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RETURN OF THE OLD MASTERS
Friday, 24 January 2014 | Navneet Mendiratta
The unfinished portraits of 16 Indian art luminaries at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art is the
first ever exhibition to showcase a contextual history of modernism in India. Navneet
Mendiratta reports
Delhi art scene is warming up to the big event, the India Art Fair 2014, that opens at NSIC
Exhibition Grounds on January 30. But it is the run up to that which is turning out to be very
interesting. After a warm reception to a retrospective of an understated Indian artist, Subodh Gupta
whose solo exhibition, Everything is Inside, is on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi
art lovers can treat themselves to the never before seen unfinished portraits of 16 Indian art
luminaries at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Noida.
KNMA as the museum was set up in 2010 and is one-of-its-kind in India to showcase a private
collection owned by Kiran Nadar. “The moments of transformations must be shared,” said Roobina
Karode, director, KNMA and the curator of An Unfinished Portrait, sharing the thought behind
hosting the exhibition. “For the last two years, we have been showing the works of the younger
contemporaries but this time we wanted to show a collection in depth, for which the scale had to be
different,” she said.
It is for the first time, art lovers would get to see some priceless vignettes from the unfinished
works of the old masters dating back to 1930s. Framed beautifully and hanging from the wall there
are notations on postcards, pencil drawing on sketch books and even flimsy notepad sheets.
To list out the masters on show, the exhibition displays a contextual history of Modernism in India,
its ideological musings at Shantiniketan with Nandalal Bose, Binode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar
Baij, Krishna Reddy and Somnath Hore and Ganesh Pyne from Kolkata, FN Souza and MF Husain
from the Progressive Artists’ Group (Bombay), Jeram Patel, Himmat Shah, Arpita Singh and Bhupen
Khakhar from Baroda and Delhi.
“It is difficult to source the works from Shantiniketan. The idea was not to look at their large scale
projects but to go down to the visual culture they lived in and look at what they were doing with
their creative process,” said Karode. So what we have here are these little sketches with
conversations that they exchanged with people around. Some of them on post cards, a medium that
is today lost to the world.
A visual extravaganza unfolds as a visitor walk down the gallery from one alcove to another
showing up to 15 works by one artist and making the total number of works on display adding up
to some 250 works. “It is interesting to note how an insignificant detail would catch their eye,”
Karode went on. “One interesting work I keep going back to is that of an image of an insect on the
grass by Nandalal Bose. It is so simple and extremely beautiful. These artists were rooted in
learning the skill. They would study the nature deeply and get under its skin. They were such
perfectionists that once they had captured what they wanted, they would instantly put the thought
down, without even having to erase even a line,” she said.
With these works, the exhibition puts on display a very significant period of India — from the early
1930 to progressive artists. “The moment you move from Nandalal to Benode Behari to Ramkinkar
you see the transformation from tradition to energy. All of them were committed to their land and
art. They defined modernism in the Indian context,” she shared.
And as you move from Nandalal’s works to those of Himmat Shah, you don’t even realise that you’ve
jumped 30 years. The drawings move from being different to imaginative and playful. “It’s the
transition from instructed eye to innocent eye. Shah travelled a lot in desert and even lived there, so
the whole trajectory is different,” she added. The progressives are a complete contrast. Their works
are dynamic, rebellious and prolific. That they travelled extensively through India and the world,
comes out clearly in their impressions on the paper. Their pursuit for magnificence is hard to miss.
For instance, Husain sketches from his Praha (Prague) diary, dreaming of little things happening
fuel the appreciators’ imagination and lend a glimpse of what must be going on in the artist’s mind.
Adding the lens perspective are the clicks by Madan Mahatta, Richard Bartholomew and Ida Kar
who have captured some of these legends, their persona or in their studios with their creations or
at exhibition openings and sometimes all by themselves, pensive or looking at the transient world
around them.
“We must remember that some of the masters here are important academicians as also critics of the
artists,” she said. In his time, Richard Bartholomew was not only an artist, photographer and an
acclaimed art critic but was also close to the generation of artists who formed the Progressive
Artists’ Group in Bombay. Being a friend, he photographed them at their homes, studios,
institutions they were associated with and in their group or solo exhibitions.
Similarly, Madan Mahatta being a prolific photographer, captured and recorded the development of
New Delhi. His photographs document the history of the time between 1950 and 1980, which
marked the height of Nehruvian modernism.
For those who wish to see art outside books, this is indeed a treasure trove. The exhibition is on till
September this year.
http://www.dailypioneer.com/vivacity/return-of-the-old-masters.html
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