India Art Fair: Three exhibits that made me go huh

The India Art Fair in New Delhi shows the masters as well as the hottest new contemporary artists. While Rajyasree Sen loves her Husains and Jamini Roys, some other works just left her scratching her head.

hidden January 29, 2012 10:12:02 IST
India Art Fair: Three exhibits that made me go huh

New Delhi: Maybe I visited the art fair too close on the heels of the Jaipur Rushdie Summit, but I seem to have culturally decomposed over the last week. The India Art Fair, which has been demoted from the status of a Summit for some reason, is wrapping up today in Delhi. I’d been there last year as well and been stunned by the sheer presence of so many art works under one roof and also by the sure scale and precision with which the art summit had been put together. This year, the scale and precision has only improved and number of art works only increased, and after the maddening crowds and massive queues at the Lit Fest, I couldn’t but be impressed by the skill with which the Fair has been organised.

India Art Fair Three exhibits that made me go huh

Visitors look at works of art on display at the India Art Fair in New Delhi, India, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. AP

But on to the art. Now I’m not a connoisseur of art, and I’m old school and prefer the masters like Raza and Souza and Gade. And I just loved the Jamini Roys and Husains at the DAG booth and the Souzas and Gades at the DMG booth, and of course Ketaki Sheth’s black and white photographs. There were some beautiful sculptures and installations by new contemporary artists.

Now while I understand that I might not have got the finer nuances of some of the art works on display, I do believe that an art work even if it is multi-layered, must appeal at least at one level to anyone viewing it. Everyone doesn’t need to get the subliminal meaning. But if you need a detailed primer or ready reckoner to explain what a book or painting or film is trying to say, for it to appeal to you at any level, I feel it somehow misses the mark.

So people who watch Apocalypse Now, appreciate it or don’t like it as a well-made war film even if they don’t get the Heart of Darkness or TS Eliot references. Or you can enjoy Animal Farm as an entertaining fantastical story and not realise the commentary on Stalin. Of course, Orwell might be turning in his grave as a result, but at least everyone gets something out of what he’s created. Or even if you didn’t get Dali’s surrealism, the sure fantastical nature of his paintings catches your eye.

But what do you make of  a massive steel plate around 12 feet in diameter with strange white phallic-shaped white items each a foot in length piled onto half the plate? Now I didn’t realise my faux pas when I asked someone what it was, only to be greeted by disdain and told that it was the avant-garde Subodh Gupta’s work. That I didn’t get kicked out of the Fair for my show of ignorance is a miracle. A friend did take pity on me and explain that the white phallic pieces were magnified grains of rice. Aah, a commentary on hunger in India. Or so I hope. Anyway, it matters not because there were enough people ooh-ing and aah-ing over the piece.  I seemed to be the only one who’d missed the boat.

The second piece was at Chatterjee and Lal which I might have been drawn to because of the Bengali name. On display was a slightly tattered Victorian lady’s dress which was reminiscent of Dangerous Minds with John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer. And behind the gown was a small photograph of a man wearing the same gown. A little unnerving. The picture, it was written, was of the artist wearing the gown, which he had worn while creating his work. The ‘work’ itself was not clear. Now, in an attempt to widen my horizons, I did some reading up when I came home and learnt that the artist, Nikhil Chopra is a performance artist and wears guises and places himself in theatrical settings. For example, in an earlier performance abroad, Chopra would sit in front of backdrops for four hours at a stretch in various guises. In one scene, he sat at a table eating chocolate cake while wearing white boxers, as a commentary on colonialism and identity.  Now if someone had explained all this to me, while displaying a Victorian dress to me even with no Nikhil Chopra inside it, it might have all made a lot of sense to me. Or however much sense it could make. But just a Victorian gown with a picture of a man wearing it, simply made me feel like I’d walked into a seamstress shop.

The most bizarre and the one which made me most uncomfortable was the sight of six people walking around in t-shirts emblazoned with “Talk to me! Living work of art.” These poor dears were part of Mumbai-based artist, Preeti Chandrakant’s exhibit. She’s supposedly spent 6 years ‘molding’ these people and the exhibit was supposed to be a commentary on the fact that everything is for sale. According to news reports (Daily Pioneer), she has said that she has, “made their thinking more precise, their seeing more aware, their hearing more sharpened, their touch had been trained to respond to the subtlest of stimuli, whose tasting has been refined, whose smelling has been heightened, whose sensing has been awaken, whose very materiality has become aware of itself”. A veritable Lady Svengali.

The poor ‘molded’ sextet looked quite out of sorts and seemed to spend at least the hour that I was in the vicinity, speaking just to each other in a huddle. One of them was on his mobile, most probably telling a friend that life had seriously dealt him some cruel cards. Some curious people did take their pictures and chat them up a bit. Or maybe they were testing out the attributes of the sextet, because as a sign of how serious Preeti is in her artistic vision, people can buy any of the ‘living works of art’ from the ‘molder’, and they can take the person or ‘work of art’ home according to the terms of the contract. That I thought negated the entire point Preeti was claiming to make as both the artist and her gallery would be making money of contracting out a person to some slightly warped buyer.

But hell, that’s just me. I obviously only understand art for art’s sake and not for some hidden cause which is impossible to identify without a guidebook. And whether I understood Subodh Gupta’s steel plate and phallic rice grains and Chopra’s Victorian gown or Chandrakant’s living works of art, the first two are the toast of the global art circuit and the third has managed to generate enough media columns to make her a gallery favourite. Obviously the art fair is not catering to philistines like me. So I just hot-footed it to the vodka bar in the hopes of clearing my head.

Rajyasree Sen is a bona fide foodie, culture-vulture and unsolicited opinion-giver. You can read about her adventures with food and life in Delhi on her blog www.brownsahiba.blogspot.com or follow her at @rajyasree

 

Updated Date:

also read

US educators' new approach to math — play with numbers and win prizes
Tech

US educators' new approach to math — play with numbers and win prizes

As America struggles to make math fun, educators and and entrepreneurs try to lure kids to it with games, competitions, museums and traveling road shows - and a strategic sprinkling of celebrities - they aim to make math engaging, exciting and even fun.

US educators' new approach to math - play with numbers and win prizes
News & Analysis

US educators' new approach to math - play with numbers and win prizes

As America struggles to make math fun, educators and and entrepreneurs try to lure kids to it with games, competitions, museums and traveling road shows - and a strategic sprinkling of celebrities - they aim to make math engaging, exciting and even fun.

Warne's farewell or Gayle's blitzkrieg? Check out our favourite IPL moments
Sports

Warne's farewell or Gayle's blitzkrieg? Check out our favourite IPL moments

Firstpost puts together for its readers the 10 defining moments that made this IPL season an entertaining one.