The mental processes of art
What are the processes of cultural criticism engaged in by the artist? This line of thought is provoked by three exhibitions mounted in New Delhi this past week.
ART AS MIRROR AND COMMENTATOR A painting in the exhibition Paths of Progression
It's been a week of group shows that sets up a preamble for things to come. A conspicuous feature of the present day art activity is the aggressive new entrance of the gallery as a site that influences and stages art production. Greater visibility for the visual arts, active initiatives towards transnational exhibitions and the artist as visible producer of art have all set up a circuit of interdependencies. Certainly the predominance of the group show leads to the giving of amorphous labels that really serve as a means of inclusion rather than definition of what we are seeing on the walls.
Indian art has entered a phase of conspicuous values. Art mirrors the values of urbanism, even as it emerges as a commentator. What one is suggesting is that painting has become an outpost in the broader field of visual culture, in which mediatic information, and mediatic forms of reproduction are synthesized as the subject of art. In this way a set of contradictions comes into play. The artist's use in effect mirrors images already in circulation. In this relationship of the passive recipient and the active commentator, we see the processes of the making of art.
One's concern in this column is, what are the processes of cultural criticism that the artist is engaging in? Three exhibitions in this past week provoke this line of enquiry. At Bodhi Art, Paths of Progression, which sounds like a latter day echo of the early Progressives, presents artists whose work has a conspicuous historical and social location. An example of the complexity of these locations is the work of T.V. Santosh and Subodh Gupta, Jagannath Panda and Shibu Natesan.
Subodh Gupta's Bartan ki Dukan draws from an anthropological marker of middle class Indian values. By abstracting the buyer or the seller, he fixes the notion of value in a given object, of a commodity as the subject of art.
T.V. Santosh, who moves from the television or newspaper frame to the painted frame, follows in the line of enquiry of the effects of violence. His paintings tend to look like radiological images, their trademark pink and green revealing a palimpsest of shadows, of shattered limbs blown away in a war zone.
Jagannath Panda in contrast sets up pictorial evocations of poetic forms of survival and memory. In his painting Panda continually veers towards creating a half whimsical half ironic nostalgia for the loss of the simplest natural elements.
Shibu Natesan's painting stands out for its rendering of gentrified British sport, the sharp and contained view of the postcolonial artist.
A work by T.V. Santosh in the show Ways of seeing.
The other large exhibitions of the week, Ways of Seeing curated by Sushma Behl for Art Alive, and Art Motif's Still Life, both revealed a surprisingly literal take on the subject. John Berger's classic analysis of the perceptual field has found its apotheosis in the more discursive argument around the gaze, initiated by Laura Mulvey and then expanded by several theorists on visual culture. In addition, the modes of receiving and transmitting the image have been further problematised by the multiple tools of the media and its power to select, exaggerate and control the visual field of our times. However, Ways of Seeing ignores these aspects. In the exhibition there is a physical emphasis on seeing , on acts of introspection, on the mundane act of everyday reading as in the realist work of Manish Modi, or returning the gaze as if in a spirit of questioning the location of the individual in history. Kriti Arora for instance works on the photographs of soldiers drawn from areas of border conflict to create figures that gaze out with intensity at the viewer. Reena Saini Kallat represents figures from the western theatre world into spin doctors, while Veer Munshi suggests the twin figures of Jinnah and Gandhi whose resemblance ends with their doctrines of separate states.
Mala Aneja and Art Motif in their presentation of the exhibition Still Life recall one of the most enduring genres of western art history. The rise of the still life in Dutch painting in the 17th Century owed much to the need for a secular art, and to the artists' engagement with composition and observation, aspects which modernists like Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Bonnard richly used in the early part of the 20th Century. In modern Indian painting it is the lush fruity compositions of K.H. Ara that immediately come to mind. In this present exhibition, the greater interest lies in works which in fact subvert the norms of the genre, such as KG Subramanyan's Still Life with Chicken 1 and 11, Suraj Ghai's whimsical Still Life Cheers and Anupam Sud's suggestively rendered Still Life 11.
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