Bauhaus in Calcutta: The Opening of an Exhibition that Revisits 1922

Gaganendranath Tagore, "Poet Rabindranath on the Island of Birds," 1920s; Image credit:

Gaganendranath Tagore, “Poet Rabindranath on the Island of Birds,” 1920s; Image credit:

Guest blogger Tracy Buck shares details on a forthcoming show of Bahaus artists

Dessau: On March 27, 2013 the Bauhaus Dessau will open “Bauhaus in Kalkutta,” a show of works by Bauhaus artists including Kandinsky, Klee, and Feininger as well as Indian artists such as Gaganendranath Tagore.  Described as a “special laboratory of the transcultural avant-garde” on the Bauhaus’ website, the show looks back for the first time at the artistic exchange and political climates of the original 1922 exhibit on which it is based.

Wassily Kandinsky, "Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle)," 1913Image credit:

Wassily Kandinsky, “Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle),” 1913
Image credit:

Art Historian Partha Mitter – one of the present show’s curators – has referred to the December 1922 exhibition as an entry point for modernism in India in his seminal work The Triumph of Modernism: Indian Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1922-1947 (2007).  Indian artists (or, at least Bengali intelligentsia) began to move away at this point from naturalism towards non-representational art.  As Mitter describes, however, neither the artists’ reception nor the path towards experimentation was necessarily smooth and even.  Earlier press had depicted cubism in particular as bizarre, distorted, too extreme; others, particularly artists and intelligentsia, welcomed the influx of new inspiration, talent, and the opportunity for international exchange.  Important, then, is the present show’s interest in reconstructing and revisiting the political conditions and international environment of that original 1922 exhibition.

Rabindranath Tagore, "Dancing Woman," ca. 1910Image credit:

Rabindranath Tagore, “Dancing Woman,” ca. 1910
Image credit:

Many of the Indian artists featured in the exhibition were affiliated with Rabindranath Tagore’s experimental educational site, Santiniketan, and with the Bengal School that was centralized there.  The Bengal School, in these formative years of early Indian Nationalism, developed a style that was considered uniquely Indian – a new art for the development of a new nation – that looked inwards and eastwards rather than westwards for its inspiration.  Its members – Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Gaganendranath Tagore, among others – were internationalist in perspective and lifestyle and were focused largely on Indian subject matter.  Perhaps because of the Bengal School’s interest in avoiding the adoption of Western stylistic and formal artistic conventions for political reasons, the 1922 Calcutta exhibition – with its largely cubist focus – did not receive much attention lasting interest until several decades later, in the 1940s.  According to Mitter, Kandinsky was lauded, the organizers were congratulated for bringing important artists’ works to India for the first time, and critics were reminded that the interests of the Bengal School and the European artists were not dissimilar.  Most of the works, however, remained unsold.

From the perspective of today, however, this fact and the resulting avoidance of the works’ far dispersal has facilitated an important look back at that landmark and historic show.  The Bauhaus Dessau’s “Bauhaus Kalcutta” – opening in March – is set to offer insight into the internationalist gaze and the virtual and actual communities that print media and artistic exchange formed and helped shape.

The exhibition is curated by a group of curators including Kathrin Rhomberg, Regina Bittner, Partha Mitter and Ranjit Hoskote, and will be on view till June 30 2013. Read more.

Images appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the images included in the Bauhaus Dessau exhibition, but rather are representative works of the artists featured.

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.