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Aretrospective of Indian-born artist Zarina Hashmi, Zarina: Paper Like Skin,which will be held in 2013 at the Guggenheim Museum,New York is only indicative of the way Indian art is finding an audience

Written by Archana Jahagirdar | New Delhi |
April 29, 2012 3:11:03 am

Aretrospective of Indian-born artist Zarina Hashmi, Zarina: Paper Like Skin,which will be held in 2013 at the Guggenheim Museum,New York is only indicative of the way Indian art is finding an audience.

Aretrospective of Indian-born artist Zarina Hashmi, Zarina: Paper Like Skin,which will be held in 2013 at the Guggenheim Museum,New York is only indicative of the way Indian art is finding an audience in the world’s second largest art market (the first is China). The Guggenheim is currently showing its first-ever exhibition of art in South Asia titled Being Singular Plural. The curator of the show,Sandhini Poddar picked seven artists who she says,“draw inspiration from their experiences in South Asia.”

Though the Guggenheim introduced its Asian Art Program in 2006,its earlier four shows (not counting Anish Kapoor’s Memory as being a South Asian show) were not from the subcontinent. Not too far away from the museum on East 69th street in New York,Hauser & Wirth,one of the leading galleries in the west,showed the poster girl of Indian contemporary art,Bharti Kher’s solo show titled,The hot winds that blow from the West. The show that opened in March had just five works but the prestige of showing at a gallery like Hauser & Wirth with its rolodex of top collectors from across the world is another proof that Indian contemporary art is being noticed. Says Marc Payot,partner and vice president,Hauser & Wirth,“Subodh and Bharti’s strength is that their work has universal expression,though it is rooted in India.” Payot says that the gallery has no Indian clientele and they have found success with Gupta and Kher in international buyers. Karen Stone Talwar,who runs Adventures in Art which takes collectors to different art fairs says,“During this year’s India Art Fair (IAF),I brought a group of western collectors to India. Not one of them had heard of any of the Indian artists. But by the time they left,they had all bought one work of art.”

Talwar attributes this interest in Indian contemporary art to the fact that information is more available and accessible to anyone,making prices and artist resumes less opaque. Greg Hilty,of Lisson Gallery that represents Anish Kapoor and Rashid Rana says,“Kapoor is a case of his own. I can speak for Rana who is Pakistani but part of the Indian art world,his work is mostly being bought by non-Indian collectors.”

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Trevor Smith,curator of contemporary art at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM),says that when he moved from Australia to the US in 2003,“it was very rare to see artists from India in galleries outside those specialising in art from South Asia. Today,this is no longer the case.” In Chelsea in NYC,where many of the large galleries and artist studios are,Jack Shainman Gallery opened Delhi-based artist Vibha Galhotra’s solo show titled,Utopia of Difference. And even before the work could go up,a collector had put a reserve on one of them. Claude Simard,co-owner of the gallery and an artist,says,“There is a lot of interest in contemporary Indian artists,though I do not believe that it is directly attributed to them being Indian. For example,Vibha Galhotra’s exhibition has been so well received because the work is strong and personal. Yes,she deals with issues about India,because she lives there,but the work deals with issues that are global and universal.” Poddar makes a similar point, “A closer reading of their work reveals a transnational context that highlights some of the most significant political events,aesthetics forms,and critical theories defining contemporary culture today.”

Of the five works from Kher’s solo at Hauser & Wirth,one work draws references from the hot winds that blow in the plains of north India during summer. The work made from 131 radiators sourced from the US over six years and then transported to India to lie defunct and then assembled into a large work almost filling a room in the gallery could have been made by a very talented artist anywhere in the world. Kher’s use of the word “loo”,which even Indians from other parts may not fully understand,roots the work,but the use of material,its construct and layered meaning could be from anywhere. Amar Kanwar’s 19 channel video installation titled,The Torn Pages,which is part of the Guggenheim show,portrays the horrors the Burmese junta has perpetrated on its own people. Kanwar’s focus is the Burmese people and he doesn’t dilute his work with an eye jaundiced by India’s foreign policy.

This break from India and yet off it,is probably what is exciting both critics and collectors alike about Indian contemporary art. Talwar attributes another reason for this interest in contemporary Indian art,“The participation of big international galleries such as Lisson,White Cube and Hauser & Wirth in the India Art Fair has generated interest in art from India.” The interest in India is not one-sided. If collectors or new buyers of art in the west are looking at works by contemporary artists,international artists too are eager to come here. UK-based contemporary artists Marc Quinn who came to present the Skoda Prize during the India Art Fair,plans to return with a show to India. Lisson Gallery which showed works by one of the most important contemporary artist,Marina Abramovic during IAF were happy with the response they got. Says Hilty,“We generated a lot of interest in Marina’s work and some sales at IAF. Buoyed by that,there is some likelihood of her coming to India with a performance sometime in the near future.”


As Indian contemporary art begins to find acceptance in the US (till recently the biggest art market in the world),it may bode well for younger artists. Hugo Weihe,International Department Head,Indian and Southeast Asian Art,says,“There is a general interest in the emergence of India and its culture,and New York is arguably the principal centre for postwar and contemporary art. Many of the Indian modernists spent a formative time here in the late 60s on Rockefeller grants that had a strong impact on the course of Indian modernism.” With almost no institutional or corporate support for emerging artists in India,the opening up of a new market could help correct an imbalance. Also,with Indian buyers currently favouring the Moderns over the contemporaries,the confidence shown by their American peers may just breathe new life into this segment. As Smith concludes,“As much as individual exhibitions,curators,collectors,gallerists and museums have all played important roles in the rising profile of contemporary art from India,global recognition of a country or city as an important site of contemporary art production is, always and everywhere,built on the work of individual artists.”

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First published on: 29-04-2012 at 03:11:03 am

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