5 Art Happenings to Keep You in the Know

Alekha Engineer of Saffronart keeps you up to date on recent happenings in the art world
If you’re all caught up in FIFA fever and haven’t kept abreast of art, here are five events that would be great conversation starters:

1. A Claude Monet painting, Nympheas, sold for £32 million at an auction in London on Monday, 23rd June. The sale marks the second highest price ever paid for a work by the renowned impressionist painter.

Monet’s Nympheas  Image Credit: BBC News Online , http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-27991977

Monet’s Nympheas
Image Credit: BBC News Online. http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-27991977

2. An original drawing of Tintin, made in 1937 by Herge, the creator of the series, sold for a record 2.65 million euros at an auction in Paris. The 2-page spread intended for the inside covers of Tintin books set a new record price for a comic book strip.

Herge’s original drawing showing some of the easily recognisable panels from the comics Image Credit: Artcurial.com

Herge’s original drawing showing some of the easily recognisable panels from the comics
Image Credit: Artcurial.com

3. Art Basel 2014 closed on Sunday, June 22nd to resoundingly positive reviews. The fair once again proved to be a leader in the industry, with large volumes of sales taking place both during the preview and continuing through the week. This years edition featured two leading Indian contemporary galleries, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai and Gallery SKE, Bengaluru.

Art Basel 2014 Image Credit: Niels Ackermann for The New York Times

At the opening of Art Basel 2014
Image Credit: Niels Ackermann for The New York Times

4. The Whitney Museum of American Art opened its largest exhibition dedicated to a single artist on Friday, June 27th. ‘Jeff Koons: A Retrospective’ features close to 150 pieces created between 1978 to the present. The show has opened to mix reviews, not surprising as the artist himself is widely lauded but often criticised.

Jeff Koons' Sculpture, "Play-Dough", which took 20 years to complete Image Credit: Fred R.Conrad for The New York Times

Jeff Koons’ sculpture, “Play-Dough”, which took 20 years to complete
Image Credit: Fred R.Conrad for The New York Times

5. The Arts Council England and the BBC re-launched a web platform, The Space. It was initially launched in 2012 as a six-month pilot programme with  live broadcasts and archive footage functioning as an on-demand digital arts service. It is back as a free website for users to explore new art commissioned by the organization. The Space commissions works across genres through open calls and partnerships with new works launched every Friday. Ai Weiwei has lent his support to the initiative, donating his personal data for use at the sites inaugural event, ‘Hack the Space’, held on June 13 and 14 at the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. The world-renowned artist gave the names of over 5000 children and young people who died in 2008’s Sichuan earthquake in China, after the government refused to release the names.

“Hack the Space” at the Tate Modern Image Credit: David Parry/PA, theguardian.com

“Hack the Space” at the Tate Modern
Image Credit: David Parry/PA, theguardian.com

Can Site-Specific Artists Really Claim Space? The Georges Rousse Apnalaya Benefit Collection

Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart discusses appropriation in the site-specific work of artist Georges Rousse.

“Mumbai 2014/Shivaji Nagar IV” by Georges Rousse Photo Courtesy of StoryLTD

“Mumbai 2014/Shivaji Nagar IV” by Georges Rousse
Photo Courtesy of StoryLTD

Paris-based artist Georges Rousse is a master of layering perceptions for his viewers. Locations, shapes, and spaces that were once familiar are reformed and combined in unexpected ways forming a multi-dimensional work that presents itself as both familiar and foreign. This summer StoryLTD presents Rousse’s Apnalaya Benefit Collection. This location is an interesting choice for the artist who often works in ruins or forgotten architectural spaces. In contrast, the Apnalaya center’s mission focuses on rebuilding the lives and communities of individuals in the poorest slum neighborhoods of Mumbai. I see a noteworthy correlation between the artist’s dedication to revitalizing and repositioning locations through his work and the center’s goals for supporting and improving nearby communities. Both the artist and the center create change in seemingly bleak circumstances. But how does the artist’s process bring new life into a location while still honoring the true history of the space? Unlike deteriorating ruins or forgotten spaces, the Apnalaya center is alive and active, making it harder to find this appropriative balance. Can Rousse truly claim a space as his own when the singular purpose of the location is fostering greater communities? This brings forward an intriguing discussion in regards to site-specific work in general.

Georges Rousse and his team from the Apnalaya center Photo courtesy of Apnalaya

Georges Rousse and his team from the Apnalaya center
Photo courtesy of Apnalaya

 

Rousse’s work has been acclaimed internationally for his unique utilization of multiple mediums simultaneously molded together to create a single dynamic piece. His practice typically consists of creating a site-specific installation using paints and other traditional mediums to bring a new aesthetic to the space. In the case of the Apnalaya collection, large stars were painted in the space to create a playful effect of physical depth and perspective. After completing the space Rousse photographs it, creating a permanent and tangible testimony of the artistic occurrence. The photograph is intended to last, while the installation is temporary. Throughout his work we see the fleeting and liminal quality of public art installations in juxtaposition with the documented finality of photography.

 

Installation with the Apnalaya Team Photo courtesy of Apnalaya

Installation with the Apnalaya Team
Photo courtesy of Apnalaya

Although the pieces in this collection appear simple in composition and color scheme initially, they have an entrancing quality that invites you into a unique space that is only truly represented in the artist’s photographs. He achieves the perfect balance of removing viewers from the familiar and paying visual homage to an everyday location.  The familiarity and safety of a school works in dialogue with the slightly dizzying change of perspective. Rousse’s “Nagar” series (I, II, III, IV) allow viewer’s perspective to dictate how they take in the work. The iconography in these pieces is nothing new. However, the placement and technical choices both in the original installation and the photography create an open-ended product that gives viewers freedom to determine their own viewpoint. Simply viewing the work I found it difficult to determine what is a manipulated through photography and what is in the actual space. Rousse is successful in creating an engaging mysterious quality for his viewers; familiar landscapes are tweaked to transport you elsewhere. However, with this visceral appropriation in mind, is the original space truly honored or is it simply a stepping-stone to the artist’s final product?

The Apnalya Benefit Collection will be shown on StoryLTD through July 15th. However, limited edition prints are selling fast. Find out what pieces are still available for sale here. You can also learn more about Rousse’s process by watching a video by the artist here.

 

 

“There has been no conscious effort to preserve Indian film collectibles”

Film critic, screenwriter and editor Khalid Mohamed speaks candidly with Rashmi Rajgopal about the sorry state of Indian film memorabilia.

Khalid Mohamed.  Credits: oneshotoneplace.com/

Khalid Mohamed
Credit: oneshotoneplace.com

Unlike paintings, film memorabilia seldom receive their due. Everyone knows this, and everyone wants to do something about it, but it’s always the authorities who get pointed at for not doing enough. Three weeks ago, I’d written to two collectors who’d very generously agreed to share their story on sourcing Indian film collectibles with me. When asked why they’d decided to auction their collection, their reply left me unconvinced: “…film memorabilia have immense potential…we would like to create an appreciation for this art form which is one of its kind.” I was hoping to know how they felt about auctioning their collection, and whether they were hopeful it would be received well. They’d clearly spent a lot of time and energy sourcing items from cities across India. There had to be more to this explanation.

So I ruminated on what they’d said. It sounded obvious, yes, but what kinds of stories lurked beneath the surface of the potential of Indian film memorabilia? I called Khalid Mohamed with a few hastily compiled questions on abandoned originals: posters and other publicity material brought out by the production companies at the time the film was first released. Many producers still retained these, but others were indeed left lying around, decaying with time. “The Grant Road and Chor Bazaar markets used to have a good collection of film posters”—whether originals or copies wasn’t clear—“but those are now gone.”

When it comes to government efforts to preserve something significant, we know how it turns out. Any indifference on their part is no news. “Originals by far are very few, and very badly archived,” Khalid explained, quite matter-of-factly. “Obviously at the time not many knew they would mean so much, so there was no conscious effort to preserve them.” Exceptions would be the National Film Archive of India and the Films Division. The latter’s website features an appeal from the government to donate films, manuscripts, equipment and artefacts to the National Museum for Indian Cinema, which opened in Mumbai this February.

Set of 8 lobby cards from Mughal-e-Azam.  Available till 26 June on StoryLTD.

Set of 8 lobby cards from the Mughal-e-Azam collection
Available till 26 June on StoryLTD

“What about the artists who worked on posters and lobby cards? Didn’t they do anything to retrieve their artwork?”

“Why would they? It’s a question of earning a living,” he replied.

Though Khalid tackled my questions convincingly, I sensed a cynicism in his voice as he spoke—the kind that comes through dealing with and resisting an indifference to conserving these originals, and knowing that any efforts would have been the bare minimal, and finally resigning to it. “There just hasn’t been a consciousness in preserving film posters,” he said with a tinge of bitterness. A market demand would surely compel a more conscientious approach to preserving what’s remaining of these originals—the thought came easily to me, but he countered it. “How would you define the market?”

The market, he argues, is unstructured and vague. People want film posters, but it cannot be pinned to any specific demographic. “After Hollywood started selling film memorabilia, we followed in their tracks.” While acknowledging a base of collectors, he believes it’s still a highly niche demand. Certain collectibles hold more allure than others. “Posters of Guide and Mughal-e-Azam are still extremely popular.” The interest is mainly driven by fondness and nostalgia. Khalid is right to an extent; fondness and nostalgia do lie at the base, but perhaps it’s also fuelled by a serious interest in film memorabilia as an art form. Of course, from a sales perspective, this kind of cultural validation holds more appeal over a primal human desire to possess something that evokes a bygone age. It’s almost impossible to uncover true motives, but it is a possibility.

So the best bet to find well-preserved originals would be with directors, film producers, actors, and others in the business who’ve sought out these posters. One would even get lucky at certain theatres. “If you go to Liberty Cinema, you would find a beautiful hand-painted poster of Awara,” he said, while adding other names. “Rishi Kapoor, Raj Kapoor…they had conserved many posters.”

 

From Princely Families to Shop Dealers: Seeking Out Vintage Indian Collectibles

Rashmi Rajgopal in a conversation with two collectors on sourcing and preserving an impressive collection of original Indian film memorabilia

In a culture where posters of Amitabh Bachchan juxtaposed with goddesses and politicians abound on shop-shutters and chipped walls, the garish colours and larger-than-life poses barely make a difference. The noise is overwhelming and too deeply permeated to make you pause and look. Online, googling any of the old ’50s-’80s (and more recent, but those are easier to come by) films churns up eye-catching jpegs. It’s the same story; they’re downloaded and regurgitated back on walls. Occasionally accompanying these images is a tale of abandoned originals, lying forgotten in design studios. When they are finally discovered, everyone takes notice. Stumbling upon originals is pure luck, but putting together a collection of carefully sourced posters, LP records, stills, film synopses and lobby cards requires immense patience and determination. Two collectors, now auctioning their repository of original film posters, among other film memorabilia, share their story.

A lithographic poster of Don (1978)

A lithographic poster of Don (1978)

Amitabh Bachchan in Muqaddar ka Sikandar

A lobby card of Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978)

Could you tell us how you sourced and put your collection together?

In 1998, we once visited a Nawab family in Saharanpur. They had a library which we were keen to buy. In one of their cupboards, there was a pile of B&W stills of films from the ’50s and ’60s. We started going through them out of curiosity and found them visually striking. The family had owned a theatre in town for a while and the collection was from that era. That was our first purchase. Then we chanced upon a collection of posters from the same period in Lucknow. These were of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand films. We were quite taken in by their artwork and very contemporary layouts. The Satyajit Ray collection was bought from a film distributor from Calcutta. In the beginning, we bought a bit hesitantly, being unsure how to go about it, but we soon gained confidence. We learned to recognise originals from reprints. We selected material on the basis of their visual appeal. At times, lesser known movies had some excellent publicity material. For the period from 40s to the 70s we bought everything, rejecting only what was damaged. Preserving them and keeping them safe is a big challenge since paper is fragile and tends to break easily.

A show card of Chinatown (1962)

A show card of China Town (1962)

A Mother India (1957) show card

A Mother India (1957) show card

How difficult was it to obtain so many originals?

We have sourced from various cities like Lucknow, Calcutta, Rampur, Banaras, Mumbai etc. Our sources were mainly old shops, dealers, antique stores, distributors and old families with their private collections. We initially bought what was available. After a few years, we asked people to source specific stars or films. We also managed to train dealers to pick originals with good artwork.

Are there any interesting stories behind some of the lots?

One of our favourite dealers remains an old operator of film machines in theatres. He is a true fan of Bollywood—there wouldn’t be a single film he couldn’t hum a song from, and he would enthral us with stories about old films which we hadn’t seen.

Once when we were in Calcutta, we visited a Thakur family. They had a few paintings we wanted to see. We caught sight of hundreds of LPs and film synopses while at their store. But their grandfather was reluctant to part with his collection, which was now gathering dust. It took us three visits to finally be able to complete the purchase.

Similarly the Raj Kapoor collection (Mera Naam Joker, Sangam, Awara etc.) was with a family who were film financiers and had unfortunately not been able to sustain in the film business, which they said was very risky.

A lobby card of Raaz (1967)

A lobby card of Raaz (1967)

A lobby card of Ashok Kumar's Bhai Bhai (1956)

A lobby card of Ashok Kumar’s Bhai Bhai (1956)

Any particular era in Indian cinema that strikes you in its visual appeal?

The period from the 1940s to the 1980s is the golden period of Indian cinema—movies were made with a lot of attention to minute details. This attention to detail is reflected in the designing of the publicity material. The B&W stills stand out for their light and shadow effect (chiaroscuro). Each photograph was developed with care and precision, making them beautiful and breathtaking. Before the onset of colour printing, these photographs were hand-coloured in lovely hues, displaying the finesse and dexterity of the artist. Soon, mixed media became the norm. There were big collages with hand-coloured photographs, bold headlines and hand-coloured designs making them very contemporary. With the advent of offset printing, lobby cards came to be designed sometimes in sepia or bold and rich colours.

The printing of posters has always been in coloured medium with lithographic technique. However, the quality is special with emphasis on composition and layout, the quality of printing being excellent. These were at times designed by well-known artists like Husain.

A Poster from Satyajit Ray's Kapurush-O-Mahapurush (1965)

A poster from Satyajit Ray’s Kapurush-O-Mahapurush (1965)

An offset lobby card of Razia Sultan (1983)

An offset lobby card of Razia Sultan (1983)

Why the decision to put this collection on auction?

Bollywood film memorabilia has immense potential. Some of them are as valuable as paintings and are very contemporary. We would like to create an appreciation for this art form which is one of its kind.

Juggling Jobs, Midnight Inspiration and the Berlin LitFest

Sunandini Banerjee of Seagull Books in a candid conversation with Elisabetta Marabotto

Book illustration isn’t easy—it requires a thorough understanding of the work and author’s style, and a tricky balance of enticing the reader and conveying the message. The artwork should complement the author’s tone, and the experience of reading and viewing should leave the reader satisfied. For Kolkata based Sunandini Banerjee, this balancing act seems to come quite effortlessly. As Senior Editor and Senior Graphic Designer at the renowned Seagull Books, she has over a decade of skill (and talent) backing her up. She joined Seagull after completing her Masters in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, in 2000, and soon delved into illustration. Anyone familiar with French author Diane Meur’s “In Dreams” (2013), South African writer Ivan Vladislavić’s “The Loss Library” (2012), and Austrian novelist, poet and playwright Thomas Bernhard’s “Victor Halfwit” (2011), would be acquainted with her digital collages. She now juggles adeptly between editing, translating, designing covers, and illustrating.

Cats Everywhere 01”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Second from a Limited Edition of Seven

Cats Everywhere 01”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Second from a Limited Edition of Seven

A limited edition of collages from Seagull Books’ annual catalogue is part of the Thieving Magpie collection on StoryLTD. I interviewed her on her foray into illustration, her work, and her source of inspiration—a much-dreaded question for many artists and writers—which Sunandini tackled with poise:

Me: Coming from a literature background, how did you get into illustration?

Sunandini: I think my literature background was absolutely essential by way of preparing me for my foray into design/collage/illustration. The pictures in my head are intimately linked to both the words on the page I am reading and to the words in my head from other books I have read. Memories, stories, echoes of other words help me think of images, pictures and colours, all of which then come together in a collage. The words are the inspiration, and in this my degree in literature helped for one of the most important things I was taught during my college and university days was to not only read the words that were being written but to also hear the words that were being left out.

“Calcutta Notebook”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Third from a Limited Edition of Seven.

“Calcutta Notebook”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Third from a Limited Edition of Seven.

Me: How do you balance your several jobs? Does one take over the other at times?

Sunandini: With a lot of coffee, and with an incredible amount of support and good humour from my colleagues. Yes, sometimes being an editor and a graphic designer for a small publishing house can be quite a challenge. But this is the only job I know (I’ve never had another) and this is the only way I know how to work—juggling, flowing from one to another, fighting down panic on some days and being infinitely zen on some others. Sometimes I edit more than I design, sometimes the other way around. Depending on the deadlines, sometimes one does take over the other. Sometimes, one also affords a certain relief from the other.

Me: Where do you find your source of inspiration?

Sunandini: In the books I read, in the people I meet, in the music I listen to, in the films I watch, in nature, in the flower market, in the saree shop, at the bangle-seller’s, in an online shoe store, in comics, in conversation, in the middle of the night, in a plate of chicken biriyani . . . in life, actually. It’s all around me. It’s hard to switch it off sometimes.

“Morning”, Digital Archive on Paper. Sixth from a Limited Edition of Seven

“Morning”, Digital Archive on Paper. Sixth from a Limited Edition of Seven

Me: Do you create artworks apart from book illustrations?

Sunandini: I’d love to but no. I’m still enjoying the interacting of word and picture. Perhaps some day my pictures may break free of the word. Who knows?

Me: Being both an editor and illustrator, do you think words are more powerful than images?

Sunandini: Not at all. A well-written novel can move you just as much as a beautiful collage.

Me: What is your next project?

Sunandini: Books, books and more books. And designing posters for the Berlin LitFest in September 2014.

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