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Artist Profile3
Subodh Gupta, the ‘Sub-continental Marcel Duchamp’
Subodh Gupta is considered one of the most talented and exciting contemporary artists to have emerged from India in recent years. He has been termed as the ‘Sub-continental Marcel Duchamp’ by the prestigious publication in the UK, The Guardian. As is known, the artist incorporates in his works everyday objects such as bicycles, thali pans, and milk pails, as well as the mass-produced steel boxes used to carry lunch. These peculiar objects are ubiquitous throughout the country.

Employing such ordinary items he can produce scintillating sculptures that even while acknowledging the reach of contemporary art, reflect and resonate with his homeland’s economic transformation. Born in 1964 in Khagaul, Bihar, he Gupta studied at Patna’s College of Art (1983–88). He later moved to New Delhi where he now lives and works. Initially trained as a painter, he has experimented with an array of media starting with ’29 Mornings’, his first installation in 1996. His work finds place in prominent international biennials apart from numerous solo shows in India and across Asia, America and Europe.

His recent significant group exhibitions comprise Indian Highway’ (2008, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones), Serpentine Gallery, London, and Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo; ‘Altermodern: Tate Triennial 09’ (curated by Nicolas Bourriaud); ‘The Garage (GCCC Moscow) show ‘A Certain State of the World?’, creations from the Pinault Collection; and ‘Where in the World’ (2008), Devi Art Foundation, Delhi.

He recently curated show, entitled ‘East Village’ at Project 88, had works of artists from Bihar. Though he felt it would somehow reinforce the notions of stereotype and regional identity, Subodh Gupta knew at the heart that his intention was to be different: ‘to create a platform for artists from Bihar, where he grew up and to give space to a group of artists whose work is not often seen’.

His curatorial note stated: “Bihar is a very remote place on the map of contemporary art. Even if there is a college of Art in Patna and many artists pass out from this college, it hasn’t held classes for the last 50 years and has hardly any teachers to teach the students. This holds the same for many small cities across India and so we must support in whatever way we can. Coming from this same background I know how important it is, for the artists who are in the show, to display their work in cities like Delhi or Mumbai.”

On his part, Subodh Gupta will showcase his own set of works simultaneously at Old Bond Street galleries and London based Hauser & Wirth throughout this month. Among the creations he has made especially for his first major solo show in the UK is an intriguing three-dimensional reworking of Duchamp’s mustachioed Mona Lisa, L.H.O.O.Q, (1919).

Hauser & Wirth, a leading contemporary art gallery, represents many emerging and established artists. The gallery was founded by Ursula Hauser, Iwan Wirth and Manuela Wirth in 1992. It has been located since 1996 in the former Löwenbräu brewery building. In its endeavor to turn the spotlight on Indian contemporary art, the gallery has chosen to showcase Subodh Gupta. A recent piece on him in the UK Financial Times by Gareth Harris on the eve of the show mentions: “A series of mangoes, the solid bronze pieces, are a sculptural Dutch 17th-century still life, their ‘skins’ dappled with subtly delineated blemishes. The mangoes go on show by the Indian artist, alongside a few other impressive sculptural creations. This nod to a fellow art market darling is another canny move on the part of artist Subodh Gupta acknowledged as India’s first contemporary art superstar.”

An accompanying note to the solo show elaborates: “In his new works, the artist deftly moves towards objects possessing an auratic quality, away from composite sculptures. Readymade commodities tend to experience transformations in material and scale, transmogrifying into extraordinary artifacts from being mere factory-produced items. He presents subject matters employing culturally loaded mediums like bronze, marble and steel. Their symbolism varies from the universal to the enigmatic. And their emotional impact can range from menace to nostalgia. Appropriated icons from the canon of Western art accompany replicas of perishable, interchangeable goods typically associated with India, and items whose import is specific to him.”

To sum up, Subodh Gupta’s work embodies the clash between individual and impersonal experience in contemporary society. It treats unlike things with equal respect as the artist tests the ways in which value and meaning are constructed, trying to explore capacity of art to withstand and channel the tangible and intangible effects of expansion, displacement as well as translation.