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Events that signify and amplify the link between tradition and modernity in Indian art
‘Painting the Modern in India’, a significant group show courtesy the Massachusetts-based Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), features those artists who attained fame during the freedom movement of India, then under British rule. To liberate themselves apparently from a position at the periphery of an elite art world drawn by the colonial establishment, they formed informal associations like the Calcutta Artists Group (1943), the Progressive Artists Group (1947) and the Delhi Shilpi Chakra (1949).

The renowned painters pioneered new approaches, repositioning their own practices internationally and in close relation to the ancient art history in the country. They created hybrid styles, an under-appreciated albeit essential element of the significant sweep of art in the mid 20th century. After India’s independence in 1947, they took advantage of opportunities in prime art centers across the globe, especially London, New York and Paris, intensifying their collective quests for ‘aesthetic order, plastic coordination & color composition’, as termed by the Bombay Progressives."

At the same time, these ambitious art practitioners probed their own artistic heritage, learning from the first show of Indian art in 1948 at Raj Bhavan in the capital city and seeking inspiration from heritage sites like the temples at Khajuraho and the old city in Benaras. Equally impressive is the ‘Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100–1900’ show, organized by the Museum Rietberg Zurich along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA), New York.

This major loan exhibit is solely devoted to the Connoisseurship of Indian Painting, with more than 200 works of art chosen according to identifiable hands and named artists. Structured chronologically, it traces the artistic achievement of each individual artist in each period. This is something quite important since Indian paintings have traditionally been classified according to regional styles or dynastic periods, with an apparent emphasis on subject matter and narrative content, an accompanying note reveals. “Recent research, however, has begun to securely link innovations in style with specific artists and their lineages. Together with a careful study of artist's inscriptions and scribal colophons, it’s now possible to construct a more precise chronology of the development of Indian painting.”

The showcase dispels the perceived notion of anonymity in Indian art. The major points of artistic innovation in its history are demonstrated through works by forty of the greatest painters from the country, some of them probably identified for the first time. Each artist is represented by five to six seminal works in the exhibition.

Simultaneously, an unconventional presentation by India’s Sanjay Patel at the San Francisco-based Asian Art Museum presents a bewildering blend of tradition and modernity. The series, entitled ‘Deities, Demons, and Dudes with 'Staches: Indian Avatars’, has been an unbelievable artistic foray for him that started with an e-mail he received seeking his participation in activating the exterior of the site based on an allied theme, running parallel to an ambitious exhibition that documents the splendor of India in the fall of Maharaja’s legacy.

Soon he found himself in the surreal situation of walking the full perimeter of the museum precincts with the head curators, as well as the head of exhibition & planning, talking about the façade, signage and historic landmark status of the building. All of this sounded amorphous and exciting to the artist, Figuring out how to make a historic building stand out just perhaps seemed way out of his league, but a clue to this intriguing puzzle was hidden in the form of the exhibit catalogue. It investigated the various roles of the royal kings during their sovereign rule, to their subjugation under the British and the creation of different princely states.

The museum authorities invited him to have his own gallery show. It traces shows the connection between the most ancient artifacts and his modern interpretation - a digital illustration to an exquisite Vishnu stone sculpture from the 12th century, to let people decide what's original and what's not, what's art and what's pop culture, as the artist notes. Signifying and amplifying the very link between tradition and modernity, a grand new exhibition at MAXXI, the National Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome holds a creative panorama. It reflects the economic, social and cultural developments of one of Asia’s largest regions over the past two decades.

Another milestone exhibition at the V&A celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of poet-painter Rabindranath Tagore with a display of about 50 of his exquisite works, never before displayed outside India. The legendary artist started painting relatively late in his career when he was past his fifties. Nevertheless he still produced thousands of artworks and was the first artist from India to showcase his works across the US, Europe and Russia in 1930. His style was characterized by simple bold forms, laced with a rhythmic quality that inspired many modern artists from the country.

Glancing at his evolution as an artist, a curatorial note mentions: “Rabindranath Tagore’s artistic adventure began with doodles that turned crossed-out words and lines into images that assumed expressive and sometimes grotesque forms. Although he was untrained as an artist and sometimes referred to his paintings as foundlings, painting also made him more observant and sensitive to the visible world. The human face is an obvious constant in his work. As a motif that persists right through his artistic career, it demonstrates his undiminished interest in human persona. Movements and gestures in his paintings are usually more sombre than mime; they tease us into thinking and empathetic immersion rather than mere recognition.” The dazzling display, curated by Professor R. Siva Kumar, is organized in collaboration with the NGMA, New Delhi, and with the support of the Indian Ministry of Culture.

Cut to contemporary times and we come to face with a solo of talented artist Rashid Rana that takes place courtesy Manchester-based Cornerhouse as part of Asia Triennial Manchester 11. Curated by Alnoor Mitha ‘Everything Is Happening At Once’ includes new and recent works that cut across conventional notions of the scale and status of the photographic object, opening up its potential to represent cultural, social and physical realities. They blur the divide between two and three-dimensional forms to challenge the viewer’s understanding of the world in which they live. Photo sculptures, large-scale photo mosaics, installations and new video work subvert perception of size and structure and urge us to look deeper into the relationship between the fragment and the bigger picture.

Widely considered among the most prominent contemporary artist in South Asia today, he looks to explore constructs of media and identity, reflecting upon and critiquing the impact of globalization worldwide, simultaneously exploring the local and competing influences of tradition and modernity. According to Lisson Gallery curatorial experts with whose support the exhibition takes place, Rashid Rana’s oeuvre demonstrates a powerful interplay between formal structure and highly charged content, creating a genuine hybrid of Asian and Western artistic traditions.”

Constituting probably the first investigation by an Italian museum of contemporary Indian art, a vast selection of works presents the multiform panorama of the country’s art scene. Curated by Julia Peyton-Jones, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Gunnar B. Kvaran together with Giulia Ferracci, Assistant Curator MAXXI Arte, the event divulges diverse curatorial practices that exude tradition and modernity, blend religion and technology, signifying spirit of contemporary India. Beginning with the definition of the highway as an element of connection between the migratory flows moving from the periphery towards the city, the ambitious event refers to technological development, the economic boom and the growing global centrality of this subcontinent in the world of the arts, especially since the 1990s.