Art Walk: Revelations, drama, brand power

Anything for many aesthetic joys of art! First, it was the challenging venue that needed a GPS device to locate it without being lost in the maze-like roads leading to every direction. Finally, there, close to the Govindpuri Metro Station and precisely seven minutes away from the popular iconic tourist attraction, Lotus Temple, multiple signages directed you to the venue. On the sprawling complex of the NSIC Exhibition Grounds at Okhla Industrial Estate, in south Delhi, inside huge make-shift halls, the 5th India Art Fair came alive with much fanfare, verve and drama.

© Radhika Singh

The drama unfolded right at the entrance. What did I not see? Well, seeing is believing! Those who came to be seen rather than see the art work so that they can legitimately boast about their presence at their next kitty party, perhaps. And then there was that self-obsessed tribe who insisted on being dropped or driven right till a point where no cars are allowed. These diehard narcissists were attired in their Sunday best, but had forgotten to get off from their stilettoes. But just to drill in some fashion sense, whoever wears five-inch heels to an exhibition ground? Unless you take a fancy wheel chair on rent, if there is one.

Inside, more drama unfolded. Spotted was a man seemingly in a hurry and in haste literally elbowed away Subodh Gupta’s installation of stainless utensils that adorned the outer wall of Nature Morte. The utensils almost fell off and he had the audacity to try and fix it with his hands instead of alerting the gallery staff. This triggered off remarks ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. “Usne to bartan ko dhaaka dediya (See they are pushing the utensils!). But then, they were not entirely wrong in assuming that this signature work was an assortment of steel bowls. Art, after all, defies any categories and is capable of launching a thousand ruminations.

Yes, the exhibition was large, confusing and maddening. The works were exciting, experimental and without an expert guide, it would have been easy to be swayed and come back seeing everything yet nothing at all.

Knowing the daunting task ahead of me, I signed up with Jerome Sans, a renowned French art curator for an Art Walk, where he led a group of people to see selected works. San is also an art advisor, writer, critic and musician who has curated many leading exhibitions in Italy, Paris and Beijing. As a Cultural Curator for Le Méridien, he has been instrumental in helping the brand reinvent the essence of its very brand. ‘Brand-ness’ is all!

The first gallery that he led us, a bunch of art novice, was at a gallery at the main entrance of the exhibition hall. “It makes sense to start from here,” he said in his typical French accent. At Galleria Continua, San Gimigmano, Indian artist Nikhil Chopra’s works hit you with the force of revelation. His work is engaging particularly because of his technique. He is not just an artist, but a talented performer who brings the artist’s studio into the gallery using a variety of costumes and props, and wall drawings that he creates during the performance. “In reality, his visual tool is himself. When the director of the gallery met him, he fell in love with his work. His grandfather was a painter and he is redoing his grandfather’s story,” says sans.

© Radhika Singh

Nikhil takes on different characters in full gear, literally getting into the skin of the character he portrays and get himself photographed. For instance in one of the series of his works, titled ‘Memory Drawing,’ he transforms into a turn-of the-century tableau vivant, for five days. Searching at the edge of the Atlantic, the wanderer/draughtsman/mapmaker also travels through Chinatown and Lower Manhattan, imagining America, and eventually chronicling New York City from the vantage point of Ellis Island. In another one, entitled, ‘Memory Drawing VI,’ he suggests the many ways in which the history and reality of a location impact the artist’s execution of characters though costuming, gesture, and action.

At Bangalore-based gallery, GallerySke, it was Bharti Kher’s 8X5 titled ‘Throb’ that dominated the space. Clearly, the painting envelops your senses with the sheer riot of colours. To a layman, it may look like a mere amalgamation or multitudes of bindis put together. But on a closer look, one notices the thoroughness and the orderly method of laying one bindi after the other until they formed a strikingly visual impact. There is a degree of effortlessness to her method and a much synchronised nuance which the artist alone has mastered. There was a riot of colour yet very coordinated in a very artistic manner. When asked if it would have the same impact if the frame of the work was smaller, Sans says: “This one is outstanding. Size matters. If it was small, it would still be nice but it won’t be as interesting as it is,” points out Sans. It was an undisclosed amount, but anyway found out that it was pegged at Rs 9800000 (around $200,000). One of India’s best-known contemporary artists, Kher’s canvas is large as she paints, sculpts and does installations

What drew our attention at the Mumbai-based Chemould Gallery, was the work of Tallur L.N titled ‘Juggernaut’. At the very first glance, one is bound to ask, if the futuristic-looking object is inspired from episodes of Star Wars. On second glance, it also reminded one of an octopus of sorts with elongated hands-like structure. “This one sure looked like an archaeological piece and it’s fascinating. It looked like it is dug out from the earth,” said Sans in his sagely manner. Sure enough, it does. And the reserved and shy-looking artist Tallur who stood next to his work offered his version. “It took me a long time to create this. The piece has inspired people to probe with many questions. People ask so many questions on this piece,” he said. The piece that actually resembled an archaeological object is made of bronze and is randomly coated with, of all the things, cow dung. As the artist said, it was neither past nor future. But so long as it engaged the mind of the audience, Tallu seemed happy.

Innovation has no language. And Jitish Kallat’s works bear a living testimony to this artistic credo. The artist, known for his artistic combination of painting, photography, and collage, with large-scale sculptures and multi-media installations uses history to create a piece of work. Using a letter written by Gandhi to Hitler in 1939, the artists artistically projected the letter on a screen of dry fog. “His very language of narrating history is art,” commented Sans. “I find this very interesting, he use the letter of Gandhi written in in to and transformed into an art.”

Galleria Herve Perdrue, a noted French gallery, appeared to have fallen for charms of tribal art. At the French contemporary gallery, it was the work of artists like Jangarh Singh Shyam that stood out. A member of the Gond tribes from Madhya Pradesh, Shyam was discovered by Jagdish Swaminathan, noted Indian artist and writer. Exceptional creativity is the hallmark of all his works that combine raw and expressive narration. His first large works on paper right from the start of the 1980s contain highly expressive forms of great simplicity redolent of primitivism. His acrylic on paper with a touch of cow dung has a powerful visual impact. “His works look young and appealing. His medium, which is cow dung, is particularly interesting,” said Sans.

© Radhika Singh

At Galerie Krinzinger, a gallery from Vienna, Austria, it was Sudarshan Shetty’s work created from a gigantic block of teak wood that got us engaged. It was carved in the shape of a temple yet it had an unfinished and slightly rough base at the bottom. The intricacy of the piece that seemed like a miniature temple speaks about the dexterity of the artists to be able to carve out of a single piece what can be interpreted as a miniature house of god. But then, Shetty is known for using different mediums. He has mastered large sculptural installations and multi-media and sound and performance making him one of the most noted contemporary Indian artists. The Mumbai-based artist who has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the New School for General Studies, New York, has his works exhibited in various places around the world like the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka and the Tate Modern, London., among others.

Whether it was his very innovative signature work of intelligently forming together assorted utensils in the shape of a bottle for a prominent liquor brand, Subodh Gupta, one of contemporary India’s cutting-edge artists, will always leave the audience asking for more. His work titled, ‘Portrait,’ that was given quite a prominent display at Nature Morte’s outer wall, is a nostalgic masterpiece made from stainless steel rack, stainless steel, enamel and brass utensils that tells a story of a family.

Gupta, who has made a name for himself in the international art world, is known for his usage of everyday object and transform them into an artistic object of delight. This very piece caught the attention of visitors who passionately debated over the installation that used everyday tools. To Sans, Gupta’s work is a revelation. “The fact that he used tools of the last decade and mixed it with everyday utensils wherein he captures different people in the society and the changing of life or a culture is interesting. He has elevated the mundane objects by bringing them into an artistic space.”

The other works on display that stood out included Thukral & Tagra, the much sought-after artist duo Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra who are known for their funky and experimental art work, which are inspired by popular culture and lean towards graphics. Their work stood out for the very symbolic figures that talks about the game that often exist in the art world. The large canvas did appear like a board of game but at the same time, it had a house which on one level appeared like a skull. Says Sans: “The artwork is like a game. It also in some way reflects the art world. Sometimes people in the art world are in a hurry to make money. They are into different game while at the cost of art. They are dealing with different issues in a popular society.”

Art is all about creativity and is constantly breaking barriers. Patrick Rimoux is one such artist who explores new mediums. The French-born artist’s work titled “Beast and the Beauty” combines old negatives that is used a screen through which an image is release through a projector. Rimoux is a contemporary artist and an engineer who works on what many called light sculptors where he modulates light according to his will. “What makes his works interesting is his very different vocabulary and technique,” said the French critic.

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Hoihnu Hauzel
Hoihnu Hauzel is a Delhi-based freelance writer. She writes on travel, food and lifestyle.