

The phenomenal popularity of Ravi Varma’s oleographs has been spoken and written about extensively. According to his Malayalam biography, “His success in this enterprise has far exceeded his anticipations. There are few cultured well-to-do houses in Hindustan, from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, in which his pictures are not found, and his name is known all over the land, from the highest to the lowest.”

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