5 Record Breaking Masterpieces of Indian Art

In the run-up to our leading annual auction in New Delhi, we look at five works of art that have touched new heights with their record prices at Saffronart auctions, and changed the market for Indian art.

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‘Let The World In’ A New Two-Part on Indian Contemporary Art

Emily Jane Cushing recommends a two-part film on contemporary Indian art entitled ‘Let the World in’. 

Detail from the film’s poster with paintings by Sudhir Patwardhan (left) and Gigi Scaria (right) Image credit: http://in.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/910426/coming-soon-a-2-volume-film-on-contemporary-indian-art

Detail from the film’s poster with paintings by Sudhir Patwardhan (left) and Gigi Scaria (right) Image credit: http://in.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/910426/coming-soon-a-2-volume-film-on-contemporary-indian-art

London: A new two-part film, titled ‘Let the World in’, directed by Avijit Mukul and produced by Art Chennai, intends to document the evolution of contemporary visual art in India spanning three generations of artists and their work dating from the 1980s to the present day.

The premiere of the film was held at the National Film Archive of India in Pune on the 7th of June; and it is now travelling to film festivals in the UK from the 13th-14th and returning to India for its debut in Mumbai and Delhi.

Untitled, Arpita Singh, 2002

Untitled, Arpita Singh, 2002. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/auctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8483

The film intends to document the depth and diversity in contemporary Indian art by outlining “the artists’ concerns reflected in their work, tracing it down to the present day,” according to the press release. The first volume begins discussing the monumental 1981 exhibition “Place For People” in Delhi and Bombay, in which a group of artists conveyed through their work and engagement with locality, class and politics and further touching on how younger artists have been impacted by the inherited legacy of this movement. Central characters in the first volume include artists Arpita Singh, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Vivan Sundaram; inputs are also heard from influential art critic Geeta Kapur and the late Bhupen Khakhar, a co-artist and close friend.

A Theory of Abstraction, T.V. Santhosh, 2001

A Theory of Abstraction, T.V. Santhosh, 2001. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/auctions/PostWork.aspx?l=8286

The second part of the film focuses on practitioners such as Shilpa Gupta, Atul Dodiya and T.V. Santosh; major political and social changes in India make up the backdrop of the beginning of this volume. Issues such as the liberalization of the Indian economy and the funding of dangerous religious extremist that ensued and also the lack of sophisticated educational practices in Indian artistic establishments are all topics that contribute to the setting of the second volume.

The film also conveys the new Indian artistic generations preoccupation with the past and engagement with history; one of the films main goals is to re-ignite to public consciousness the significant role played by the senior generation of Indian artists who were dedicated to forming their unique artistic styles in previous times.

If you are in Cambridge on 20 June, then you can view the film at 17:30 pm at the Center for South Asian Studies; more information here.

For details of the multi-city screening schedule, visit the film’s Facebook page. The DVD will be released shortly.

Conversations Through a Lens

 Shradha Ramesh speaks with Professor Kathryn Myers from the University of Connecticut about her current project, “Regarding India, Conversations with Artists”

New York: Professor Kathryn Myers has been teaching at the University of Connecticut since 1984. She is an artist and educator who for the past ten years has been involved in documenting Indian art and culture.

On May 29, she gave a lecture at The Attic, New Delhi. The lecture featured short clips and excerpts from her ongoing project “Regarding India, Conversations with Artists” that showcases video clips on 14 Indian modern and contemporary Indian artists.

Regarding India: Conversation with Artists, Kathryn Myers

Regarding India: Conversation with Artists, Kathryn Myers. Image Credit: http://in.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/907957/lecture-alert-kathryn-myers-on-her-conversations-with-50

As soon as I heard about this project, I was drawn instantaneously to know more about it and Professor Myers’ journey and experiences with Indian art. Below is the outcome of a very interesting exchange I had with Professor Myers.

Q: Can you tell us more about your current experience of presenting at The Attic, New Delhi?

A: I have known the directors of The Attic for several years and have given and attended talks there. It is an intimate space, drawing a diverse audience, who, I gather, attend many of their fine events.  I was a bit nervous about showing my videos in New Delhi for the first time and felt The Attic would be a welcoming space to screen this nascent project. I was touched and a bit overwhelmed with the interested, generous comments and questions from the audience.

Q: When did you first start to channelize your attention to Indian art, as a professor or as an artist, who or what inspired you the most?

A: I first came to India in 1999 to attend artist residencies at the Kanoria Centre, in Ahmedabad, and Sanskriti Kendra, in Delhi, with only superficial knowledge of Indian history, culture and art. Although I visited many museums on that first visit, it was the miniature painting galleries in several cities and the Handicrafts Museum in Delhi that had the strongest initial impact.  I was inspired upon my return to learn as much as I could about India.  One of my colleagues has generously described me as a “self-taught area studies specialist.”  I gradually became familiar with the contemporary art scene in India, but at first it was primarily through exhibitions in the United States.  Bose Pacia, Aicon and Talwar Galleries in New York and museums, such as the Asia Society in New York and the Peabody Essex Museum of Art in Salem, Massachusetts, were my “education.”  At those galleries I met others, Indian and non-Indian, who shared an enthusiasm for the burgeoning contemporary Indian art scene and with whom I felt a sense of community.  I was able to return to India many times to continue to study Indian art, particularly through two Fulbright Fellowships, in 2002 and 2011.

I have been teaching at the University of Connecticut since 1984; for the past three decades, my life has been balanced between being an artist and educator. India inspires my own paintings, but when I become interested and excited about something, I always think of sharing it with my students. I had the wonderful opportunity in 2005, when UConn began an India Studies program, to design a new course on contemporary Indian art, “Indian Art and Popular Culture. In 2004, I organized a large exhibition for our university museum, The William Benton Museum of Art, titled “Masala: Diversity and Democracy in South Asian Art.”  This fall I am curating an exhibition titled “Convergence,” including 15 artists from India and the Indian diaspora for the Benton, based on the University of Connecticut’s collection of South Asian art.  I am very pleased that I have been able to return to India over the past decade and to have opportunities to make good use of my enthusiasm for and growing knowledge of Indian art and culture.

Sculptor Krishnaraj Chonat by Professor Kathryn Myers

Sculptor Krishnaraj Chonat. Image Credit: Professor Kathryn Myers

Q: How did you select the artists for “Regarding India, Conversations with Artists”?

A: It was both a planned and serendipitous process.  I started with artists whose work I admired greatly, was already very familiar with and had been teaching about for many years. I also went through over ten years of Art India magazines, which I subscribe to, and created an additional list of artists whom I tried to contact through their own websites, if they had one, or through their galleries. Often, when looking at a gallery website for the work of one artist, I would also be drawn to the work of another. After I arrived India to start the project in 2011, I discovered additional artists whose work I became acquainted with for the first time, became very excited about, and added to my already very full interview schedule. Because I wanted to have some sense of regional diversity, I made a particular attempt to interview artists in South India, such as at the historic artist colony of Cholamandal, as well as in Kerala and Goa, as these are regions often on periphery of the art scene.  I think the bottom line, however, is that it has to be work I have a strong response to, as I spend an extensive amount of time researching the artists before the interview and then in the editing process.

Photographer, Ravi Agarwal, by Professor Kathryn Myers

Photographer Ravi Agarwal. Image Credit: Professor Kathryn Myers

Q: While interviewing the artists, were there any enthralling episodes, if so, do you wish to share a few highlights with us?

A: There are parts of every interview that are very memorable.  It’s often a combination of what the artist is saying and how they say it, perhaps, in contrast to something else they had been talking about. I’ve made a series of selected clips of these moments for most of the videos. One that is particularly remarkable is when Ravi Agarwal, after talking about the important environmental and urban issues that are the subject of much of his work, including his concern and uncertainty about the future, begins to speak about his strong aesthetic response in the moment of taking the pictures. “It is this moment that draws me, if this moment was not there, I would stop doing it, it would have no meaning for me.” He becomes very caught up in this description, which is near the end of my conversation with him. It’s an inspiring and moving part of the interview, expressing a wonderful balance of his artistic and social commitments.

Photographer, Dinesh Khanna by Professor Kathryn Myers

Photographer Dinesh Khanna Image Credit: Professor Kathryn Myers

Another is from a very recent interview with the photographer Dinesh Khanna. When I arrived in Delhi in late December last year, I was drawn to an image in his monthly Urban Trivia column in First City Magazine, published shortly after the Delhi rape. I found his image of two women casually sitting in conversation behind a barbed wire fence to be a beautifully subtle reflection on what had happened. Before I had a chance to ask him about it, he began explaining in a very measured way how he selected and interpreted the image and suddenly stopped short to say that he had two daughters and how deeply he had been affected by the tragic incident.

After Arpita Singh’s description of a series of paintings based on the Gujarat riots, I inquired about her images of people who looked like they were “waiting.” Her quiet, halting response has a haunting resonance.  “I can’t explain it, you know, as if they are waiting for something to happen to them; always, aren’t we all waiting for something to happen to us?” Feeling pressured by me to perhaps explain the inexplicable, she exclaimed with a sense of humor, “how can I say, why did I do it? I’m not a psychiatrist! I can’t explain things in that way.”  In all the cases that I’ve described, words don’t do justice; the effectiveness of the video has so much to do with the presence of the artist and the cadence of speech.

Q: What are your plans for the future and for the project?

A: I have many more artists to interview and look forward to the project being ongoing, I love the editing process; while working I feel totally immersed and engaged with each artist and their work. I have already been showing the videos at different universities and conferences in the United States and hope to have more opportunities to share them in the United States and in India.

Q: In the future, since the videos are more curatorial and educational, do you see yourself creating a video archive for website viewers?

A: I would like to archive not only the finished videos but also much of the original footage.  They will be part of the University of Connecticut libraries’ video collection. I will also donate the material to the American Institute of India Studies Center for Art and Archeology in Gurgaon, which has holdings on contemporary Indian art, and I have also been in contact with Bose Pacia Gallery in New York about their archive project.

Aside from the finished videos, which range from about 10-20 minutes each, I often have up to two hours of conversation with each artist.  Because the edited videos do not include my own voice, aside from rare occasions, my part of the conversation, which often moves in different tangents from the original question, is edited out.  I also had to make difficult decisions about what to edit out and what to include, as I wanted to keep an average time limit of around 15 minutes for each. So, there is a lot of material that someone else might find of use. I myself have utilized parts of the interviews that are not in the edited videos in my course on Indian art.  For instance, Dinesh Khanna talks about the notion of “caste” in relation to his initial desire as a young man, not to follow the profession of his father who was a commercial photographer.  This was a very different way of thinking about caste that I had not considered and which I now include in my class lecture when I discuss the history and significance of the caste system.

For more information on this ongoing project click here.

A Word of Thanks & Happy 2013!

Dear Readers,

Here’s wishing you a very happy and prosperous 2013 ! The past year was an eventful one for Saffronart as we introduced an array of new categories and collectibles by way of our auctions and The Story, our new website featuring unique objects in curated collections available for sale every day!

Happy New Year from Saffronart

It was also the inaugural year for our blog launched in April of 2012. In a span of six months, we have come a long way with a readership of 1600 plus. We were happy to feature exciting reviews reports and interviews through this course. Some highlights included a guest post on Arpita Singh’s New York solo exhibition at the DC Moore Gallery, a series of walk-throughs of the Metropolitan Museum’s new Islamic galleries, a review of Zarina’s solo show at the Hammer Museum, interviews withTarun Tahiliani and Shilpa Shah of the TAPI Collection, as well as collectors like Anupam Poddar,and Kamran Anwar weighing in on their favorite lots from our inaugural Pakistani  auction. Other exciting conversations included one between guest blogger Diana Campbell, artist Rathin Barman and gallerists Priyanka and Prateek Raja, an interview with the Director of the ARKEN Museum in Copenhagen and with Beth Citron, the curator of the Rubin Museum on their exhibition program dedicated to Modern Indian Art as also one with  Sarnath Banerjee about his London public art project, ‘Gallery of Losers’.

We thank you for your support and look forward to bringing timely and engaging news, interviews, images and more from our offices around the world. A special word of thanks for our guests bloggers for their contributions. We hope our regular posts on this blog continue to offer you new insights into the products we feature in our online auctions, new ideas about collecting, and also a new perspective on Saffronart.

Best wishes,

Team at Saffronart Blog

Arpita Singh’s Men in Turmoil

Guest Blogger, Bansie Vasvani on Arpita Singh’s solo show at the DC Moore Gallery, New York (on view until January 5, 2013)

Installation Shot, DC Moore Gallery, New York
Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

New York: Arpita Singh’s vibrant watercolor works on paper, currently on view at the DC Moore Gallery in New York, are a departure from her signature portrayal of women. Here men take center stage, often in an uneasy stance, caught in the crossfire of urban chaos and unease. Singh subverts the conventional heroic male by depicting a slew of men plagued by the overbearing metropolis filled with snaking highways and packed motorcades that bombard the human mind with too much noise and pollution.

Arpita Singh, Cain (?) the Wanderer, 2012
Watercolor on paper, 16 x 11 1/2 in.
Courtesy of Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi and DC Moore Gallery, New York

In Cain (?) The Wanderer, 2012, a lone figure in threadbare Gandhian garb traverses the urban landscape. Much like his biblical counterpart, who is shamed for killing his brother and compelled to be a wanderer, Singh’s wanderer too is bereft and alone. Yet the simplicity of his appearance makes us question whether in fact he is truly ill-equipped for the modern world or if his bare upper body, stripped of cover and pretention, attains a mysterious alchemy of strength to face the world. The text inscribed on his body and the surrounding environment alludes to Singh’s cryptic, deeply personal worldview, often difficult to decipher. Is her wanderer a ruthless modern day Cain, or is his Gandhian facade emblematic of forthcoming quietude? Multi-layered and symbolic, Arpita Singh’s work is a complex configuration inundated with allusions to mythology, popular culture and current events.

Arpita Singh, The Kingsway, 2004
Watercolor on paper, 17 3/4 x 23 3/4 in.
Courtesy of Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi and DC Moore Gallery, New York

Informed by the tradition of miniature painting, textiles and folk art, The Kingsway, 2004,
presents a grid like structure on which five perturbed men stand and look askance at their
surroundings. Clothed in simple cotton ware, these male figures hold pistols close to their
phalluses implying a sense of impotence in their roles as guardians of their environment. The grid like formation, and the text in the densely populated cityscape that form the background of this painting, become important signifiers of a dangerous world fraught with tension. Singh’s men are caught in a current of urban disquiet where their internal psychic condition is reflected in the jarring quality of the external space thereby blurring the boundaries between internal and external, public and private, conscious and unconscious. The inner space of their minds cannot be separated from the external din and danger of the streets and highways. Her male figures appear weak and vulnerable in the face of an outside threat, making a mockery of their manhood. But like the protagonist of the previous work, we are left to wonder if their simplicity points to ineptitude in a complex world, or a blessing in disguise.

Arpita Singh, Untitled, 2010
Watercolor on paper, 14 1/2 x 11 in.
Courtesy of Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi and DC Moore Gallery, New York

In Untitled, 2010, and The Roadmap Creeps in the Page of my Notebook, 2012, the flat grid like structure appears as a leitmotif against which Singh places her figures, numbers, and words. Inspired by a label from a tea carton, the flat surface was conducive to her meticulous art making process of layering colors that resemble thick pastel, such that her watercolors appear saturated with pigment and tone. Through these rich tapestries dense with imagination and experience, Singh depicts a world steeped in anxiety with a sliver of hope towards a future of some peace and resolution.

Arpita Singh, The Roadmap Creeps in the Page of My Notebook, 2012
Watercolor on paper, 16 x 11 15/8 in.
Courtesy of Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi and DC Moore Gallery, New York

Bansie Vasvani is an independent art critic based in New York City.  She has a Masters Degree in Modern and Contemporary Art, and has traveled extensively to art fairs all over the world.

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