With less than three weeks to our auction, we look at six artworks leading the sale.Read more ›
With less than three weeks to our auction, we look at six artworks leading the sale.Read more ›
Vidhita Raina reports on Krishen Khanna’s lecture on “The Progressives” at London’s Courtauld Institute
“Is the artist only interested in being a unique individual? If I had considered my work to be unique, then I would have continued trying to be unique… and that is not what art is about,” said Krishen Khanna at a talk held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London on June 8, 2015. This sagacious insight into his artistic motivations was one of the many gemstones that Khanna—a leading Indian Modernist painter—showered upon a rapt audience, eager in attendance to witness one of the stalwarts of Indian art reminiscing about its heydays.
With Deborah Swallow and Zehra Jumabhoy from the Courtauld Institute, and Conor Macklin from Grosvenor Gallery also on the panel, this debate was conducted as part of the “Contemporaneity in South Asian Art” seminar series.
The symposium was full of anecdotes as Khanna brought out his personal archive of letters exchanged between him and his many associates. Khanna’s nostalgic stories about his Bombay Progressive peers were unequivocally the highlights; particularly those involving his erstwhile roommate and one of the most celebrated Indian artists, the late Maqbool Fida Husain. It is common knowledge that Husain introduced Khanna into the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (or “PAG”, as they were generally called). But the evening revealed one more nugget of information—Husain, during one of his visits to Khanna’s then home in Churchgate, Mumbai, borrowed his copy of the English art critic Clive Bell’s 1914 seminal text Art, only to eventually lose it. This incident, according to Khanna, was a result of “certain forces which operate at the right time”.
Khanna’s association with the PAG, which was formed right on the heels of India’s independence in 1947, led to several accomplishments in his trajectory as an artist. He held major exhibitions in Mumbai and New Delhi in the late ’50s. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research showed great interest in his work, and its founding director—the esteemed nuclear physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha—bought his very first painting. In 1960, Khanna had his first solo show with Leicester Galleries of London. Here Khanna drew upon a letter written by renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, gloriously calling one of his major abstract artworks a “masterpiece”.
Khanna spoke at length about Francis Newton Souza’s role as the driving force behind the PAG, including calling the group as “Progressives”. However, the term was subsequently dropped as many of its members—which also included artists like S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, K.H. Ara, among others—felt that it had political connotations. It was a suggestion that rankled with Khanna, as the PAG never saw itself as a political group.
But even as the PAG was beginning to emerge as a new wave of artists in post-independent India unfettered by their political climate—and dissociating themselves from the nationalist spirit of the preceding Bengal School artists in the process—their art, Khanna’s in particular, couldn’t avoid resonating with social, economic and political undertones of a changing nation state.
Born in the city of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad of modern day Pakistan) in 1925, Khanna was, and is, no stranger to political turmoil. Following the Partition of India in 1947, his family moved to Shimla in northern India. Khanna himself accepted a job at Grindlays Bank in Bombay, a position he would hold for 14 years, before finally resigning to focus on his art completely.
A self-taught artist, Khanna created works that showed a strong preoccupation with the historical background of his time. For him, the humanistic element in a painting was a paramount. Khanna was deeply concerned with the condition of the individual. It’s an artistic anxiety highly evident in his paintings of tired workers piled in trucks, dhaba owners in twilight moments, and the uniformed “bandwallas”—the last vestiges of long-dead British imperial legacy. In her biography Krishen Khanna: The Embrace of Love, critic Gayatri Sinha has said: “the paintings constitute a powerful psychological engagement, one that also serves as a document of the passage of time in modern India.”
Another aspect of the debate, raised by Conor Macklin and Zehra Jumabhoy, was India’s relationship with Britain, and the impact of the European Avant-garde Movement on the PAG. Just as the modern art of Europe rose from the trenches of the World War I, the trauma resulting from the Partition of India also stimulated a new language of art production in its wake. In an effort to locate a new identity and language for Indian art, many of the modern artists such as Souza, Raza, and Padamsee—having studied or spent time in Paris—inevitably found themselves looking towards Western styles of art.
Khanna himself was a well-travelled and worldly artist: he was the first Indian painter to be awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship by New York’s prestigious Rockefeller Foundation in1962. As part of this fellowship, Khanna spent time in Japan where he found inspiration in the Sumi-e (Suibokuga) calligraphic style of paintings, practiced by Zen Buddhists during the 14th century. This led to a number of experiments in abstraction during the ’60s and ’70s, which Khanna reflected upon as “a series of events which formulate or assist in formulating the kind of action you have to take”. In the following year, he was invited as the artist-in-residence at the American University, Washington D.C., and exhibited at various museums and galleries throughout the United States.
Besides being a riveting trip down memory lane, the symposium was mainly a precursor to Krishen Khanna’s ongoing retrospective at the Grosvenor Gallery titled “when the band began to play he packed up his troubles and marched away”. A certain homage was paid to the presence of the seminar being held at the Kenneth Clark lecture theatre, named after the eponymous art historian and an old associate of the artist.
Khanna’s talk was one for the history books—significant moments during the early Indian Modernist phase were brought up, including when artist Bal Chhabda opened Gallery 59. It was Mumbai’s first, short-lived art gallery to showcase artworks by the PAG members in 1959. The group may be long gone, but they left an undeniable legacy for India and the world to treasure.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
Ipshita Sen of Saffronart shares a note on Atul Dodiya’s current exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.
New York: Atul Dodiya, is one of India’s leading and most significant contemporary artists. His solo exhibition ‘ Experiments with Truth’ at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, curated by cultural theorist and poet Ranjit Hoskote, brings together for the first time over 80 works by the artist over his prolific career from 1981-2013. It will also show works made by the artist during his time as a student at the J. J. School of Art in the early 1980’s.
The exhibition highlights Dodiya’s versatile artistic practice as he experiments, embraces and explores with various mediums- oil, acrylic, watercolor, mixed media works, sculpture installations, assemblages and photography. His tendency to work with different media and refusing to stick to a homogenous style is distinctive of Dodiya’s work. It is this ability of working across various mediums and juxtaposing Western art history and popular Indian culture through his work, that marks his oeuvre and makes him one of the most sort after and distinguished contemporary artists in India.
The audience is confronted with a variety of forms and mediums capturing the contrasting nature of change. Dodiya being highly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy puts the exhibition in perspective and forms an invisible string connecting the political, cultural and spiritual contexts in his expansive work. Atul Dodiya’s own artistic journey has been considered as constant experiments with the ‘truth’.
Strong influences of artists such as Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Tyeb Mehta, Gerhard Richter and Bhupen Khakhar can be traced in Atul Dodiya’s art. Works by these masters will also be on display as reference points, enabling the visitor to comprehend Dodiya’s work more effectively.
Atul Dodiya pursued his bachelors of Fine Arts from Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai. He furthered his academic training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1991 to 1992 subsequent to a scholarship awarded by the French Government. He currently lives and works in Mumbai.
Kanika Pruthi of Saffronart on the occasion of Picasso’s 40th death anniversary reflects on the artist’s legacy to the world, foremost among them the female nude.
New York: For Picasso aficionados June 2013 presents Picasso: Nudity Set Free, an exhibition of 120 of the artist’s works, hosted in Picasso’s Cannes villa now renamed Pavilion de Flore. Curated by his grand-daughter Marina Picasso, who has furnished the exhibition with 90 works from her own collection, the show brings to fore the artist’s preoccupation with the nude. His redefinition of the female nude is one of his greatest legacy- its influence permeating borders, artistic practices and most importantly time.
Picasso’s seminal work Les Demoiselles d ‘Avignon painted in 1907, not only challenged the long existing traditions of depicting the female nude, but also thrust forth an alternative way of looking that is jarring and negates most aspects of the then existing parameters that defined the female body. His re-imagined nude instigated a new way of looking, one that prompted artists to follow a similar process of questioning and reimagining. This seismic wave of redressal surely reached the Indian shores, even if decades later. The works of George Keyt, M.F. Husain and Tyeb Mehta provide testament to Picasso’s legacy and his influence, in varying degrees, on the practice of these three artists.
The turn of the 20th century ushered a period of concerted artistic efforts to revisualize the female nude in a new light, shunning the former idioms that seemed increasingly restrictive or obsolete. The historical nude, its ideality, was closely related to the envisioned form imagined by its male creators. Their projection was infused with their sexual longings, fears and desires. Edgar Degas dismissed the earlier notions and replaced it with his contorted bodies displaying their hardness and ugliness, in which lay their beauty. Picasso followed suit and went on to create what is deemed one of the first modernist female nude- shattering the earlier conventions with a brute force. His Les Demoiselles d ‘Avignon celebrated the female body through flattened perspective and grotesque distortions. His secular treatment of the body freed it from its long held idealized stature. As pointed by art historians, it is interesting to note that Picasso was a lover of beauty and women, nonetheless his female nudes could not escape his critical eye which deconstructed everything it saw- animate and inanimate.
Picasso’s contribution to the nude is not just restricted to his own creations. His influence on those around him and those after him is a subject worthy of deep investigation. On the Indian Subcontinent this legacy manifested in the early paintings of George Keyt, whose works were often exhibited alongside Picasso and Braque in galleries around the world during his lifetime. Keyt was clearly influenced by cubist practice, but his application of the cubist principle was distinctly his own. The impact of Indian artistic traditions co-exist in a manner that does not compromise either of the two influences.
In M.F. Husain’s works the cubist strand evolved in a new way. His commitment to innovation resulted in an adaptation of the cubist principles in a less-direct and more discreet way. His de-construction of the nude with its rough edges and aggressive texture presented a form that challenged the ideal notion of the Indian female nude, just as Picasso’s nudes has done in their time.
Tyeb Mehta took Picasso’s fundamental principles when treating the body to another level. His jagged lines and aggressive movement on the canvas bring to mind Picasso’s great anti-war paintings. Their works are imbued with angst and suffering in a manner that is very similar. They both seem to create meaning out of chaos.
You can find more information on the Picasso’s exhibition here.