Junctures and Departures: Locating Modern and Contemporary Indian Art Today

Date: October 15, 2009
Location: Saffronart, London
Participants: Amrita Jhaveri, Girish Shahane and Dinesh Vazirani

Dinesh Vazirani: I wanted to begin by welcoming you to Saffronart London, our newest location, and thanking you all for coming. This panel discussion is part of a series of interactive events that Saffronart is hosting globally to increase awareness and broaden the discourse surrounding modern and contemporary Indian art. Coinciding with Frieze, one of the world's major art fairs, we thought this panel offered a timely opportunity to analyze, discuss and gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which we classify and comprehend Indian art.

While it is almost impossible to categorize art of any form solely by the period in which it was executed, it might also be the easiest way to look for certain similarities in prevalent styles. It is in this context that the concepts of the 'Modern' and the 'Contemporary' arise and collapse at the same time.

Internationally, the distinctions between these terms seem to have been unanimously accepted - Picasso is a Modernist while Damien Hirst, Contemporary. However, where does one place a Ram Kumar canvas executed in 2006, or a Tyeb Mehta sketch from 2001? This, incidentally, is only the beginning of the debate. While it is evident that markets for both modern and contemporary Indian art have developed independently, it is also evident that the growth of each has taken place along different trajectories.

To open this panel discussion, we ask what the words 'Modern' and 'Contemporary' represent in the context of Indian art, how relevant their distinction is today, and where and how we might locate each in relation to the other and to other art movements and markets around the world.

Taking the debate further is the idea of the Nation itself. Modernism in India has been closely linked to the idea of the Nation-state and nation building. Satyajit Ray's 'Apu Trilogy' of films or Ramkinkar Baij's monumental 'Yaksha' and 'Yakshi' sculptures are entrenched in the local, the artisanal, the patriotic - the national. The idea of the 'national' was clearly the preoccupation of the modern age and Nehruvian India. With the liberalization and globalization of the 1990s, however, it became necessary to question the very concept of the national along with other meta-narratives. In a time of disintegrating geographic boundaries, what role does 'India' play in Modern and Contemporary Indian art?

Today we engage with the words 'Modern' and 'Contemporary', and explore how they sit with Indian art - formally, geographically as well as conceptually. In charting their intersections and divergences, we aim to generate a better and deeper understanding of the historic importance of both streams; one that will help anchor global discussions on the quality, originality and significance of Indian art, and of the influences that have shaped it over the last fifty years.

Discussing these issues are our two articulate panelists, Girish Shahane and Amrita Jhaveri. Girish Shahane is a Mumbai based art critic, writer, cultural commentator and former editor of Art India. Amrita Jhaveri and independent art consultant and the author of 101: A Guide to 101 Modern and Contemporary Indian Artist.

Amrita Jhaveri: I just wanted to repeat the main question that Dinesh has posed this evening, which is what do the words modern and contemporary represent in the context of Indian art, and how might we locate each in relation to the other. I think the simple answer to this and one which is broadly embraced really just by the market is that modern art refers to art made around the time of India's independence and contemporary art is quite simply art that was created in the wake of liberalization in the early 1990s. Moreover, with the rising art market, modern art has become very closely identified with the Bombay Progressive Group; a short-lived artists' group which was led by F.N. Souza, who emphasized the use of formal elements inspired by Modern western art over earlier proponents such as the Calcutta group or the Chennai group who have somehow been slightly overlooked and forgotten by the art market, I think who shared thematic concerns rather than embraced a very distinct modernist style.

I think before we begin to examine the highly debated history of modernism in India and explore which artists were its main proponents or not, it may be useful to attempt a general definition of modern art. Ever since the late 18th century, art history has been concerned with classifying artifacts or art objects in terms of their style or their morphology. Greenberg explained modernism as a series of developments in European painting from the 1860s onwards towards one unitary goal which was to discover the essence of painting as a medium. How he explained what modernism was in terms of a series of radical breakthroughs which allowed a generation of uniquely creative artists, in his view, to undermine the post renaissance western realist tradition that existed since the renaissance. Modernism replaced the classical canons with its own claims to universal validity, but really just how universal is it?

While the west was seen as centre of modern art production, the general view was that modern art in the rest of the world was at best a mildly interesting spin off or an ignorant local appropriation, and that view still exists pretty much all over the art world.

We can take the case of one artist, who is actually pre-Independence, and this is Gaganendranath Tagore and his adoption of cubism let's say versus Picasso and his interest in African masks. So, most people think Picasso's appropriation of African masks is okay, and contributed to all the creative breakthroughs he made, whereas when somebody like W.G. Archer looks at Gaganendranath's work, he looks at it through the lens of western art and looks at it as a kind of mildly interesting but very weak kind of cubism. Influences didn't just go one way and we know that from these two examples. Was it this realization that ultimately called the authority of the western notions of progress into question, giving rise to postmodernism, global trends, and the emergence of what we now define as contemporary art?

Artists began challenging the modernist notions of authenticity by quoting a variety of artistic styles. For the past two decades, postmodern theory has welcomed and has indeed been fascinated by diversity. Still, in an international context this art arouses interest only for its representations of a specific cultural milieu. So for example when you look at a postmodern artist like Subodh Gupta, and many of you might have seen his show down here at Hauser and Wirth, it confuses people when Gupta starts referring to Duchamp or Koons. When people still look at his work they still want to see thalis and cow packs and things that are 'typically Indian'. Also, as critic Thomas McEvilly remarks, many people committed to modernism seem to feel threatened by globalization. Postmodernism's ridicule of originality, its aggressive mixing of high and low forms, its elevation of women and third world artists to positions of prominence and its tendency to replace pure form with iconography and its rejection of artisanal skills are frightening to most people. If you have been wedded to modernism you find it sort of difficult to accept what is currently going on in the art world.

In the Indian situation, the history of modern art is complicated by the fact that the freedom to quote from other artistic styles, which is a trademark of postmodernism, was found much before the arrival of modernism in India. So think back to the Mughal ateliers for example, and Jesuit priests travelling to India and the influences that they actually took from European art. That kind of quotation you see often in Sotheby's or Christie's - you go to sales and you see miniatures of Christian scenes, etc. that are a direct quotation from prints that were brought to India by the Jesuits for example. In many ways India itself was a postmodern culture before it became a modern culture. The spatial vastness of the country, the incredible variety, contradiction, conflict - it's an incredibly layered heritage. So I think this whole question of what's modern and what's postmodern is really a construction, an art historical construction in many ways.

Although European and Indian modernists stand united again naturalism, the history of naturalism in Europe differed incredibly from the history of naturalism in India, for example, where it was introduced under the conditions of colonialism. So we first had naturalistic drawing and painting because it was first taught by professors in art schools which were set up by the British. Within India then, modernism is not just a formal development as it was in the West, but has its origins in I think colonial or quasi-colonial history.

Pre-Independence Modernists like Shergill or Tagore or indeed Jamini Roy, helped define modern art prior to Independence. Many of this generation were equally influenced by European modernism, and by Indian nationalism. They made tentative explorations with one eye on traditions. So, Shegill for example, looked at Ajanta for paintings, Jamini Roy to Pat painting but he was equally proficient in oil painting. But it was really with the Progressive Artists' Group who unabashedly recommended the adoption of styles and modes of European art, advocating abstraction, decrying subject matter, and insisting that attention be paid to line and colour. In 1940s India, the complete ignorance of tradition was actually an outrageous idea. Yet their dream of entering history by embracing modernism was short-lived. Even today, most of these modern artists are considered 'Indian' before they are considered 'modern' as such; even though people are accepting that modernism was a global phenomenon, I think they still have a hard time trying to fit in a Ram Kumar or a Souza.

I think a more successful synthesis was achieved by the next generation, who have also been ignored slightly by the market - the so-called neo-tantrics. They also had a form of abstraction; they made a gesture of sympathy towards modernism, but remained far more tightly bound to Indian traditional forms in many ways. So an artist like K.C.S. Paniker for example from Madras chose to not follow western models of abstraction but based his work on abstract art already existing in Indian tradition - on cosmograms, meditative abstractions - loosely know as yantras. Om Prakash Haridasan shared a relation also to American hard-edged abstraction of the period. Jamini Roy, helped define modern art prior to Independence. Many of this generation were equally influenced by European modernism, and by Indian nationalism. They made tentative explorations with one eye on traditions. So, Shegill for example, looked at Ajanta for paintings, Swaminathan of course wanted to blow apart the consensus on the school of Paris taste that the Bombay Progressives have put in place. Behind the distinction between the Progressives and the Neo-tantrics lie different senses of identity; one willing to submerge the Indian identity in an international identity, whereas the other was based on Indian tradition, and an insistence that they have a meaning and power apart from their participation in the world community.

Going on, the subsequent generation of artists, born around 1940s, ignored the puritans and chose whatever they wanted, mingling ideas from Western art, Indian art, everything. If you look at Gulam Sheikh or Vivan Sundaram, they quote from wherever they choose to quote from, without any barriers at all. For them however, quotation is less ironic or critical, as quotation functions in Western art, but really their goal is to make, or to write themselves into some kind of larger art history. So I think from what I have said so far, that modernism in India doesn't line up very easily with the paintings of Picasso or poems by Baudelaire or anything like that. And India's misalignment with the west means that critics and people who have been studying modernism in India for a long time like Geeta Kapur are free to interpret works of artists like Nasreen Mohamedi for example, not just in relation to western Modernism, but also in terms of Soviet Suprematism, constructivism, etc.

Another great artist - K.G. Subramanyan, most people don't think of him as being a modernist as such, but he owes his work as much to village traditions encouraged by Gandhi, as to the Euro-Western avant-garde. For example, his early works when he was in New York in the 1960s, refer to the abstract expressionism and pop which were currently in vogue. But he also shows incredible skill with village crafts and other things. So oil painting in general was problematic for nationalists, of which Subramanyan was definitely one, yet he seized oil painting and made it his own in many ways. His work, I think puts modernism in the balance and given how much his art depends on parody, he may also be putting into balance his unease in adopting Western Modernism. I think in that I have focused more on the Modern rather than Contemporary, but have brought up some of the issues.

Girish Shahane: Thanks a lot, for doing all the ground-work actually, there is very little to add in the history that Amrita has put out, so I want to take a slightly different track and talk of classification in itself; one should never think that any category is useful beyond its use value. I mean, it is only its use value that we should be looking at. Something like a diamond, for instance, which exists like contemporary art, isn't art. Contemporary art is a much more constructed category, rather than the category of a diamond. But for a physicist, the diamond is carbon, so it would be more closely related to say coal, than it is to gold. For a physicist the relation between a diamond and gold almost does not exist. But if you are in the market, then it doesn't make any sense to sell diamonds next to coal. You would put diamonds in a category of function, rather than structure. So, the question is, as a curator or as an auctioneer, that's perhaps what you should be looking at. Where do I place these painters in a way that is most useful to me, in categorizing it?

So for example, to take Saffronart, I think you essentially begin Contemporary art with people who are born in 1947, right? And one of the things that this does, is that Sudhir Patwardhan is usually your first Contemporary artist. He is born in 1949 if I am not mistaken; and Navjot Altaf comes more or less at the same time. Now Sudhir Patwardhan, art historically, everyone will know is very deeply connected with artists like Gieve Patel, most of all Gieve Patel, but also that whole 1970s generation - Jogen Chowdhury, etc. - who were creating this new kind of Indian modernist figuration with certain political overtones, in the course of the 1970s. And so to put Sudhir Patwardhan, in contemporary really deprives him of a very deep connection with the people that you put in your modern section. He is, I think, done a disservice by being in that category and I don't know how necessarily, I'm not a very market man, but people who are maybe interested in a particular group of painters, if they saw an auction where they saw that Sudhir was also in that category might be more tempted to go for it, than in a category like Contemporary that might hold less interest for them.

So at the margins you may have these problems of classification, talking of Indian modern and contemporary, I would say that contemporary for me would begin stylistically with the generation of Ravinder Reddy and Pushpamala, and of course they are all born in the 1950s, the main figure there being Atul Dodiya, because they really show a different approach to art that might be classified as postmodern. Certainly Pushpamala does and Atul Dodiya does, Ravinder Reddy to a lesser extent, but they bring something new to the art world starting in the 1980s and very strongly in the 1990s, which has that flavour of the postmodern which may in some ways be overlapping with the category 'contemporary'.

When foreign markets do the same or foreign museums do the same, of course they move it a little earlier, like the Tate Britain where many of us were this morning; the contemporary galleries start from 1960s. This is work created in the 1960s, the birth of the artist does not matter much at that point. And then if you go to the United States, many museums start their contemporary collections from 1945 onwards, because for the US that is the major move for the art market from Paris to New York, when New York became the centre of the art world, so it was a radical shift.

So depending on where you are, I guess, contemporary begins at different times, but I am most comfortable personally, seeing it as beginning with pop art, broadly. Which begins in India starting in the 1980s with of course Bhupen Khakhar, who has to be placed as a modernist, but is a particularly important figure for the next generation; just as Marcel Duchamp, though he is a modernist, is an important figure for the pop art generation and was rediscovered by them in the 1960s after being forgotten for many decades. So that is the kind of classification that I would be most comfortable with, in the Indian context but I would be open to questions about it.

DV: Thank you, Girish. Just to take off on that little bit, do you think that the use of the terms like modern and contemporary in relation to Indian art make it easier to dismiss it as derivative in some way? You know, the fact that we are categorizing it with the more Western notions of modern and contemporary, and that there might be some other terminologies or classifications that you can use for Indian art which are more appropriate?

AJ: Post-independence and post-liberalization, maybe. I don't know, I mean it would be broader, and it wouldn't have any of this overhang, but then it might have other things, I mean nationalism and liberalization were two important things, but it's always been something to hang your coat on as such, but then as Girish very correctly said, classification is just a classification, and I think it just becomes problematic. I mean I can sympathize with an artist like Sudhir Patwardhan in this environment for example where the art world is all about a buzz and that art market is like 'Modern art is wonderful and so successful and that we must buy! And Contemporary art is 80% down and we shouldn't touch it' and poor Sudhir Patwardhan, who of course has never been interested in money and really comes from the opposite side, suffers as a result of it. So you can use whichever terms and any terms you use are always going to come with some sort of baggage. But I think this will be debated for a long time, and the market and the auction houses will keep changing their categories to suit the market, really.

DV: Another example of an artist where it's always a problem of fit is [Rameshwar] Broota. Is he more contemporary than he is modern? Of course he is of the generation leaning more towards modern, but it's the same issue with all these artists where there is a crossover, you are not sure where exactly they should be categorized. Do you have some other terminologies, Girish?

GS: No, I think it's more interesting how you use it, than the term itself. I think you know, modern and contemporary is fine, because if you say modern and postmodern then it becomes far too boring and art historical and you are going to turn people off. So it may as well be modern and contemporary. But the problem is I think, again, not so much from the Indian perspective, but that contemporary itself has such a long history by now, given that it starts in 1945, according to some classifications. But now museums are starting to think, 'Alright, now what do we do? Is this same linearity of interest anymore?' That's why you have I guess the Tate Modern - museums that are trying to break out of the whole linearity of chronology completely. I think the Tate Modern does it very well and the Centre Pompidou does it horribly, but you know there is this kind of attempt to find a whole new category as you are saying.

AJ: To put it more thematically might be an option…I mean, within the market, one auction house has responded to that very quickly, and that is Phillips de Pury. So they are doing themed auctions now, but that doesn't necessarily have to do with this. Some might be nationally led, like they might do an auction of Russian art, and I don't know what other different themes they have come up with, but possibly the human figure, or you know something that allows them to draw artists from different generations together. So you can see one idea or one theme being developed. So that's another way to break it down and mix it up and make it a little bit more interesting for people, and for them to be able to see relationships.

DV: So you feel also that in some ways this divide between modern and contemporary is a universal one, as opposed to specific?

AJ: Yes. I think some institutions and some countries or organizations have moved on from it as Girish said, like the Centre Pompidou, and you can't go into the Tate Modern and see a chronologically organized exhibition any longer. And that was quite bold of them at the time, and they got a lot of flak for it as people like to see things as they've become accustomed to seeing them. You know, they like to see cubism and surrealism, they are accustomed to seeing these 19th century museums …

GS: And you may face that with buyers as well. That it is quite likely that the majority of buyers would, if you have a Husain, and they like Ram Kumar, they like Souza next to the Husain because they are a kind of family and now Subodh Gupta really isn't. It may have still made sense to have all of them together then to have Subodh Gupta and Jitish… and that sells. Well, and a few people, I guess Neville has tried a few sales where he has cut across thematically a bit, I don't know with what success.

Audience: We have only been talking about the Progressive Artist Group, but what about Indian artists living, say, in the UK? What about their contribution?

DV: So I think the question is basically, we are talking specifically about artists living in India, there is a whole range of Diaspora artists, all around, of Indian origin, would they be categorized or classified as modern or contemporary or are they influences different because of the geography that they have been living in and what they have been exposed to?

AJ: Well, I think that a lot of them are a part of, or have become written into Indian Art if they showed a lot in India and came back and staged exhibitions there. I think that the history of artists who have lived outside India hasn't really been well documented. They have been exhibitions here in the UK, and there have been exhibitions in Europe as well dealing with a lot of these artists, but I accept that it's not all melded into one. I mean, you might have some artists who have lived here, for example, Chandra, have you ever sold Chandra in any of your auctions?

DV: Maybe a long time ago.

AJ: Or, you know so there might be some crossover, but I think it really depends on how much the artists who have lived…I mean, India has kind of been following its own, been ignored by the rest of the art world, not really been taken into account, it has developed its own little history and that has to do very much with what has been happening locally.

GS: I mean, Souza and Raza and any of the expatriate Indian artists who came in the 50s and the 60s are a part of Indian art history very much and now given the place that they deserve. Even Vishwanadhan; I don't think that they have been forgotten, for the most part.

Audience: There was a group of artists who have been ignored completely.

GS: Maybe they weren't very good! Maybe that is why they have been ignored.

Audience: No, they have been good. I think Khanna was a part of them.

AJ: Balraj Khanna.

Audience: A young girl also…

AJ: Zarina.

Audience: So there are people, some great contributors, in the 1960s. Nobody has taken that group into account. They are the backbone of today's contemporary art, we do not even look at them!

DV: We'll come back to that question when we talk to the audience. We did talk briefly about Diaspora art, and I wanted to ask, what really signifies 'Indian' in modern and contemporary Indian art? Are these signifiers different in the visual language of each of the genres? We talk about Modern and Contemporary from the Indian perspective or the context, what is the 'Indian' in modern and the 'Indian' in contemporary?

GS: This is a question that interests me quite a lot! And I will connect to what the gentleman was saying, it is quite noteworthy that a lot of artists who came to Europe in the 50s and 60s and stayed on, tended to be very Indian. Very consciously, overtly Indian; Raza, importantly, and Prafulla Mohanty, they found that in Europe that kind of difference was what defined them, in a way. Whereas in India in the same period, in a way the art of the best known people was less inflected with that kind of mystical Indian-ness, and so it has always been in the history of Indian art, was this to-and-fro between should we look to more native sources or should we look outside? And just in the contemporary context, we see that right here in London by these two shows by Subodh Gupta and Anish Kapoor, which are on. Anish Kapoor, in his early work from the late 70s and the early 80s, you can see its clearly very Indian influence - the titles are Indian, all the references are there and then at one point, he starts to consciously deny that Indian side of him and wants to be this international artist, not connected specifically or specially with his home country. And now it's Svayambha this wonderful new sculpture that he has produced. It is a conscious re-acknowledging of that connection, and it is in so many ways an Indian and a post-colonial work. I was just saying that to find the svayambhu lingam really - that is what the word svayambha is really associated with in India, a self generated lingam - within the classical arch of the Royal Academy, to find a negative space that is really a lingam, it's pretty astonishing - that incursion of the Indian into the very colonial space is a very remarkable conceptual as well as material achievement.

Subodh Gupta has moved in the opposite direction, with far less success in my opinion, going into western art history and talking of Duchamp and Jeff Koons, without much insight and effect. So I think that there are things in your culture which are available to you, and I don't mean it as some kind of absolutism that you have to refer to India in some fashion. But there is a whole culture that is available to you, which you can use. Which Subodh has done so well till this point and I find it quite sad that he has moved away from this fashion to do something that is so arid, but that is my opinion. I think that it is important to have that kind of Indian context somewhere in your work, just as a practical matter of growing up in that culture.

DV: On the modern side, when you have artists like Raza who use a lot of elements, even though it is abstract and geometrical, and references to Indian culture in his work. But there are other modernists, say for example Akbar Padamsee, who have nothing that is Indian about them. In the modern context how would you categorize or talk about the Indian-ness of art?

GS: I mean there is a group which has Akbar and Souza, who really are the artists who have the most uninflected modernism of all. And I think as a result, in the long run, history will be kinder to Husain than it will be to Souza. For this reason, at least partly for this reason - that Husain really brought something into the history of modernism, in a way that Souza hasn't. Though he has an extremely accomplished modernism, you cannot say that, or at least I don't think that he has contributed to the history of modernism. He has just done something exceptionally well that was being done well by other people as well, whereas Husain has brought in that inflection into it. So again, my argument would be exactly the same - that the Indian does matter.

AJ: With Padamsee, if you think about it, although there is nothing obviously Indian, maybe not with that work, but a lot of his metascapes are very rooted in his understanding of Sanskrit texts, and he is very involved with Indian culture generally. So, just as Girish talked about Anish's work - the Svayambha work bearing references to India but not necessarily in an obvious way - I think it's the same for somebody like Padamsee. We have a very early work of Padamsee's, from 1952, which is titled 'Lovers', On one level it is a portrait of a man and woman and on another level the iconography is of Shiva Parvati. So you have to able to read it in two different ways. On some level I agree with you about what you say about Husain and Souza, but I think for all of us, Souza's great acceptance in the 50s in Europe means so much for Indians. He represented Britain for various prizes, and it was like he was accepted, and that is the same reason why so many Indian collectors, even though they might immediately respond to Gupta's work because he has been embraced by the contemporary world, feel somewhat more secure. I don't know why, but that is just the way it is.

GS: I don't want to be seen as propagating Indian-ness, but, in historical terms, back in 1948 there were two groups - there was the Progressive Artist Group which was coming out of J.J. [the Sir J.J. School of Art] and there was also the group with Shankar Palsikar, Laxman Pai and Mohan Samant and they were actually much more interested in Indian traditions and Indian iconography. But I would say that the Progressives are much more successful as a group because they really came up with a coherent modernism which was Indian in some respects. It is important to me that it was a coherent modernism. Whereas Mohan Samant, Laxman Pai - interesting artists but a bit muddled - weren't sure. They had all these elements, but they couldn't put it together in an interesting synthesis. So the main point should always be the coherence that Souza has or that Padamsee has and beyond that these cultural things might be additions.

DV: One thing you hear Girish, at least that I have heard it a few times, especially from the West, is that Indian modern artists are derivative and have such strong influences and have never really been able to carve their own space and their own format in their own style. Would you agree with that?

AJ: No, not necessarily.

GS: We had this discussion three years ago at Saffronart, but I will repeat one thing which I said which was relatively less controversial at that time: I believe that India really came into its own in the 70s, for me that is the generation. The Progressives in some way are much more accomplished painters, I mean obviously Bhupen Khakhar is not a virtuoso in a way that Padamsee is, but I think just in terms of vision, Arpita Singh, Broota, Sudhir Patwardhan, that whole generation really gave us an Indian modernism which could stand alone in the world. Nobody can look at Broota and say that this is derivative modernism, nobody can even look at Sudhir Patwardhan, who on face is a very western artist, and say that this is Picasso or that this is Chagall. You can't. Or Jogen Chowdhury. So if people say that about Souza then it may be because he is a bit derivative. And have you heard people say that about Jogen Chowdhury, that he is derivative artist? At least I haven't.

DV: I wouldn't say the generation after the Progressive Artists' Group, but Arpita Singh and Jogen Chowdhury carved their own space within Indian Art and I think that pretty much happened in the 70s as you mentioned.

AJ: I think there were experiments also before the Progressive Artist Group came along, possibly artists of the generation may not have had that kind of personalities to carry it forward in the same way that Souza had the conviction or the personality to carry forward his message or to spread his message in a way.

DV: Moving on, there has always been exchange between the so called modern and contemporary artist, what do you think are the most important points of contact or exchange between the two? On the same note what are the divergences between modern and contemporary artists?

AJ: I have to think about that a little bit. I don't know that I fully understand the question.

DV: There have been influences across modern and contemporary; Bhupen is an example of a modern artist who influenced a lot of contemporary artists. Are there any events or points that you believe highlight the influence that one particular genre has had?

AJ: On contemporary artists?

DV: Or vice-versa? Are there any influences that contemporary artists have had on modern artists because of their exposure to them?

AJ: That's a tough question! Can we ask the audience?

GS: It's like a snake eating its tail! It's a question of what we are discussing - what is contemporary and what is modern. So we can't talk about it as the classification isn't defined completely.

DV: We'll keep that on the back burner then! A lot of the modern artists today are still painting, and in some ways share influences with what we say is the contemporary world of today. Does that bring out any issues in the modern versus contemporary classification?

AJ: I think that they think of themselves as modern artists. Even though they live in present day, I think the confusion for most people is the conception of modern as a general word which has a much wider meaning than modern which is used in terms of art history which is very specific as I described. So, these are artists who are very linked, who are very wedded to that kind of modernist approach where it's all about line, form, painting, really about material. It doesn't refer to anything beyond itself as such. And they think of themselves as that. They might do some silly things like go to an art camp and paint a picture of Picasso in the middle of an abstract painting, but that's just laziness on their part. But if you had to sit down and talk to them they would still think of themselves as modern artists.

DV: Girish, do you want to add something to that?

GS: There are a couple of artists, and I think it really depends up on whether they change styles or really continue in the same style, isn't it? I mean two people who really did were Vivan Sundaram and Nalini Malani, very much a part of the 70s artist group that I spoke of. They were very committed to a narrative painting in the 70s, and then in the 1990s moved to installation where they more or less ideologically disassociated themselves, at least for a point, from painting as a medium and they have successors sitting here as well, ideologically! So obviously then they do fall into these two categories but if you have somebody like Tyeb Mehta who pretty much painted in the same style in 1979 and 1999 then it doesn't make much sense to reclassify them just for the date.

DV: I have many more questions but I think we have about ten minutes left and we want to end on time so we are going to open it to the audience for questions now.

Audience: I've got two questions. The first one is where would you place Husain in this? Would you call him contemporary as he is still painting or would you call him modern?

AJ: I would call him modern, but he is someone who can go between the two in many ways but I do, in my mind still see him as a modern artist though he has worked with film posters, and films and done a lot of things that you know you could, you might argue that he is a contemporary artist but to me very much, his language has remained the same.

GS: He did a show of what he called the 'first installation in India' where he crumpled paper in the Jehangir art gallery. It connects also with happenings in the 70s where they wrapping cars and things like that, I don't think it necessarily connects with installation the way Nalini or Vivan saw it. Yes, Tyeb made a film in the 70s, so film making by itself doesn't say anything, film is a hundred year old medium.

AJ: I don't think it was a major part. I still think of Husain as a painter.

GS: I think he has pretty much been doing everything in the same style for a long long time. So there is no reason to reclassify him. But just to clarify one thing, which you said, just because he is painting today that is I think what we were saying; if it’s really the style you start with, if you retain it, it doesn’t matter if it is painted in 2009 if it harks back to a style that goes back to 1948.

Audience: I would consider him a contemporary artist just because he is still painting, but yes I can understand the modernism part as well. My second question: Husain has been called the Picasso of India. You talked about Picasso, what are your opinions on that?

AJ: I think those kinds of things are just some journalist making things up; Gupta is called the Hirst of India and Husain is called the Picasso of India. It just sticks because it's easy, it's like people saying contemporary is down and modern art is up. It's like headlines. I don't really think it's very valid.

Audience: Do you think he will be as famous as Picasso?

GS: No.

AJ: No.

DV: Any more questions?

Audience: Amrita, I liked very much your comments at the start where you were trying to understand how when Picasso is borrowing (which is Partha Mitter's argument too) from African artists it is not considered derivative, but when Gaganendranath is borrowing from Cubism it is. Anish Kapoor is in the discourse of global contemporary art, Subodh Gupta, maybe not so much, Husain probably not at all. So it's not a question of whether you borrow from somebody , everyone in the art world borrows from each other, it's a question of whether you engage in the global art discourse or if other people borrow from you. You see, young artists in the UK look to Anish Kapoor and they borrow from him and try to be different from him or try to be similar to him. I'm not sure that's the same for Subodh Gupta.

AJ: Whether they actually borrow elements of his work.

Audience: Yes, because with Anish Kapoor it goes both ways and that is why he has been accepted as an international artist.

GS: It is also a question of whether you have something that people would be interested in borrowing, right? Like western artists were looking everywhere even a century ago. Just like Picasso found African masks, Leger obviously is influenced by Kalighat painting, that are a cause and effect you can show, and Clemente has definitely borrowed from Bhupen Khakhar, and you see them and Western people will say 'Oh Bhupen Khakhar, that looks like Clemente!' and then you have to tell them how exactly that worked. So if there is something interesting out there people will borrow from it. I guess Husain didn't have enough that was interesting!

Audience: In the western world, modern and contemporary art had these giants, who could articulate on behalf of their culture. In the case of the African masks, who should have spoken for the tribal artists? They were suppressed, and Picasso was too important and too big for the art world and it was incidental to his art work.

GS: Well I disagree, when he painted those works he was 25 years old and didn't have much money at all, he was not important enough in the art world in 1906-1907.

Audience: These arguments came in later didn't they?

GS: Yes, but the interesting thing is that the artists at that time, whether it was Gauguin or Picasso, before the critics, who were talking about these works ethnographically, the artists were looking at masks that they could use. Artists are always out there looking for what they can use. They are I think ahead of the critics most of them time.

Audience: My point is the fact that it is not seen as derivation, that point was hit home by the critics, or am I wrong?

GS: Well I have to disagree with both Partha Mitter and Amrita on this. Taking from African masks and then merging it was Iberian culture was written about and the history of modernism and Gaganendranath Tagore in my opinion just didn't do that. He really is very very derivative of cubism. So there is nothing original in my opinion that he brought to that discourse at all. So I think it is entirely justified.

AJ: He did make an attempt to sort of meld figuration and cubism, he may not have been as successful in achieving it but I don't think that makes his experiments any less valid.

Audience: Can I ask both Amrita and Girish to give a list of five names of artists who you think 50 years from now would be still spoken with reverence?

GS: Indian artists?

Audience: Yes!

AJ: I think you have to go to a Savant for that, not us!

Audience: We are in the moment, now!

DV: Girish, you want to start?

GS: I'll say Bhupen Khakhar. I'll start with one.

AJ: I will agree with that.

GS: One I can be pretty sure of. Two to five will be just guesses. But if I have to name one I am quite confident of Bhupen.

AJ: Anish Kapoor?

GS: Well, if you count him, yes.

DV: Any India based contemporary artist?

GS: I can name a few who I know will not be!

DV: I think we will steer away from that!

GS: It's much easier to answer that!

AJ: No there are some contemporary art dealers in the audience; it would be nice for us to hear from them; from Ranjana, in terms of younger artists.

Ranjana: Atul Dodiya.

DV: So there is Atul. And we have no modernists on the list. If Bhupen is contemporary.

GS: I think the best of Jogen Chowdhury is excellent. He does so much bad stuff, but if you take the best of it, it's just amazing. So the best of Jogen Chowdhury will be up there. So that is three now, which is not bad.

Audience: What about Broota?

GS: He’s your favourite artist. But I wouldn’t say that he necessarily has that historical significance. He’s your favourite artist.

AJ: There is somebody else in the audience who thinks Broota might be one.

GS: He is a remarkable artist; there is no doubt about that.

DV: We can take one last question if there is one.

Audience: I just wanted to go back to the question of innovation, because you have both touched on it and I think everyone else has asked about it. You talked earlier about Husain maybe being regarded as more important in terms of his contribution over time and we have also talked about the way Picasso has handled African masks and how he used them. But this idea of innovation has come up so many times in every conversation that I've ever had with a non-Indian audience and I think this is what Dinesh was referring to when he meant derivation as well. When we talk about innovation I often find myself questioning what context they are referring to. We talking about someone that has made a contribution in the Indian context using Indian symbology, or tradition whatever the case may be or are we talking about how what these artists do from India is seen or accepted by the west going back to the earlier point today about is the art actually important if it crosses borders? Is it important if it is accepted by a much wider, more international, more global audience? I don't know if I have asked the question very clearly, but if you can just touch for a few minutes upon innovation and how we look at it within the Indian context, and particularly from your experience how innovation in Indian art is seen from an international perspective. It's a very long question!

AJ: Yes. How innovation is seen within an international context, is that what you are getting at?

DV: There is always a discussion, mostly with a western audience, saying that Indian artists are not innovative in the so called contemporary context. To ask a direct question, would you agree or do you think that the view is different?

AJ: I think that it is really easy to say that you are not. Most people see art in the context of an art fair or an exhibition. It's really not about style and influence, it's a lot about intention as well. You might see two things that look extremely similar but are coming from two very different places. If I can think of an example very quickly, I will let you know but I need a few moments to really think. But, you can arrive at the same solution through different routes. So it just depends on what your exposure is and what you have seen first. So I don't think that it's easy to say that there are copy cats in the world, but it's not as simple as that, I think. One really needs to understand the context the artists are coming from. For example, colonialism had a huge impact on artists, I think globalization and wanting to ape things that are happening here is also a problem at the moment. So for contemporary artist, the most interesting artist will emerge now because of us being integrated with the rest of the world and there isn't that sense of disconnect so there will be artists like Raqib Shaw where you wonder where he is coming from and he is very unique!

Audience: In the Indian and the global contemporary, where is our context, where do we fit? In today's world, as you said, we are more connected, and if we are then looking at both modern and contemporary very differently as our contexts are much broader now, is this an issue with Indian art?

AJ: There are Indian artists at Frieze who are not really within an Indian context, not in Indian galleries, not categorized as Indian artists. Their names might be RAQs Media Collective or Dayanita Singh, and if you don't know that they are Indian it doesn't say born in India or lives in India. So they are operating obviously as international artists now.

GS: I think there are two questions there regarding Raqib Shaw not wanting to acknowledge certain things or Dayanita Singh not wanting to be seen as an Indian artist. That is one aspect, as you don't want to be classified as Indian as it limits you in certain ways, but the question is also what you may call Indian-ness. A few years ago I had written about this and if I may quote myself about decoration and how Indian modernism was scared of decoration, how in this time there is a move towards accepting decorativeness a little more, but no Indian artists have self-consciously adopted decoration and then two years later I saw Raqib Shaw's work in London and I said why didn't an Indian person self-consciously take on decorativeness as a certain kind of history.

DV: Thank you Amrita, thank you Girish, I think that was a very good discussion. And thank you audience for all the questions and your patience.