Aaina Bhargava of Saffronart on Jitish Kallat’s appointment as the curator for the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennial in 2014.
London: Jitish Kallat, by any standard, is one of the internationally most well established Indian contemporary artists. Which is perhaps why his appointment as the next curator of the Kochi-Muziris Biennial (KMB) comes as no surprise. Declared by Hon. Mayor of Cochin, Mr. Tony Chammany, as the official curator of Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, he was selected by an elite and diverse panel of Indian art professionals put together by the Kochi Biennial Foundation. Consisting of art historian Geeta Kapur, director of Dr. Bhau Daji Laad Museum, Tasneem Mehta, director of Outset India and the Gujral Foundation, Feroz Gujral, director of Gallery Maskara, Abhay Maskara, artists Sheela Gowda and Balan Nambiar, and the President and General Secretary of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, they provided the following official statement in support of their choice:
“To continue the unique character of this artist led Biennale we are selecting Jitish Kallat as the new curator for the 2014 edition. Jitish brings immense international experience to the next Biennale. He possesses sound theoretical knowledge about contemporary art along with a diverse yet meticulous approach to his own practice. We are confident that Jitish will curate an innovative and experiential second edition.”
Because the legitimacy of biennials is essentially evaluated based on their constant recurrence, the successful execution of the second edition biennial becomes imperative to its future continuation and representation of contemporary art in India. The first edition of the KMB, already having been declared ‘the second largest running biennial in the world after Venice, with almost 400,000 visitors’, has provided the KB Foundation and government of Kerala with motive to not only maintain but progress the standard established in 2012. Appointing Kallat as curator is clearly an attempt to cement the KMB’s reputation as a legitimate institution. He has participated in countless biennials, his works have been exhibited at major museums around the world, so given his international exposure, critical acclaim, and commercial success as an artist his representation and endorsement of the biennial certainly adds great value to the entire event. Even if he does lack curatorial experience, he has extensive experience with biennials, and an understanding of how they function. Additionally, he also happens have Keralite roots, hailing from Thrissur, although he was born and bought up in Mumbai.
From a political perspective, the commitment to promoting Kerala as a cultural center remains a priority, however, for the coming editions, there is a greater responsibility of establishing India as a destination for contemporary art, outside of a commercial context. Intentions to push this standard and expand the the impact of the biennial have been voiced by the officials and organizers of the biennial:
“The first edition of the Biennale accentuated the tourism and cultural sectors of Kerala, the biennale requires a permanent venue as it promises to return every two years, and we are searching for such a place to make this possible.” – Mayor of Cochin, Mr. Tony Chammany
“This return is required for the Biennale to develop its unique grammar and vocabulary. ” He also said that the media played a vital role in initiating a dialogue and bringing biennale to people’s home’s.” – Jitish Kallat.
As the contemporary art scene is constantly growing and evolving, the appointment of Jitish Kallat as curator is highly reflective of it’s current situations. Kallat’s career is representative of a culmination of the academic acclaim and popular or commercial success, much like Subodh Gupta or Atul Dodiya – and since the biennial is an institution that is essentially non commercial, but is trying to navigate itself in a very commercially driven art society, Kallat could be the negotiating factor between both worlds. He has also managed to achieve his success at a relatively young age (he is just 39) and since the KMB seeks to affect mainly the youth, perhaps a fresher perspective is the next step to progressing the already impactful biennial. Furthermore, contemporary art is still relatively an unknown field to the general public and one of the goals of the biennial is to expand the reach of contemporary art, it is perhaps more effective to approach it with a more popular manner, rather than an extremely academic one. Again, the mesh between the academic and the commercial becomes critical. The notion of recurrence and repetition is essential to the longevity of biennials, and in order to keep occurring, the nature of the biennial must adapt to its current situations, and by attracting as many visitors as possible.
“That’s what art is all about. Sometimes it’s just a shift of vision…Let us hope it will be different but the genetic link will remain and it will be the continuation of the same language…I want to bring a new set of tools to work with the same set of ideas.”- Jitish Kallat
Preparations are clearly underway to ensure the next KMB as impacting as the inaugral edition, until then we just have to wait and see what Kallat’s unique vision will hold.