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A series of significant shows – in India and abroad
As we move well and truly into 2011, contemporary Indian art continues its march with a series of significant shows. The year has started on a near-perfect note with several solo and group shows by several renowned artists. Here’s a quick wrap-up!

'21st Century: Art in the First Decade'

The significant show at Queensland Art Gallery marks the end of this millennium’s first decade. The ambitious project at renowned art space in Brisbane focuses on works created and acquired specifically in this period. It largely draws on the gallery’s comprehensive collection, all-encompassing in its geographic and generational scope. A press release states: “Over the past decade, we have seen the different ways in which technological, political and environmental issues have direct global impact and how these get reflected in contemporary art! The show presents a gamut of dynamic art practices and also examines the role of the art museum in these fast-changing times."

Among a host of international artists featured in it, Bharti Kher and Thukral & Tagra represent India. The former employs stick-on bindis as a central motif in her practice, to symbolize the ‘third eye’. Now a popular decorative accessory for Hindu women, she perceives the daily ritual of applying it on forehead as offering the prospect of seeing the world with fresh eyes. The artist uses it to transform various objects and surfaces letting the viewer look at them anew. Rashid Rana’s work also forms part of the magnificent mix. His photo images, composed of thousands of pixel-like images, range in a wide range of subject matter from Bollywood to Lahore’s urban scenes. His digital photographic processes, akin to traditional miniature paintings, emphasize the contemporary nature of his subject.

Thukral & Tagra offer a vibrant take on contemporary Indian society. Their refined aesthetic reflects in painting, sculpture, installation, graphics, interiors, and product design. Simultaneously, Nature Morte (at its New Delhi venue) hosts a solo of the artist duo, who with their characteristic use of pop culture imagery, seductive colors, sardonic wit and insightful juxtapositions, address serious themes through a humorous façade. ‘Put it on, Again!’ is comprised of paintings, consumer products and sculptural installations that deal with a bold theme against the backdrop of traditional perceptions of sexuality and the increased representation of sexualized bodies within the Indian media landscape.

A ‘Monumental’ show

Chicago based Walsh Gallery hosts a ‘Monumental’ show, involving top contemporary artists, true to its title. Largely a collection of founder Julie Walsh, the showcase falls into three major categories: personal narrative, specific historical events and current events. There is a wide array of works on view, in terms of scale or context. Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Atul Dodiya and Ravinder Reddy are among the major names from India. A curatorial essay states: “These artists have pushed the boundaries of scale to create works of a monumental nature. Often embedded in these works are the ideas of historical commentary, whether of a personal narrative or global nature.”

Jitish Kallat's 5 lenticular prints ‘Death of Distance’ juxtapose text from a tele-company advertising mobile coverage across the country, for just a rupee a day, with a story of the suicide of a poor girl who didn't have a rupee to buy food. A 6ft graphite rupee stands adjacent to the work. Subodh Gupta's large-scale oval installation ‘Chimta’ of stainless steel tongs (made in India) exposes some of the clichés as he explores the issue of just how ‘Indian’ contemporary art from the country needs to be.

Referencing Egyptian and African sculpture, Ravinder Reddy's gold leaf covered 6ft fiberglass bust is at once a contemporary deity’s portrait and a tribute to that which over time endures - woman's strength of character. Atul Dodiya's ‘E.T.’ is a shop shutter comprising multiple layers. On the outside of it is a painting of a historical moment when Sundaram Tagore and Einstein met in India. Its outside part represents the great ideals of how his country could be. When it’s lifted, the shutter shows a surreal landscape painting with a skeletal scribe on top of an airplane, dropping either bombs or food packages on a desolate landscape.

The emergence of Indian Modern Art

At other end of the art spectrum, Aicon Gallery (London) analyzes the emergence of Indian Modern Art. On the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary, the art space hosts Rabindranath Tagore's works. It focuses on paintings by Jamini Roy and also looks back to Kalighat Paintings that had a foundational role in the development of Indian Primitivism and were exhibited as early as 1871 in London. Artists then saw a proto-modernism in its simple, sharp and direct forms. Art scholar Partha Mitter has argued that apart from Tagore, the two artists key to its development were Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gil.

Continuum: a retrospective show of PAG

Wonderful works by the Progressive Artists’ Group are on view at Delhi Art Gallery. ‘Continuum’ comprises some unseen gems by FN Souza, SH Raza, MF Husain, KH Ara, SK Bakre and HA Gade. Each of them has his own unique style: Ara’s beguiling nudes, Husain’s earthy sensuality, and the frank sexuality of Souza that the collection brings out. The most significant thing about them was not merely their unconventional work, but the circumstances under which they joined forces – to make an emphatic artistic statement. The retrospective spans their respective careers, life journey, thought processes, mediums and themes. It’s accompanied by a comprehensive volume with insightful essays on their genesis and biography of each artist.

Solos by Sudhir Patwardhan and Ranbir Kaleka

Sudhir Patwardhan unveiled his new series of socially sensitive works at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai. They suggested a new directional shift for this keen observer of the intersection between the broad social and the narrow personal viewpoint. The narrative that ‘Full Circle’ unveiled - more personal than a mere abstract engagement with the process of aging and death - referred to the theme of enclosure that recurred in the works on view.

Last but not the least, Ranbir Kaleka's new retrospective show takes place at Volte in Mumbai. ‘Sweet Unease’ gives a comprehensive view of unsettling and truly fascinating trans-media art, described as ‘creating a seemingly living tableau on a canvas and screen.’ An essay by Himanshu Bhagat and Supriya Nair (The Mint) explains: “It’s the multi-layered, long drawn out sophistication of the narratives of each of the artist’s installations that complicates them, even more than their conceptualism. In fusing both video art and painting, his practice finds its most spectacular idiom. Art critic-curator Ranjit Hoskote underlines the fact that his work is imbued with ‘epic disquiet’, omnipresent through the concerns and themes of each painted work/ video projection installations.