Indian Art around the World: A Year in Review and the Year Ahead

Over the last decade, Indian modern and contemporary art have gradually been making their presence felt on various international platforms, leading up to some of the most exciting levels of interest in painting, sculpture, photography, video and installation art from the subcontinent in 2007. This article outlines some of last year's biggest events, most unique exhibitions and significant developments, emphasizing their importance in the growth and evolution of modern and contemporary Indian art. The article also examines the effects that these developments have had on the Indian art market over the first quarter of 2008, and maps out the not-to-be-missed events and exhibitions planned for the rest of the year.

'Indian art practices are very rich because they draw on languages that have strong inflections of the regional and the global, an elaborate structure of mythology and iconography, political and familial reference. In this way India has arrived at its own definition of the postmodern.' The 'arrival' of Indian art, and its unique engagement with the postmodern that art critic and independent curator Gayatri Sinha speaks of, is a phenomenon that has made almost all members of the global art fraternity sit up and take notice, and more so in 2007-08 than ever before.


This past year proved a turning point for South Asian art in general and Indian art in particular, with several galleries opening up new and larger spaces in India and abroad, and some of the most groundbreaking exhibitions being presented around the world. In addition to the first iterations of the Asian Contemporary Art Fair (ACAF) held in New York and the ShContemporary Fair in Shanghai, Indian artists and galleries participated in numerous international shows including 'La Biennale de Venezia,' 'Art Basel 38,' 'Thermocline of Art' and 'Documenta XII.' The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) was established in Delhi, and has already presented its first Emerging Artist Award and announced a Public Art Grant and Research Fellowship in addition to its Art for Children program and workshop on 'Writing Art.' In the United States, Europe and the Middle and Far East, galleries and museums collaborated with artists to bring South Asian modern and contemporary art the attention it deserved, presenting shows like 'Generation 1.5' at the Queens Museum in New York, 'Contemporary Art from Pakistan,' at Thomas Erben Gallery in the same city, and 'Amrita Sher-Gil' at the Tate Modern, a large scale collaboration between the hosts in London, the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, the Haus der Kunst in Munich, and several private collectors.

At the same time, auction houses, museums, galleries, dealers, collectors and scholars alike have been closely tracking the development of the secondary markets for modern and contemporary Indian art, both of which showed results over the last year that were more than encouraging. Sales were conducted in new locations like Dubai, Paris and Hong Kong, and several contemporary Indian artists, including Atul Dodiya and N.S. Harsha, crossed the critical US$500,000 mark for the first time in 2007 after a surge in demand from collectors. At the same time, as institutional collectors began to enter the market and modern masterpieces by senior Indian artists like Tyeb Mehta and S.H. Raza continued to attract prices at auction that exceeded the US$ 1 million.

Most heartening, however, was the inclusion of the work of Indian artists like S.H. Raza, Subodh Gupta and Raqib Shaw in international auctions of post-war and contemporary art. This autumn, Indian born Shaw's 'Garden of Earthly Delights III,' previously exhibited at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), sold in London for GBP 2.7 million (USD 5.49 million), shattering all previous records for a work by an Indian artist at auction.

Just as the Indian art market received a great deal of attention in 2007, individual artists and collectors also won much media exposure and critical acclaim for their efforts in the development of the field. Whilst Subodh Gupta, frequently referred to as Delhi's Damien Hirst, was listed in Art Review Magazine's 'Power 100 2007: 100 Most Powerful People in Art,' collectors like Anupam Poddar, who is set to open India's first visual arts foundation in 2008, graciously lent works from their extensive collections to exhibitions abroad.

2007: Indian Art around the World

Of the major exhibitions of contemporary Indian art held in 2007, there were a number that focused solely on newer media, including video and installation, pushing the limits of what most audiences typically associate with the field. As a part of New York's Asian Art week and in celebration of 60 years of Indian independence, the Newark Museum hosted the much publicized exhibit, 'India: Public Places, Private Spaces.' Curated by Gayatri Sinha and Paul Sternberger, this show focused entirely on contemporary photography and video art from India, displaying over 100 works. When asked about this curatorial choice, Sternberger explained, 'Photography and video seem to allow Indian artists to shed some of the baggage of stylistic references to previous Indian art and craft, both modern and traditional. Yet, this fresher visual vocabulary still leaves room for artists to address issues particular to Indian art, politics, culture, religion, etc. Thus, photography and video are proving to be especially apt media for contemporary Indian artists to engage their world in a wide variety of methods, from culturally-analytical photojournalism to highly-subjective creative expressions.' The works, by artists like Atul Bhalla, Raghubir Singh, Shilpa Gupta and Tejal Shah amongst others, reveal the variety of artistic responses to India's rapidly changing sociopolitical and economic milieus, and the ever present tensions between the country's past and future.

Another unique exhibition, showcasing Indian installation art in two parts, was held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mattress Factory museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Michael Olijynk, curator of the show 'India: New Installations Parts I & II' explained that he, and subsequently the show, were inspired by India's rapid globalization and the influence it has had on the entire world of art. Artists like Mansi Bhatt, Krishnaraj Chonat, Raqs Media Collective (Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi and Shuddhabrata Sengupta), Sudarshan Shetty, Hema Upadhyay and Anita Dube were hand selected to come and live in residence at the museum as they created their installations on site. Many of the pieces, like much of Indian contemporary art, speak of the rapidly changing landscape of India.

2007 saw the maturity of a keen interest in Indian art in the one of the world's art capitals, New York, with galleries and museums hosting a number of events that spread awareness of the field. While the Thomas Erben, Jack Tilton and Jack Shainman galleries in the city have begun to represent Indian artists and collaborate with Indian galleries to show the work of painters and sculptors like Sudarshan Shetty, Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Shibu Natesan alongside that of their other artists, several Indian galleries have opened outposts in the city to cater to an ever-widening clientele in the region. In addition, galleries and institutions like Columbia University and the Asia Society sponsored several educational panels on collecting and appreciating Indian art, in an effort to bring modern and contemporary Indian art closer to New York audiences.

In India, Bodhi Art presented Anju Dodiya's first site-specific project at the Lakshmi Villas Palace in Baroda, which later travelled to its gallery space in Mumbai. Titled 'Throne of Frost', the exhibition was inspired by the myths and legends associated with the Palace, and included several large, free-standing pieces with embroidery on one side and the artist's violent, semi-autobiographical watercolours on the other. Other major shows in India included 'Frame/Grid/Room/Cell' curated by Gayatri Sinha, 'LaVa' presented by Bose Krishnamachari, Nikhil Chopra's three-day performance titled 'Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing II', and the Bacon, Freud, Mehta and Souza show presented by Grosvenor Vadehra in new Delhi.

Each year, there are certain annual fairs and exhibitions that define the art world, and 2007 was no different. Yet this year, a number of Indian artists were represented at these shows. This year, Art Basel 38, the most talked about annual art fair held in Switzerland, hosted the galleries Bose Pacia Modern of New York and Nature Morte of New Delhi, who, together presented two significant pieces: Bharti Kher's life size elephant covered with bindis, titled 'The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own,' and Thukral & Tagra's collaborative installation 'Adolescere-Domus.' At its sister fair, Art Basel Miami, held in December, these galleries were joined by New York's Talwar Gallery, showing the works of artists A. Balasubramaniam and Rajani Shettar amongst others.

Over the summer, the Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia (the Venice Biennial) presented the 52nd iteration of its annual exhibition, entitled 'Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind', curated by Robert Storr, the first American invited to be a commissioner in the history of this renowned show. Indian artists Nalini Malani and Riyas Komu were among the few selected by Storr to show their work in Venice. Alongside the exhibition, French super-collector Fran'ois Pinault presented his collection at the Palazzo Grassi, including Subodh Gupta's massive skull built of stainless steel kitchenware, titled 'Very Hungry God', which stood prominent on a platform above the Grand Canal outside the museum. Indian artists Pushpamala N. and Raqs Media Collective were also represented in the Biennial's other sections.

Documenta, held in Kassel, Germany, is arguably one of the most exclusive and well attended exhibitions of contemporary art in the world. This year, Documenta XII presented art from all over the globe, in a variety of different media. Sheela Gowda, Atul Dodiya, Amar Kanwar, and Nasreen Mohamedi were among the artists who represented India for the first time at this exhibition. Another major European show, 'Thermocline of Art: New Asian Waves,' presented the work of a number of Asian artists including the Indian artists Reena Saini Kallat, Justin Ponmany and Chitra Ganesh. This show, held in Karlsruhe, Germany, aimed to highlight the diversity of Asian art, and the varied influences it has had on the international art world in recent years.

Whilst contemporary Indian artists were widely represented at the biggest international shows and fairs, the work of the older generation of Indian modernists was also displayed at some very prestigious venues. Early in the year, the Tate Modern in London presented a retrospective of the artist Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1942), considered a 'national treasure' in India and often referred to as the Indian Frida Kahlo. The museum presented over thirty of her paintings spread over five of its galleries, making this exhibit the largest solo display of an Indian artist at the Tate. Across the Atlantic, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston has instituted a loan program for modern Indian art, whereby it borrows works by artists like Tyeb Mehta and Jagdish Swaminathan from private collections, and displays them alongside its own fine collection of Indian antiquities. In New York, Saffronart hosted the first U.S. retrospective of the work of S.H. Raza, a member of Mumbai's pioneering Progressive Artists' Group. The exhibition, held at the prestigious Fuller Building, represented more than six decades of the artist's work through some of his finest pieces lent by private collectors from all over the world.

2007 also saw an increase in international academic interest in Indian art. In addition to Rutgers University's role in the development of the 'Public Places, Private Spaces' exhibit in Newark, a number of university museums sponsored individual exhibits of modern and contemporary Indian art. One such show was Brandeis University's traveling exhibit of Indian women artists, titled 'Tiger by the Tail: Women Artists of India Transforming Culture', which included the work of Indian women artists like Anju Dodiya. To accompany the exhibition, Brandeis University set up a symposium consisting of several educational panel discussions to increase public awareness of Indian art in the United States. Another interesting show, hosted by the Queens Museum in New York, highlighted and followed the lives of artists from the South Asian diaspora. Titled 'Generation 1.5,' the show included work by artists who moved away from Indian in their teenage years, resulting in a unique amalgamation of influences on their body of work.

In addition, this autumn, the Chicago Cultural Center was taken over by the bold and powerful narratives spun by Indian artists including Anju Dodiya, N.S. Harsha, Hema Upadhyay, Jayashree Chakravarty and Reena Saini Kallat. Titled 'New Narratives: Contemporary Art from India', this exhibition was curated by Betty Seid, and included never-before-seen works straight from artists' studios in the hope of educating audiences about the many faces of a 'new and changing' India. Nalini Malani, whose work was show in Chicago, also had a large scale solo exhibit at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. This exhibit included of a number of her paintings and installations that underscored women's issues, especially the artist's concerns over family and societal relationships.

Apart from these large scale exhibitions, 2007 saw several major collaborative shows that broke boundaries in their promotion of Indian art. 'Shisha: The Rushlome Project' was a public installation in Manchester featuring Subodh Gupta's unmistakable steel sculptures and the complex photo-assemblages of Rashid Rana, a contemporary Pakistani artist. The purpose of this collaborative project was to deliver public art that engaged the community while simultaneously celebrating South Asian culture and heritage in the United Kingdom. One of the most interesting international collaborations of 2007 was the 'Private/Corporate IV' exhibit which opened a dialogue between the impressive Indian art collection of Lekha and Anupam Poddar and Daimler Chrysler's corporate collection of western contemporary art. The exhibition presented about sixty works by artists including Ravinder Reddy, Pushpamala N, Jagannath Panda, Subodh Gupta, Dayanita Singh, Atul Dodiya, T.V. Santhosh, Mithu Sen, Tobias Hauser, David Salle and Alfredo Jaar.

In India too, institutions and galleries collaborated to present exhibitions of new media and large scale solo and group shows. At the beginning of the year, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) brought the show 'Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India', curated by Chaitanya Sambrani of the Australian National University in Canberra, to New Delhi. Previously shown at various locations in Australia, the United States and Mexico, this exhibition marked the opening of the Asia Society India Center and involved several educational workshops and outreach programs led by the artists. Later in the year, Rashid Rana's edgy photo montages and multi-channel videos were brought to Mumbai by Chatterjee & Lal and Gallery Chemould at its new Prescott Road premises after a hiatus of three years. As a memorable farewell to 2007, Bodhi Art and Chemould Prescott Road jointly presented Jitish Kallat's seventeenth solo show, marking ten years since his first in the city. Titled 'Sweatopia', the exhibition included several pieces that were shown earlier at ShContemporary in Shanghai including the massive sculptures 'Eruda' and 'Autosaurus Tripous'.

Outside of the United States and United Kingdom, Indian artists have presented their work at a number of international fairs and exhibitions. 2007 witnessed the first ever Gulf Art Fair, held in Dubai, UAE. This fair hosted over fifty of the world's top galleries including several that represented modern and contemporary Indian artists including M.F Husain and Atul Dodiya. In Bern, Switzerland, the Museum of Fine Arts hosted a three month long show titled 'Horn Please: Narratives in Contemporary Indian Art.' Italy also played host to two prominent shows of Indian art: 'Indian Art Now: Between Continuity and Transformation,' and 'Urban Manners: Contemporary Artists from India.' Both of these shows focused on the new faces of India, the historic traditions of the subcontinent and the various dialogues that crisscrossed the space between them. 'Urban Manners' included artists like Atul Dodiya, Vivan Sundaram, and Hema Upadhyay. According to its curator, Adeline Von F'rstenberg, ''Indian and Postmodern art is a reply to the basic contradiction that pits North India against South India, the city against the countryside, and above all, modernity against tradition.'

Every two years Lille 3000, a major festival in France, spotlights a different country or region at their biennial exhibition, and in 2007, the focus was India. Titled 'Bombaysers de Lillie,' the biennial included several exhibitions of contemporary Indian art including Subodh Gupta's installation at the Sainte Marie-Madeleine church titled 'God Hungry' and the public installations that Gupta, Nataraj Sharma and Sunil Gawde created earlier for Enrico Navarra's 'Made by Indians.' Similarly, the show 'Passages / Contemporary India' at the Center for Fine Arts in Brussels, also presented Indian art to new audiences. Exploring the notion of displacement in a changing India, this exhibit of work by artists including Sharmila Samant, Anita Dube, Sonia Khurana and Jitish Kallat, gave viewers the opportunity to examine the works in relation to the architecture of the Palais des Beaux-Arts where they were shown.

2008: A Full Calendar

'The contemporary Indian art scene has indeed emerged as one of the most vibrant and exciting in the contemporary art world. The recent amount of attention contemporary Indian art has received from both the museum and the commercial realms is testimony to this vibrancy.' Curator of 'India: Public, Places, Privates Spaces', Paul Sternberger's observations could not be more correct, as 2007 was indeed a remarkable year for Indian art.

In 2008, galleries, auction houses, collectors and institutions around the world seem to have capitalized on this momentum, allowing modern and contemporary Indian art to considerably expand its viewership and patronage, and Indian artists to scale even greater heights. As Indian art is presented through new iterations of annual fairs like Art Basel, FIAC Paris and the Frieze in London, and new fairs like ArtParis in Abu Dhabi and the Asia Triennial in Manchester, the Indian and global art communities can anticipate an exciting year ahead.

Amongst the fairs, the second edition of Art Dubai (previously known as the Gulf Art Fair), which recently concluded, stands out. At the fair, several Indian artists were represented by galleries from India and abroad, and their work shown alongside that of Western and Middle Eastern artists including Andy Warhol, Sam Francis and the Iranian photographer Shirin Neshat. The highlights of the fair included the kick-off of Credit Suisse's travelling exhibition, 'Art & Entrepreneurship', which is set to showcase the work of nineteen artists including the Indian duo, Thukral and Tagra, in eight global art capitals and conclude with an auction of the works in London in November. Another important aspect of the fair was its 'Art Park', a new project space dedicated to experimental and site-specific work. This year, Jitish Kallat and Muhammad Zeeeshan's installations were included in this space.

In New York, Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) will see several auctions, exhibitions and talks on Indian art. Shows will be mounted the prestigious Marlborough Gallery (Viswanadhan), Bose Pacia Modern (of Ranbir Kaleka's video projections), Thomas Erben (Ashok Sukumaran), Sepia International (photographers including Atul Bhalla) and Sundaram Tagore Gallery (a Pan-Asian group show). Additionally, a site-specific installation by Kanishka Raja will be on view at Envoy Gallery, and discussions with artists will be hosted at Bose Pacia Modern and the Asia Society.

Several international group exhibitions of contemporary Indian art are also scheduled for this year. These include 'Passage to India' which opened at Initial Access, mega-collector Frank Cohen's temporary galley in Wolverhampton, and shows at the famous Serpentine and Saatchi galleries in London later in the year. Amongst the group exhibitions of Indian art in the United States, is the show hosted by Rutgers University called 'Passage to Jersey: Women Artists from the South Asian Diaspora in Our Midst', as part of their yearlong celebration of South Asian women artists including panel discussions and multimedia performances. The exhibition will showcase the work of the five Indian American artists, Siona Benjamin, Anuradha Das, Priya Kambli, Swati Khurana, and Ela Shah. Also travelling to Rutgers University this year are the shows 'New Narratives' from Chicago, and 'Tiger by the Tail! Women Artists of India Transforming Culture', which opened at Brandeis University last year, and features provocative art in several genres, which responds to ongoing patriarchal aggression and communal violence in India.

Another exciting trend to emerge in 2008 is the interest in showcasing Indian photography. Several shows including 'Click!' at Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi and Grosvenor Vadehra in London, 'The Photograph: Painted, Posed, and of the Moment' at the National Gallery of Modern Art, in Mumbai and New Delhi, and solo shows of Ram Rahman and Binu Bhaskar's work at Bodhi Art have already been mounted this year. In Barcelona, too, Casa Asia will host a show of Raghu Rai's photographs

Other significant solo shows that have opened this year include those of Ranjani Shettar's ephemeral installations at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Part of the Institute's 'Momentum' series, Shettar's site specific installation will be mounted at the museum for several months. According to a release from Talwar Gallery, which represents the artist in New York and New Delhi, 'Shettar will create a new work, Sun-sneezers Blow Light Bubbles, with tamarind kernel powder and muslin. The enigmatic title ' referencing the phenomenon whereby some people sneeze when exposed to bright light or the sun ' reveals her interest in working with scientific phenomena in a playful or poetic way. In alluding to this inconsequential genetic 'condition', Shettar may be light-heartedly referencing the natural glow that she hopes to harness in the ICA's light-filled galleries'. Institutional interest in Indian art has also been shown by the National Museum in Cardiff, Wales, where N.S. Harsha will exhibit his works later in the year, and the Baltic Center for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, which will host a solo exhibition of Bharti Kher's work from April to August.

At galleries, too, many interesting shows have been promised. Anju Dodiya and Hema Upadhyay have already opened shows at Bodhi Art's various locations, and an Atul Dodiya show has been planned for the summer at their Mumbai gallery. At Grosvenor Vadehra, Bari Kumar and Shibu Natesan will show their recent work, and a Subodh Gupta show has just opened at Jack Shainman in New York. Also in New York, Tallur L.N. and Nalini Malani will show their work at Arario Gallery, a new space promising several shows of Indian, Chinese and Korean art in the city. Other exhibitions to look forward to include those of T. V. Santhosh's paintings and sculpture at the Guild and Nature Morte, and of Baiju Parthan's digital works and paintings, and Farhad Hussain's caricature-like family portraits at Vadehra Art Gallery.

Though the market focus seems to have palpably shifted to Contemporary Indian art, works of Indian modernists will also be showcased at important exhibitions in 2008, following the revival of Modern Indian art at this year's early auctions. While Saffronart will present the second leg of 'Raza: A Retrospective' in association with Berkeley Square Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Modern Art is planning retrospectives of both Jagdish Swaminathan and Tyeb Mehta's work in New Delhi.

As far as the secondary market goes, 2008 has witnessed the emergence of several new auction houses in India, an increased number of sales of Modern and Contemporary Indian art, and also the inclusion of Contemporary Indian art in international sales of Post-war art by auction houses like Sotheby's and Phillips de Pury with encouraging results. Interestingly, the focus on Contemporary Indian art has also filtered to charity auctions like the one hosted recently by Concern India, where a majority of lots on offer were by younger artists. Another charity auction, RED, organized by Gagosian Gallery and Sotheby's in New York, featured works by Subodh Gupta and Anish Kapoor alongside those of Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Banksy and Willem de Kooning, amongst others.

In March, several new artist records were set at auction, including for modernists M.F. Husain and Ram Kumar at Christies in New York (both crossing US$ 1 million, and Husain's 'Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharat 12' topping Tyeb Mehta's 'Mahishasura' to become the most expensive Indian art work publically sold at US$ 1.609 million), and younger artists like Surendran Nair, Bharti Kher, Shibu Natesan and Jagannath Panda at Saffronart's Spring Online Auction of Contemporary Indian art, which notched a total sale of US$ 7.2 million.

Don't Miss in 2008!

' Ravinder Reddy at the Economist Plaza in London from July 25 to October 4, hosted by Grosvenor Vadehra
' Art Dubai, from March 19 to March 22 (
' 'Momentum 10: Ranjani Shettar' at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, from March 19 to July 13
' Subodh Gupta's show of paintings and sculptural installations titled 'Still Steal Steel' at Jack Shainman in New York, from March 13 to April 12
' The First Asia Triennial in Manchester, from April 5 to June 1
' Retrospectives of Tyeb Mehta and Jagdish Swaminathan, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
' 'Art & Entrepreneurship' by Credit Suisse in Dubai, New York, Berlin, Moscow, Geneva, Milan, Madrid and London, from March 19 to November 24

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