Over the years, the Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) has earned a reputation for putting up well-mounted and curated exhibitions of Indian modern artists.
The latest in this is the gallery’s India’s French Connection: Indian Artists in France at the Visual Arts Gallery in the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.
Running from 1-11 February, this compact and visually stunning exhibition of 25 Indian artists features a selection of modern masters like Amrita Sher-Gil, Jogen Chowdhury, SH Raza, Sakti Burman and Ram Kumar, among others. The artists’ engagements with Paris was varied, from long sojourns to brief dalliances. However, the artworks presented here distil those engagements into highly individual statements.
A very interesting facet of the selections is the way they capture unique moments in the careers of the artists. For instance, Ram Kumar’s 1963 oil on canvas work of a city waterfront called Untitled, is a snapshot of a moment of transition for the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group luminary. His stylistic progression from figuration to abstraction is well known, and this painting captures the artist in the middle of making that move. This is juxtaposed brilliantly with another untitled work from 1961, which is a pure meditation on colour.
Others, like two of Sakti Burman’s paintings from the early 70’s, capture a moment when the artist’s style was still evolving. His 1975 oil on canvas, The Wait, is a large, marvellous work that exudes a surreal, fey quality, with its depicted human and animal figures existing in some wonderland of the mind. The marbling effect that he’s known for is in evidence in the fresco-like treatment of his works here. Jehangir Sabavala’s 1950 oil on canvas painting, Still-Life with Apples, is a lyrical impressionistic piece from an artist known more for his cubist works.
There are three sculptures featured in the exhibition, including a bronze piece by Prodosh Dasgupta from 1990 called Queen Reclining. It recalls European pre-historic sculptures of female “mother earth” figurines with its small breasts and a large lower body. The piece also plays with perspective, creating an effect of languor and ease.
Amrita Sher-Gil was the first of the exhibited artists to go to Paris, where she trained under the French painter Lucien Simon at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Her warm and peaceful oil on canvas painting, View from Studio (1934) is a clear example of taking what she learnt of the European masters and using it to create something original.
With the riches on display, India’s French Connection rewards the viewer for time spent at the exhibition. Designed by French scenographer Adrian Gardère, each individual artists’ works has been afforded a lot of breathing space at the show, with about 3 works exhibited per artist. DAG has also published a satisfyingly lavish book to go with the exhibition, which contains many more works which couldn’t be accommodated in the Visual Arts Gallery.
DAG’s CEO Ashish Anand considers this to be the best show that the gallery has ever put together. “Each work has been very carefully chosen. It looks better, and we could better contain everything,” Anand says. In a short film made for the exhibiton, art historian Dr. Devika Singh stresses that for the artists, “Paris is not so much a place of imitation, as a place of experimentation. They come here and what they find is their personal voice.”
DAG is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and India’s French Connection kicks off a week of intense art-related events from the gallery, including talks by Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the co-founder of the Museo Picasso Málaga (7 February); Jean-Marc Bustamante, Principal of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts (8 February) and Catherine Chevillot, Director of the Rodin Museum in Paris (10 February). You can watch these talks live on DAG’s Facebook page. Also look out for DAG’s exhibition Navratna: India’s National Treasure Artists at the gallery’s booth at the India Art Fair. There’s also the ongoing exhibition of the works of Altaf Mohammedi at DAG’s Hauz Khas gallery, Altaf-A Retrospective (on till 31 March).