With the peak of the summer underway in Europe, join us on a unique trip through the continent, guided by eminent Indian artists including Souza, Raza, and more. We’ll take you to England, explore France, and spend a night in Italy before moving east to Greece and Hungary.
NGMA Mumbai’s centenary celebration of Amrita Sher-gil’s birth through an exhibition of her works recreates the life one of the most powerful female voices in Indian art –Rashmi Rajgopal
Yashodhara Dalmia next to Amrita’s 1933 painting, Professional Model
The eve of 2nd June 2014 was a charged-up one at the National Gallery of Modern Art. Noted art historian and curator of the ongoing exhibition Amrita Sher-gil: A Passionate Quest, Yashodhara Dalmia, would be guiding visitors shortly through a carefully curated selection of paintings. This wasn’t an arbitrary crowd of appreciators new to Sher-gil’s art either: artists, art students, gallerists and collectors were present, eyes narrowed probingly (and knowingly). Some were already steeped in private discussions over Sher-gil’s work, and in far more animated discussions about her life.
It’s almost a truism that interest around yesteryear celebrities generates feverish discussions on a scale that those around contemporary celebrities wouldn’t. Amrita was just the kind of person who commanded attention. It wasn’t merely because of whom she was and when she lived—she was sensational. Outspoken and forceful in her beliefs, she had a personality that couldn’t go unnoticed. She was highly individualistic, which is evident in the many letters she exchanged with her family, friends and acquaintances.
Visitors at the NGMA for the walkthrough held on 2nd June 2014
If you’re among those unfamiliar with her as a person, the artworks on display may risk coming across as a set of pretty pictures. This superficial impression is partly deflected by a neat sectioning of her works into specific periods—they show her growth as an artist. Works from the early 1930s reflect an influence of Western academicism in their composition. This would be an unfair dismissal of their potency; Sher-gil showed a unique sensitivity in her approach to her subjects, poignantly capturing their inner turmoil. Among the works on display is one referenced in R. C. Tandan’s ‘The Art of Amrita Sher-gil’: Professional Model, 1933. Quoting art critic Denise Prontaux from the Minerva of Paris,
“The memory of one of her most recent pictures still haunts me. A woman seated in a pose as unaesthetic as possible with dishevelled hair and ravaged breast and in her eye all the misery of besotted humanity! From where has this young girl learnt to see life with such pitiless eyes and this absence of illusions?”
Left: Professional Model, 1933
Another work, part of her model studies, was alluded to colleague and painter Marie Louise Chassany—and a possible sexual relationship with her. Though Amrita was known to have been in relationships with both men and women, she had denied being in one with Chassany in a letter to her mother in 1934:
“…I believe that it is impossible to fully transform one’s sexual desires into art, to idealize it and tranquil it through art for a whole life-time this is only a stupid superstition of the feeble brains…Marie Louise was such an abnormal type of woman…we never had anything sexual between us.”
Her colourfulness deftly transits to poignancy again. This time the viewer notices a marked shift in style. These works aren’t academic—they break away from it. Certain works have an interesting story behind them. Brahmacharis, 1937, shows a group of young South Indian priests—presumably Iyengar—made by Amrita after her return to Simla from the South. Story goes that she got her driver to pose for her as the central character, and servants to model for her. Also part of the exhibition is her last work—an unfinished painting that was, well, unfinished, owing to her untimely death at the age of 29.
Amrita’s Unfinished Work
For all the debate over her approach to painting, one easily overlooks how feisty she was as a person. You might have read about/heard about her famous rejection of a prize awarded to her by the Simla Fine Arts Society for a painting made by her which she considered less superior to some of her other works which the committee had rejected. It isn’t just this. She had strong views on everything: on the prevailing Bengal School trend which she utterly disdained, on people, and on the course her own art would take. This comes through clearly in her letters, only one of which is included in the exhibition. And that’s a drawback for those who don’t have Vivan Sundaram’s exhaustive two-volume monograph on Amrita which has most of her letters—they reveal a strong-willed, highly intelligent and ambitious young woman who could have gone on to achieving much more had she lived.
A letter from Amrita dating to 1932
That said, the exhibition definitely must be attended. These are works to be seen and experienced in person, so head to the NGMA before the end of this month.
The folks at Saffronart have put together a compact list of art events in Mumbai, Delhi, London and New York. All you need is a fully-charged phone to guide you and enough money if you’ve got travel plans.
There’s a lot happening in the South Asian art world that shouldn’t be missed. We’ve got it mapped for you, so head out and start taking it all in, beginning with…
From the exhibition Meera Devidayal: A Terrible Beauty, at Gallery Chemould Source: Gallery Chemould Website
Waswo X. Waswo: Sleeping Through the Museum Where: Sakshi Art Gallery, Colaba On View Till: June 21, 2014
Has the title of the show piqued your interest yet? Udaipur based American artist Waswo X. Waswo simulates a museum in this solo show through numerous “artifacts” and photographs arranged to replicate the look and feel of one. On a deeper level, it questions the act of preserving and displaying such pieces as perpetuators of culture and heritage. For folks hanging out at SoBo and looking to do more than just kill time, head to Sakshi Art Gallery between 11am and 6pm, except on Sundays when they’re closed.
Amrita Sher-Gil: The Passionate Quest
Where: National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai
On View Till: June 30, 2014
Commemorating the birthday of the well-renowned late artist Amrita Sher-gil, this exhibition curated by art historian Yashodhara Dalmia presents a range of her oeuvre including works depicting her life in Paris, nude studies, still-life studies and portraits of her friends and her fellow students. Sher-gil, who is also recognized as India’s own Frida Kahlo, has been the youngest and only Indian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The exhibition also includes her photographs, and original letters. A must-visit show for art enthusiasts in the city.
A Terrible Beauty
Where: Gallery Chemould, Mumbai
On View Till: July 9, 2014
This exhibition includes works by Delhi-based artist Meera Devidayal who has adopted the theme of the dilapidated mills of Mumbai and their future as the subject for her works. Her unique style and extremely sight-specific theme make this a show that is bound to make viewers not just appreciate the aesthetics of the works but also ponder about the future of the mills.
Figures of Speech: Using the Written Word in Contemporary Art Where: Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai On View Till: July 15, 2014
Exploring the relationship between words and images, this exhibition features the works of contemporary artists such as N. Ramachandran, Bhavna Sonawane, Brinda Miller and Rajesh Patil among others. Of course, you can combine a visit to this exhibition with a meal or a coffee at the Four Seasons Hotel to make for a lovely afternoon or evening.
Walk the Line with Sudhir Patwardhan
Where: Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai
Walkthrough: Wednesday 11th June, 5 – 6:30 pm On View Till: August 30, 2014
If the ongoing exhibition, “Taking the Line for a Walk” at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery already doesn’t sound exciting enough to visit, the idea of being walked through it with contemporary artist Sudhir Patwardhan himself certainly makes it hard to miss. The exhibition showcases 45 drawings by well-acclaimed artists such as Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, Laxman Shreshtha, Manjit Bawa and Sudhir Patwardhan. A message especially for the drawing enthusiasts out there: don’t miss this event!
From the exhibition Raj Rewal: “Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape”, at NGMA, Delhi Source: caravanmagazine.in
Kaleidoscope: Group Art Show Where: Chawla Art Gallery, Delhi On View Till: June 14, 2014
This group exhibition shows some of the finest works of contemporary artists such Asit Kumar Patnaik, Bharat Bhushan Singh, Farhad Hussain, Jayasri Burman, K.S. Radhakrishnan, Ramesh Gorjala, Satish Gujral, Shipra Bhattacharya, Surya Prakash, Thota Vaikuntam, Tapas Sarkar and Manu Parekh. Having works by so many artists under one roof makes for an interesting variety of styles and themes. There is bound to be something that catches the eye of every individual view!
Raj Rewal: “Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape” Where: National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
On View Till: June 15, 2014
This is a retrospective show of the works of Raj Rewal, one of India’s finest architects. Known for several iconic buildings in India and abroad, his works have also been showcased at famous museums abroad such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Looking at architecture as a visual art allows for a unique experience for many viewers who may otherwise overlook the artistic element in buildings, which are typically judged by their functionality.
Identity Control Where: Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi
On View Till: June 17, 2014
This exhibition features works that deal with “notions of policing, tracking, security, immigration, loss of individuality and rebellion, all of which are issues that affect us in more than one level.” Considering the different perspectives and approaches of leading contemporary artists such as Shilpa Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Karthik KG, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Natalia Ludmila, Armando Miguelez, should allow you to gain an extensive view of the complexities surrounding one’s identity.
Degenerate Where: VadehraArt Gallery, Delhi
On View Till: June 17, 2014
Featuring the works of contemporary artists such as Atul Bhalla, Ruby Chishti, Minal Damani, Jagannath Panda, Ashim Purkayastha and B. Ajay Sharma, this exhibition focuses on the different facets of Indian urban life in contemporary times. Combine a visit to this show with the ‘Identity Control’ exhibition, taking place in the same gallery!
S.H. Raza: Pyaas
Where: Grosvenor Gallery
On View Till: June 14, 2014
What would you say to being in London in summer for an exhibition of paintings by one of India’s most revered Modern artists? If it isn’t a whoop and a jump (or an acknowledging smile for the more poised amongst you), we can only surmise you don’t have a visa to make the trip. The exhibition ‘S.H. Raza: Pyaas’ is just the thing for art enthusiasts—it intends to display the development and range of styles in which Raza has depicted his characteristic subject matter in recent times. The paintings contain a great deal of vigour, vibrancy and a strong connection to India and its religious heritage.
Art Antiques London
Where: Kensington Gardens opposite the Royal Albert Hall On View: June 12 – 18, 2014, 11am onwards
‘The most important Asian sales of the year will be held in London during this annual event.’ —BBC Homes & Antiques Magazine
‘Asian Art in London is a brilliantly conceived celebration of Asian Art and has made London the undisputed Asian Art capital of the world.’ — Essential London Magazine
Accolades alone won’t do it, so hear it from us. Asian Art London has grown to become a highly prestigious art fair dealing in antiques and art, bringing together renowned dealers, collectors and enthusiasts. It is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to procure beautiful and rare items in antique and contemporary Asian art. Among participating galleries from London and Paris, Galerie Christophe Hioco is one to look out for. Crowning this is its convenient location opposite the Royal Albert Hall, against the backdrop of the verdant Kensington Gardens—you certainly can’t say no to that!
Olivia Fraser: Subtle Bodies Exhibition Where: Grosvenor Gallery On View Till: June 21, 2014
India’s art traditions draw the internationally-acclaimed artist Olivia Fraser to reference it in her works, and her latest paintings attest to this. Having lived in India for the last ten years, Fraser’s work reflects a grasp of Indian traditional iconography, but used to express sensations of a meditative process. ‘Subtle Bodies’ displays a mix of paintings on hand-made paper and limited-edition prints prepared during the last few years and the work announces Fraser’s emergence. The incredible blend of east and west, traditional, and contemporary for the new exhibition is a direct reflection of Fraser’s ideology.
M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting Where: Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington On View Till: July 27, 2014
Seems like there’s no end to exhibitions featuring South Asian art in Central London. Head to the V&A for a sumptuous collection of paintings by Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011). A member of the Bombay Progressives, he was famed for his freehand drawing and vibrant colours and was among India’s pioneering Modern artists. The eight painted triptychs on display illustrate Indian civilization and were commissioned in 2008 by Mrs Usha Mittal as a tribute to the richness of India’s history. The artist was still working on the project at the time of his death and originally envisaged a series of 96 panels. History and religion feature in a feisty splurge of colours and expression—be sure to not miss out on this one!
Sadequain: A Retrospective
Where: Aicon Gallery, New York On View: June 12 – July 12, 2014
When the Moderns were earning a name in India, Sadequain Naqqash carved his path to fame and later came to be known as a pioneering Pakistani artist in his country and the world. He came from a family of scribes and the background served him well: Sadequain came to be recognised as Pakistan’s foremost calligrapher and painter and is credited with the renaissance of Islamic calligraphy in Pakistan. His vocabulary developed through a mingling of Eastern and Western artistic traditions, as well as Hindu and Muslim ideology. Aicon Gallery hosts a collection of 24 works from the 1960s to the ’80s that trace the trajectory of his artistic development.
Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century
Where: Metropolitan Museum of Art On View Till: July 27, 2014
This monumental exhibit is the first of its kind and scale to bring together works on loan from South East Asia’s distinguished national collections, showcasing sculptural art produced in the earliest kingdoms of the Southeast Asian region. The Lost Kingdom features some 160 sculptures representing distinct Hindu and Buddhist cultural groups that flourished in the Southeast Asian region, that has been out of view owing to the shadow of time. Epigraphic efforts of the 20th century brought to the fore the cultural practices and remains of the Pyu, Funan, Zhenla, Champa, Dvāravatī, Kedah, and Śrīvijaya groups, which date back to many centuries. The art works highlight the influence and local amalgamation of Indic culture in regional belief systems and practices. It is interesting to see popular deities from India being depicted in a different avatar by these regional patrons. Many of the works have never travelled outside their source countries before providing visitors an opportunity to view works they may not have access to easily.
SxSE: Selections from the Asia Society Museum Collection
Where: The Asia Society Museum On View: June 17 – August 3, 2014
Don’t miss out on this selection of video artworks which will be on display at the Asia Society Museum, starting June 17. It features works since 2000 by South and Southeast Asian artists that highlight current artistic trends in the region, with a special focus on disparities between globalisation, modernisation, urbanisation and tradition.
For the insatiable among you, we have an events listing page that is updated each month. Be sure to drop by regularly for updates.