Saturday, 28 May 2011

Poised for Change.......? [Subodh Gupta review, Nature Morte]

The curious amorphous form printed on the card for Subodh Gupta’s 4th solo show ‘Oil on canvas’ at Gallery Nature Morte, New Delhi from 9th December 2010 to 23rd January 2011, was intriguing. The exhibition presented a wide-range of ideas all executed in 2010, from fibre glass serpents, marble edifices of the ubiquitous tiffin-carrier; cast bronze canvasses, steel eggs and more, but no paintings. The obvious implication that art making is no longer about oil on canvas was non-revelatory.  We readily see around us a gamut of media which includes video, performance, installation, photography and more, all of which have also been part of Subodh Gupta’s art practice. So what was the artist trying to say?  

Two tiffin-carriers [47.5" high x 16" in diameter] carved in white marble stood tall on a cement pedestal. Titled ‘Twins’, these simple, white sculptures soulfully captured insignificant details of the humble, boxed utensil; main-stay of middle class India even today. We had to circumambulate this [65" high x 59.5" wide x 25” deep] artefact in order to view it, which heightened the reverential quality accorded by the larger than life scale and purity of white marble.  It felt as though one was walking around the sarcophagi of entombed tiffin boxes. ‘Twins’ was the most powerful work on view. Did this allude to an end of the ‘bartan bhandar’ that has become a distinctive part of Gupta’s creative expression? 

Out of Nothing

The possibility of this was contradicted by “Out of Nothing” – a  70" high x 144" wide x 240" deep installation that comprised a 21 headed serpent, cast in black fibre glass lording over a mound of shiny steel utensils which simultaneously entrapped a part of its body beneath its gleaming mass. Black contrasted against silvery steel was visually powerful. The serpent heads looked at us, above the mound of kitchen clutter, not threateningly, but a trifle strained.  This contemporary version of the ancient, serpent-like chthonic water beast that possessed multiple heads, who for each head that was cut off, it grew two more, seemed to say, by virtue of it's mythical implications, that these cooking utensils were now an indispensable aspect of Gupta's art.

Right: Sunset. Centre: Atta.  against the wall centre to right: Oil
on Canvas
The commentary became even more confused with the variations of cast bronze slabs titled ‘Oil on Canvas’. Slabs of cast bronze [25.5" high x 25.5" wide x 1"], painted to look like blank canvasses were hung on the walls or placed randomly on the floor, leaning against the walls, their back to the viewer. In the centre of the room containing these ‘canvasses’ was ‘ Atta’ the amorphous form on the card - cast  bronze placed on a wooden table, sprinkled with wheat powder, measuring 39" high x 47" wide x 25.5" deep. On one side stood ‘Sunset’ an elaborately carved white marble almirah, with a video projection on the back wall. The delicately carved lattice reminded one of Mughal aesthetics and craftsmanship and was singularly different from the other works on display. Some other exhibits included “Inside”, a white marble thali, and sixteen found and used shoes placed on the thali, mounted on a white marble pedestal and “Three Rounds” made up of three brass urns. 

In another room a Subodh Gupta signature stainless steel sculpture, 63" high x 81" wide x 119" deep, resembled a larger than life egg-tray with 3 equally large eggs positioned within it. At first it was difficult to determine what this was. Parts of the tray were big enough to be the replica of a Jacuzzi tub, but as you went farther away, the form became apparent. It was curiously named ‘Bird’ leading one to consider what kind of bird would hatch from eggs made up of steel tumblers, boxes, milk containers and other such utensils. The protruding eggs were skillfully crafted. Their smooth egg-shape was especially commendable. This had been achieved despite the ridges between the odd shaped and sized objects welded together. 

Gupta’s art over the years has transformed objects of everyday Indian life into artworks of global recognition. They became part of a commentary that voiced concerns of a country whose rapid economic growth fuelled an equally advancing materialistic mindset, impacting our visual and social culture. The contemporary climatic, social and moral turmoil, unraveled daily through news reports, are an indication that values espoused today need to veer away from materiality and scale as being the indicators of success. Having indulged both materiality and scale, along with his stature as one of India’s most celebrated artists, Subodh Gupta is well placed to introduce an altered ideal. The question is whether he can. The presented exhibition seemed indicative of some kind of transition but one that lacked direction. Its commentary, if any was confused at best.

No comments: