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An Open Market, Asian Art Newspaper, London

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During a season of intense international art activity, Paris-Delhi-Bombay appears on the page like part of a lavish art itinerary for the nouveau-riche crossing several continents; flying first class from Paris to Delhi, stopping off at Venice for the 54th Biennial, returning to Basel a second time, and then, once Europe is squeezed dry, rerouting to one of the new markets’, India’s Mumbai, via a tight tin-can internal flight from Switzerland to Mumbai or Bombay; which once Basel is exhausted, might kill off any interest from the aspiring cultural set and soil the remainder of the journey. Paris’ long standing interest in the emerging markets, with Alors, la Chine? (Well then, China) 2003 and Indian Summer at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 2005,  might prove that the French capital is as worthy a place to begin a contemporary art voyage, yet our fleeting optimism is efficiently and effectively quenched by the curatorial tight-jacket that accompanies this exhibition.

Like a solar system in which the sun radiates life and light into the outer atmosphere, Paris-Delhi-Bombay has a central platform, a meeting point, where Tara 2004, a gold fibreglass head by Indian artist Ravinder Reddy is positioned under several spotlights with multiple shadows, where the sun should be, and from where the categories or planets spread out. Like a colossal paperweight Reddy’s head appears utterly defiant; resolute in its temporary surroundings. The small but visually appealing planet closest to the sun, Urbanisme Environnement has selected works by Dayanita Singh, Hema Upadhyay, Atul Bhalla, Jitish Kallat and Raqs Media Collective, and as one of the Pompidou’s urbanists, Dayanita Singh’s photographs are masterful though a little overwhelmed by the Pompidou’s industrial setting; some 42 images, both in colour and black and white are delivered here like a sophisticated montage, that proves a genuine marker of the arresting substance of contemporary Indian life.  Singh’s photographs appear in front of a fibreglass skeletal sculpture by Jitish Kallat, of what appears to be a buffalo in the incongruous shape of a motorcycle, the ribcage acting as the frame with an engine and a back wheel sited underneath. This hybrid mechanized animal appears impudent for the lack of a front wheel that is laid out next to the out stretched legs of the carcass. Hema Upadhyay’s Think Left, Think Right, Think Low, Think Tight 2010 appears like a cross-sectional card-board cut out of the sprawling centre of Mumbai which is immediately adjacent to a photo-wall by Atul Bhalla, One Rupee for a Big Glass 2009, which illustrates the modern shenanigans of the refrigerated cold water vendors.

Venturing outside the internal membrane and away from the sun, Religion by contrast is given much more floor space, Nikhil Chopra, Sudarshan Shetty, Camille Henrot and Pierre & Gilles are among those given religious footing. Camille Henrot’s technically accomplished video work Le Songe de Poliphile 2010 of associated images, appear bound by the politics of French pharmaceuticals proves positively engaging. Henrot’s juxtaposition of one of France’s leading industries interspersed with unchoreographed imagery of India’s visual culture initially proves puzzling but is telling of the works collective sense for something more pertinent and it is also where the photographic artiste of Pierre Commoy & Giles Blanchard read like regal depictions of visual deities that might normally adorn the inner sanctuary of a Hindu temple. Appearing instead inside a shanty styled shelter, posters and framed prints adorn the corrugated walls like the splintered collection of city slum-dwellers. Notably Sita 2010 is a surprising work in which a female figure, encased in a circle of lights, has her hands pressed together in an act of devotion and Hanuman 2010 depicts an alpha male knelt down clasping a garland of flowers with a burning image of Krishna and Sita emblazoned on his chest. Candidly Pierre & Giles’ mythical depictions prove more human than deity as they act as a pertinent examination of the relationship of man to their devotional incarnations.

Mumbai based Nikhil Chopra has performative paraphernalia cornered into a space that is evidence of his dedicated performative action in and outside of the Pompidou. Broken White II 2011 is an energetic work, in which, during his balaclavaed performance, Chopra scrolls thick black chalk marks directly onto the partition wall adjacent to a more refined drawing of the Parisian landscape that Chopra has laboured over, as part of his performance. Chopra’s performative drawing is, for the sake of similarity, stationed beside India in Black 2008-2011 by Stéphane Calais. A work in which a set of amateurish chalk and watercoloured drawings are arranged as an unconvincing installation. A city enlivened by its vivid colours is here washed out, apocalyptic.

The brightest star in the solar system, Foyer, emerges from behind one of Subodh Gupta’s signature stainless steel installations, Ali Baba 2011, is as physically dynamic as Damien Hirst’s 1992 Pharmacy installation for Tate Britain. Row upon row of stainless steel utensils are labelled and shelved as though available for sale. Gupta characteristically celebrates the materiality of the Indian readymade as he selectively slices up reality for the sake of art. For Foyer works by Atul Dodiya, Ayisha Abraham and the Indian pair Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra appear collectively more self-assured. Proving the most convincing element of the entire show, works by Atul Dodiya and Ayisha Abraham recall a deliberate Indianness that returns an audience to the cultural chaos of the sub-continent. Dodiya’s montages appear to thrive on the idiosyncrasies of multiple western influences on existing cultural iconography in India and Ayisha Abraham’s 8 mm video installation recalls the vivid recollection of entrenched memories as they shape the lives of the artist.

Identité proves another predominantly Indian planet in this vast solar system, with the exception of Kader Attia’s engaging video installation. Pushpamala N., Tejal Shah and Bharti Kher are among those sectioned off, Shah proving the highlight of these works. Artisanat is the faintest star circulating the sun, one of the weakest threads of this exhibition with works by Sheela Gowda, Gyan Panchal, Orlan and Fabrice Hyber among others, it appears disjointed and unconvincing. Orlan’s rather clumsy sequined flag proving to be the abiding memory of this corridored corner.  Returning full circle and to the right of the entrance, Planet Politique has exhibited works by N.S. Harsha, Amar Kanwar, Sunil Gawde, Shilpa Gupta and Nalini Malani. Malini’s rather dry un-effecting series of projections are constructed as a decorative backdrop for Remembering Mad Meg 2007-2011, that appears unresolved and almost impossible to decipher. Sunil Gawde’s Virtually Untouchable III 2007 is a simple, unstated work that alludes to a greater deal more. A white chair is decorated with a garland that appears discarded by an elderly statesman or former world leader.

Amar Kanwar’s video piece is more engaging as a digital achievement that delves into the histrionics of a charged socio-political moment. Kanwar characteristically returns to a place of social injustice and choreographs a short-film with re-enactments, documentation and recorded interviews with some of the protagonists and participants, specifically from the coastal state of Orissa. N.S. Harsha’s understated watercolour We Don’t know why we are Stitching Plants 2009, is mildly amusing for its acrobatics. Yet the underlying grid symmetry amasses to a vast matrix of machinery that penitently but playfully alludes to India’s sweatshop culture in which these ninja styled machinists stitch and sew whatever comes their way.

As an exhibition of collected contemporary works, for its lack of curatorial inventiveness it still proves a measure of the international strength of Indian art now that it manages, almost convincingly, to size up to its French counter-part. Though what is on display isn’t necessarily what is holding its own more commercially, Post 2008 the emerging markets are holding steady against the more established schools in New York, Paris, Berlin and London and tellingly as attractive as Indian and Chinese works are, they have acquired an international label, substituting their exclusivity for a position amongst a more global market.


Rajesh Punj, August 2011


Written by Breathe Arts

August 16, 2011 at 11:47 am

Posted in General

3 Responses

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  1. Pulitzer prize material present.

    hotshot bald cop

    August 31, 2011 at 7:43 pm

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