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issue 23

dec 2013

atul

dodiya

not to miss:

posternama bengal masters exhibition

in conversation with: manu dosaj


writing on the wall

Dear Readers, Welcome to a brand new issue of The Wall! The end of a year is a time for retrospection and NGMA Delhi seems to be doing just that with an exhibition showcasing Atul Dodiya’s works spanning the last three decades. Ranjit Hoskote, India’s most eminent curator and an old friend of Dodiya’s, paints a vivid picture of the artist and his vast repertoire in our cover story this month. We also review two exhibitions from Delhi’s Art District in Lado Sarai’s, recent art night – ‘Posternama’ by Muhammad Zeeshan at Latitude 28 and a very different collection of Bengal Masters at Wonderwall in association with Gallery Sanskriti. As highlighted in last month’s issue, 2013 has been a difficult year for Contemporary Indian Art but as Manu Dosaj puts it, ‘you have to keep doing what you do.’ Do read the Gallerist wherein she generously shares wisdom gathered over 15 long years of founding and running Gallerie Alternatives, a pioneer of Gurgaon’s art scene. And that’s what we do at The Wall. We bring you honest opinions and fair reviews of all the happenings in the Indian art world and will continue to do so in the coming year as well. Until then, on behalf of The Wall I wish you a Merry Christmas and Prosperous 2014 ! Warm wishes Kapil


in this issue: Cover Story

My Experiments with Truth: Atul Dodiya through the eyes of poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote.

High Five

Freeze

Vinit Gupta showcases his portraits of the Jejury tribe

Lounge

Selected works from premier galleries and auction houses

Ashishwang Godha samples the flavours of Alto Vino at J.W. Marriott Pune

Spotlight: Art

The Gallerist

This month the spotlight is on N.S. Bendre’s work from Saffron Art’s Winter Online Auction

Spotlight: Music

Make the most of the festive season with choirs and carols!

Red Carpet

Our selection of events for you to go through at your convenience

Kickstart

Our selection of works priced below 99,000, for those starting out on their journey of collecting art

Manu Dosaj looks back on 15 years of being Director of Galleri Alternative

Critique

The Wall reviews ‘Posternama’ at Latitude 28 and the Bengal masters exhibition at Wonderwall


cover story

the various truths of atul dodiya

Ranjit Hoskote Image Courtesy: Nancy Adajania

Atul Dodiya’s retrospective show recently opened at the National Gallery of Modern Art Delhi. We look at the artist and his vast repertoire through the eyes of the curator and his long time friend, Ranjit Hoskote, in an exclusive interview with Stephanie Samuel.

S.S: What is the underlying idea behind ‘My Experiments with Truth? What are the major trends and phases that one will see in this retrospective that spans 33 years? R.H: As the curator of this exhibition, I intend ‘Experiments with Truth: Atul Dodiya, Works 1981-2013’ to be the portrait of one of the most versatile, multi-directional, self-renewing artistic practices on the contemporary Indian art scene. It brings together works from various phases in Atul

Dodiya’s career, beginning with a series of portraits of the artist’s heroes, rendered in oil on paper, student work from 1981 that has never been exhibited before, and coursing across his work in painting, assemblage, installation and diverse media including oil, the large-format watercolour, the laminate surface, the metal roller shutter, as well as found objects and sculpture. The most recent work in the show consists of a sumptuous trilogy of portraits of Bhupen Khakhar, marking a triumphant

Atul Dodiya Image Courtesy: Saatchi Gallery

proclamation of Dodiya’s return to oil as a medium, as well as the series Painted Photographs/ Paintings Photographed, in which every element is a diptych setting up an interplay between incidents from the life of Mahatma Gandhi and correspondingly, an iconic work of modern art from roughly the same year. This series

brings into startling juxtaposition Dodiya’s twin concerns and lineages one that connects him to the Gandhian movement of social transformation and liberation from colonial rule, and the other, which situates him within the genealogy of modernism and its successor movements.


At the heart of Dodiya’s work is what I identify as an ‘experimental continuity’, by which I mean an ability to create an artistic genealogy for oneself, a tradition if you will, which is dynamic and continuously engaged with, and brings together, in the artist’s mind and his work, an assembly of presences -- interlocutors, mentors, points of inspiration and departure, ancestors to quibble with and argue with. The manner in which Dodiya does this is transhistorical and transcultural - his exemplars, the presences in his work, include Abanindranath Tagore and Gerhard Richter, Nandalal Bose and Sigmar Polke, Robert Rauschenberg and Benode Behari Mukherjee, Bhupen Khakhar and Roy Lichtenstein.

Dadagiri, 1998

And throughout, there is the presence of Mahatma Gandhi, a figure who bears philosophical, spiritual and political significance for Dodiya, who grew up in a Gujarati milieu in the multilingual, politically fraught Bombay of the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, I chose ‘Experiments with Truth’ as the title for our exhibition in a deliberate act of homage and alignment with Gandhi, whose autobiography is titled The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Dodiya, like Gandhi, tests out various conceptions of truth experientially, through his

work, attending to rival conceptions of what the truth might be, in terms of the nature of the imagination, the objects of the artist’s attention, the unfolding imperatives and emphases of artistic practice, and the relationship between the artist and his context. S.S: When did you first come across Atul Dodiya’s work? Was it a common interest and perspectives on the socio – cultural ethos of India and the globalized world that attracted you? R.H: Dodiya’s career and mine began at roughly the same time. My first piece as art critic to The Times of India was published in 1988. Dodiya’s first solo exhibition was held in 1989. I had seen, and been struck by, his work in group exhibitions at the Jehangir Art Gallery, and we found a natural affinity that drew us together. We respond intuitively to one another’s work, and I am always fascinated by the range, complexity and unpredictability of his art. Over the years, this has grown into a friendship and a collaboration. With no more than two or three exceptions, I have written the catalogue essays for almost all of Dodiya’s exhibitions during the last 25 years. We worked together on a mid-career survey of


Bhupen in Xavier’s Villa, Khandala - II, 2013 (left) Bhupen in Xavier’s Villa, Khandala, 2013 (below)

his work, which I curated, in Tokyo in 2001. We also collaborated on an artist book, Pale Ancestors, which presented 48 of his large-format watercolours and 48 of my poems and prose poems. Although Dodiya is 10 years older than I am, we made the transition together from the last years of the postcolonial period proper into the epoch of globalization. We were shaped by many of the same political and cultural energies of the Nehruvian period - an emphasis on a liberal approach to social and cultural

issues, a belief in the inclusive and secular character of the Republic of India, an absolute opposition to right-wing sectarian, revanchist and fascist ideologies. We also share a voracious appetite for world literature, a commitment to poetry, and a love of the work of specific artists such as Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Jasper Johns and so forth. Both Dodiya and I have also seen the Indian art world grow in scale, and meanwhile, across a 15-year period, both of us have conducted our practice in an international context, often working more elsewhere than in India.


Image Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery

My Experiments With Truth at NGMA Delhi

S.S: You organised a mid-career retrospective, Bombay: Labyrinth/ Laboratory in 2001. Would you share the experience of curating that exhibition? What has been Atul Dodiya’s journey from then to the current retrospective? R.H: I was already working on a long-term, collaborative trans-Asian exhibition project with the Japan Foundation Asia Center, Tokyo, over 2000-2002, when the Center invited me to curate a solo exhibition for the solo exhibition series of Asian artists that they had planned, and to select

an artist. I chose Atul, who was poised at a singularly vibrant moment in his career (the Indonesian artist Heri Dono was the first, curated by the Thai critic and curator Apinan Poshyananda; Atul and I were second; and and the Korean artist Lee Bul, who conceived and directed her own show, was the third in the series). The experience was wonderful. It was a major showing for Atul, giving him the latitude to explore new forms and lines of inquiry. He had just begun to work on his roller shutter works, first presented at the Tate Modern in

2000 (Century/ City, curated by Geeta Kapur and Ashish Rajadhyaksha). For our Tokyo show, Bombay: Labyrinth/ Laboratory, Atul extended himself in diverse directions, producing a memorable series of mixed-media sculpture-assemblages that brought together found forms such as ladders and playground slides, as well as photographs, textile fragments, flowers, newspaper clippings and so forth. I designed the space originally a concert hall, with a grid of moveable blocks for a floor - as a hybrid between a kund or temple tank and a walled city, generating the

sense of climbing and descending, and negotiating a maze. It was a portrait of Bombay, and allowed Dodiya to articulate his concerns with the city’s propensity for rich cultural experience as well as political violence, its position as a South Asian as well as a global city, and generally to bear witness to the diverse concerns he was already exploring, including the popular culture of posters, graffiti and the commercial cinema; India’s pantheon of gods, saints and political leaders; masters of world cinema such as Antonioni, Ray, Ghatak and Tarkovsky; and moments of crisis


and catastrophe such as Hiroshima, Bamiyan, and the cyclic riots and pogroms of South Asia. Between 2001 and 2013, Atul has gained enormously in a confident articulation of his artistic concerns. He has followed through on the formal adventures of the Tokyo midcareer retrospective by developing a consistent body of work in the sculpture-installation, as well as exploring media such as the photography-based installation and the Wunderkammer or cabinet. He is animated by what I have, elsewhere, described as “the encyclopaedist’s desire for the world”, a desire to encompass the most maximal spectrum of sensations, affects, effects, reflections and provocations!

of preoccupation, and take diverse shapes. I was already writing poetry and my early essays in college. I was invited to become art critic to The Times of India, Bombay, while I was in college, and published my first book of poems during my first year at university. Curating grew out of my need to extend certain arguments I was making about contemporary art into palpable shape - I needed to show rather than tell, or to show as well as tell! I’ve always seen curatorial practice as an intellectual practice aligned with my ongoing cultural, political and theoretical research interests. My exemplars and mentor figures are curators whose practice evolved in this way, above all Okwui Enwezor, who I regard as my guru and with whom I’ve had the privilege of working closely.

S.S: Barely out of college and you curated your first show at the age of 25! Was the transition from literature and poetry to art a natural one? R.H: In a conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, who asked me much the same question during one of his legendary interview marathons, I said that my practice was like a starfish. Poetry does not come before art criticism for me, nor does curating come after theory. These concerns spring, as far as I can tell, from a common centre

Leopold, 2012


Grace, 2012

26/11, 2012


My Experiments With Truth at NGMA Delhi (left) Image Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery Woman With a Chakki, 1999 (right)

S.S: For a collector, especially those who have just begun, retrospectives are a good way of educating one about the artist and his/her works. Would you agree?

structure of a symphony, in terms of its development, elaboration and summation. And yes indeed, to me, a retrospective is always a major and invaluable pedagogical occasion.

R.H: Yes. A retrospective offers its viewers the unprecedented luxury of seeing the artist’s career -- or much of it, and even if it is in the form of extracts, so to speak -- in one space, and seeing it as whole as possible. Continuities within the work, ruptures, moments of crisis and breakthrough, the ascending scale of virtuosity, the passages of experiment and transition, all become clear. In that sense, a retrospective can have the

S.S: In spite of some great shows, this year hasn’t been a good one for Contemporary Indian Art in terms of sales. From a critic’s point of view, what is your take on the prevailing situation and what are the measures you suggest to revive sales and collector interests alike? R.H: I’ve always said and I said it at the height of the boom in contemporary Indian art that no market could survive without a

substantial knowledge infrastructure, all of those invisible but absolutely invaluable mechanisms, the journal, the archive, the museum, the library, the practice of responsible and responsive criticism, and so forth. When, instead of this, you make price the only criterion of value, and have an apparatus of publicity to buoy up the marker of price, your ship is headed for the sand. The pervasive sense of a betrayal of trust, felt by serious collectors during the boom and the bust that followed it, remains an obstacle. The art market attracted a number of investors and speculators during the boom; their exit left damage in its wake. Also, there was

an overemphatic obsession with the new and young, so that artists were making their debut too quickly, on the basis of work that had yet to find its stride, and with too many expectations riding on them. An entire generation of artists received opportunities that they could barely integrate into a coherent practice; and meanwhile, those opportunities have evaporated for many of them. Meanwhile, galleries have been addressing the question of how to reorient their practice, but only a few of them have found answers to this problem yet. A major problem with the Indian art world is our lack of diversity in terms of systems and ecologies of production.


My Experiments With Truth at NGMA Delhi Image Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery

The gallery is the one institution that’s left to do most of the heavy lifting. In a robust art world, we would have had, in addition to the dynamic gallery, also the self-renewing museum, the public commission, the biennale, the artist residency network, the open studio, the publicly funded arts complex, the para-academic platform and many other alternative space. Of course we do indeed have heroic and sterling examples of such spaces and platforms - especially in Delhi, Bangalore and Bombay, but also in Jaipur and Chandigarh, to name only a few locations - but many more are needed.


The Wall Dec13