Sublime Signatures

An exhibition has artists defining the sublime through works involving cabinets,sleeping figures and 2,000-year-old terracotta pieces.

Published:April 8, 2013 1:31 am

In 1886,philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had declared that the idea of the sublime in art was out dated. Yet,as one stands in the three-floor gallery of Lalit Kala Akademi,the idea of the sublime appears alive and throbbing. Titled “Ideas of the Sublime”,the exhibition celebrates 25 years of Delhi-based Vadehra Art Gallery by attempting to “restore to art its centrality in human experience” in times of economic uncertainty and a global climate frayed by doubt. A constellation of 17 artists such as Anju Dodiya,Jitish Kallat and Ranbir Kaleka are part of the show.

Among the 42 works on display is the unmistakable signature of Atul Dodiya present through his Shutter and Cabinet series. In Sublime,his latest work,a shutter inscribed with verses from the Quran moves up and down over a representation of American painter Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to Spanish Republic,inscribed on a rustic surface in “melancholic” gold. Dodiya’s other eye-catching piece is Between the Spider and the Lamp (2013),which continues his engagement with wooden cabinets. The work shows a large cabinet containing photographs of artists such as Amrita Sher-Gil,Ram Kumar and SH Raza,along with objects such as typewriter,watch and letters. “It is a sweeping view that evokes the idea of the museum or memorial to Indian modernism in a very compelling manner,” says curator Gayatri Sinha. Sinha adds that she is “intrigued by the notion of the sublime because it compresses together the seemingly antagonistic ideas of great awe and fear. Each artist was invited to interpret the concept in his own way”.

Enter a room on the second floor,and the darkness is illuminated by Jitish Kallat’s Breath (2012),which comprises seven video screens that represent the phases of moon,but in the form of a roti. Next to it are four human sculptures titled Syzygy-2,where the seated figures appear to be lost in an inner consciousness (though some viewers might think of them as merely sleeping). “When you submit completely to yourself,you can experience the sublime,” says the Mumbai-based artist.

One of the highlights of the exhibition are the video images and photographs of Black Gold,created by Vivan Sundaram at the recent Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The work is an installation made with 2,000-year-old terracotta pieces from the excavated site of Pattanam (Kerala),considered the site of the ancient port Muziris. “It’s a tragedy that evokes a sort of romantic beauty,” says Sundaram.

The exhibition also includes a section titled “The Drawing Wall” in which sketch books,palettes and photographs among others give a “sense of the artist,his or her materials and methods”. The 100 displays provide insight into the worlds of A Ramachandran,Anjolie Ela Menon,Ganesh Pyne,Jogen Chowdhury and 14 others. “Drawing represents the first act or notation and,on the wall,we can see the different streams of Indian Modernists,the very different kinds of line used by say a Ganesh Pyne and a Tyeb Mehta,” says Sinha.

Amid the plethora of art,it is possible to overlook an old wooden table in a corner. This was given to Ram Kumar by MF Husain in the early ’60s for Rs 100. “One of the aspects of the show is the archival value attached to the Modernist movement as it becomes more and more petrified in time. Ram Kumar stores his brushes and work tools on this table even today,” says Sinha.

The show will be held at Lalit Kala Akademi,Mandi House,till April 10 Contact 46103550

Head Turners

Some of the memorable pieces from the exhibition

Atul Dodiya creates a museum of memories out of a cabinet in his work Between the Spider and the Lamp

Rina Banerjee’s Lady of Commerce is a towering installation made up of a chandelier,jewellery,bangles and other adornments,and looks like a bedecked woman

Vivan Sundaram’s Black Gold,created during the Kochi-Muziris Biennale,is a series of video shots of an installation made of 2,000-year-old terracotta pieces

Ram Kumar’s work table,bought from MF Husain for Rs 100 in the early ‘60s,is used by the artist to this day

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