Saffronart held a speaking series this fall where they tried to tackle the convoluted question of where Modern Indian art becomes Contemporary Indian art. Finding an answer is much less interesting than the wealth of fascinating material on artists, influences and what constitutes Indian-ness covered by 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. It’s well worth clicking through to read the whole transcript but this excerpt from Amrita Jhaveri’s talk will give you a sense:
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.