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A Marriage of Convenience, Asian Art Newspaper, London

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Propositioning an exhibition of cultural collaborations between two incongruent countries, the new Pompidou show of Indian and French contemporary artists appears no more than a well intentioned ‘marriage of convenience’. The established contemporary French art scene is here sized up against the ‘emerging’ Indian art scene at the Pompidou in Paris.

In his opening correspondence the Pompidou’s Alain Seban declares quite a tenuous link between the French artists and their subject matter, ‘for most of the French artists invited to participate in this exhibition, their involvement in the project was what took them to India for the first time’. For all his revelry Seban incongruously professes that the French contributions to the Pompidou exhibition might appear less considered and prove more impulsive responses to the curatorial remit. Going further ‘there have been shows devoted to the contemporary Indian art scene, both in France and abroad. But to really take the measure of the phenomenon of artistic globalisation, we are seeing not only the proliferation of centres of artistic production but also the possibility of real inter-cultural dialogue.’ Unfortunately such well-intentioned rhetoric appears choreographed, engineered even, as the visitor’s (the Indians) play the home side (the French) at their own game and the art becomes cliques of two cultures attempting to cosy up to one another.

Seban foolishly goes onto mention ‘Paris-Delhi-Bombay’ in the same literary introduce as Jean-Hubert Martin’s 1989 ‘legendary exhibition’ ‘Les Magiciens de la Terre’ which was hugely criticised outside of France for its exotic undertones and ill-considered display. Choosing fifty artists from the ‘centre’ of the world and fifty from the ‘margins’, Martin was accused of fashioning art history to fit a radical new formula. The rational for ‘Paris-Delhi-Bombay’ in having many more Indians artists than French exhibiting might be considered a remedy for previous idiosyncrasies but it still holds that this show, like its cantankerous predecessor, does little more than facilitate contrived cultural affiliations between two countries that is based on an institutions ambitious attempt for self proclaimed grandeur. It might be argued that artists Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher and Orlan deserve a more considered curatorial approach that avoids these ill-conceived group shows that draw upon the usual suspects in order to facilitate ‘cultural dialogues’.

Historically temporary alliances do appear to have existed between the French and the Indians that date back to the early 17th century and in modern times France’s outward President Jacques Chirac described a desire for an ‘ambitious relationship’ between these two countries, saluting India as ‘a nation which has affirmed its personality on the world stage’. Yet such incredulous historical substance tempers this show as it actually claims a show based on a British American style ‘special relationship’. Without ties that bind the cultural associations that are recalled by the writer and art historian Deepak Ananth in the introductory literature proves enchanting but unconvincing. Ananth labours over independent forays to the Indian sub-continent by French and European profiteers like film-maker Jean Renoir for his first colour film, The River, 1951 and playwright and poet Marguerite Duras’ 1975 novel that inspired the film India Song and obviously the that of the Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier who was commissioned, in the early 1950’s, to design the ‘city of the future’ in Chandigarh.

Given the significance of what is being attempted here, it could well be argued that the histrionics of this exhibition claims to do too much as it suggests an embryonic relationship between India and France. If only that were the case as the majority of the Indian artists included for exhibition appear uninfluenced by the specifics of ‘new dialogues’ whilst their French counter-parts have had to fashion their work to accommodate the Pompidou’s curatorial blue-print. Such an ambitious exhibition, first considered in 2007, might have been better served by introducing collaborative working relationships between the invited artists that would have actually addressed cultural differences and encouraged works of some substance.

The Pompidou’s Eurocentric vision is further underlined by the exhibition title ‘Paris-Delhi-Bombay’, that wasn’t ‘Paris-Delhi-Mumbai’, ‘Bombay’ has long been considered a corrupted English version of ‘Mumbai’ and an unwanted legacy of British colonial rule. Sophie Duplaix, curator at the Musée National ďArt Moderne and Fabrice Bousteau, editor of Beaux Arts Magazine are chiefly responsible for curating this cultural trade fair at the Pompidou and as with the Serpentine’s ‘Indian Highway’ 2009 and Saatchi’s ‘Empire Strikes Back’ 2010, in which contemporary Indian art is still sifted though by western scholars and art aficionados, the show fails to ignite any genuine interest.

In detail Mumbai’s Riyas Komu attempts to deal with the cross-cultural motives well by introducing football as his visual allegory for examining the underprivileged classes in France and India in Beyond Gods 2011. Yet unlike Komu’s noble attempt at acknowledging something of his French setting for ‘Paris-Delhi-Bombay’, Delhi based Bharti Kher’s work Untitled 2011, is clearly a reworking of the 2010, inevitable undeniable necessary, first shown at Hauser&Wirth. Mumbai’s Nikhil Chopra is suited to relocating regularly with performative works that respond very directly to the altered circumstances of Paris and the Pompidou. New Delhi’s collaborative duo Thukral and Tagra work Kingdom Come I (couple), 2011 is exclusively Indian, a canvas of lovers from the temples of Khajuraho that are relocated to a contemporary setting in an attempt to use the sexual liberalism of the past to address the social chastity of the present. More engaging, Algerian Kader Attia depicts The Hijras or the third sex in India that has acquired auspicious associations to ceremonious events. French artist Orlan’s Hybridisation of the French and Indian flags, 2011 is clumsy and Gyan Panchal’s stiff khaki saris is a reflection of his interests in the formal aspects of materialism and a cultural taste for abstraction while further into the show Philippe Ramette succeeds in addressing the histrionics of the Indian sub-continent by paying homage to the statuesque figures of Nehru and Gandhi that are cast in bronze and immortalized into history. The Pompidou can only hope for a similar degree of recognition after this show.


Rajesh Punj, April 2011


Written by Breathe Arts

August 16, 2011 at 11:48 am

Posted in General

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