Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saatchi Online Magazine : News and Updates for Art Lovers

The Rutting Bull: Jerry Saltz On Picasso At  Gagosian, New York

By Jerry Saltz · May 20, 2011

“Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’Amour fou,” the rapturous, vagino- maniacal show of more than 80 Pablo Picasso works at Gagosian, is a love story. It tells a tale of a devouring monster, a goddess and doormat, frenzied sex, and abject cruelty. The woman of the show’s title is Marie-Thérèse Walter, called “the greatest sexual passion of Picasso’s life,” “endlessly submissive and willing,” the sumptuous voluptuary who surrendered to his sadomasochistic demands. He himself once called her “a slice of melon,” and she said of herself, “I always cried with Picasso. I bowed my head in front of him.” L’Amour fou” was curated by John Richardson and Diana Widmaier Picasso, granddaughter of the artist and Marie-Thérèse. Widmaier Picasso once told a British paper that her grandmother talked of their “secrets,” some of which have been widely reported. Richardson (in his acclaimed three-part Picasso biography) says that Picasso enjoyed “the perverse pleasure of denying [Walter] the release of orgasm.” Yet Walter herself rhapsodized, many years later, that sex with Picasso was “completely fulfilling,” describing him as “very virile.”
For decades, no one knew of Walter or that she was Picasso’s mistress from 1927 until around 1937. Not only was she his submissive sexual conquest, artistic muse, psychic victim, and mother of his daughter; she’s the fleshy subject of some of his juiciest paintings. Picasso said she saved his life. And it’s true that from the moment she appears in his work, in early 1927, his art gets plusher and more immediate, catapulting him out of Cubism, paving the way for all his subsequent efforts. Marie-Thérèse is the fertile inspiration that made Picasso Picasso after Cubism.
They met on January 8, 1927, when she emerged from the Paris Métro to shop for a blouse with a Peter Pan collar. (You can see that collar represented in a number of the paintings here.) Picasso “accosted me,” she said. Then he hit her with the pickup line, “I’m Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together.” He was 45. She was 17 and had never heard of him. Yet days later, she went to his studio, and they began their mad love.
At Gagosian, Walter is recognizable by her shock of blonde hair, her classical Grecian profile, shaved pudenda, blouse falling off rounded shoulders, lavender skin, ample breasts, and curving form. In some works, she holds a key to a cabana; in others, a beach ball. Often we see her asleep, head thrown back in postcoital stupor, cheeks flush, body supple, blissed out. Sometimes this sleeping Venus looks like an extraterrestrial squid, legs and arms splayed, hair standing like antennae. The Marie-Thérèse paintings show Picasso creating a topography of desire. (In one work that’s not on view here, she pulls a flower from her anus.) Strip away the feminine mystique and macho narrative, however, and you see Picasso reinvigorating his work, reaching within himself, and turning, once again, to do battle with his friend Matisse.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Point to point

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Point to point


Artist S.H. Raza tells Shailaja Tripathi that he is happy to be back in a country that abounds in traditions and rich heritage
Living amongst us, painting amidst us, we can now truly claim the celebrated artist S.H. Raza to be our own. Not that the Indian sensibilities ever left his canvases or that the love for his land faded away with time. It was, in fact, in France where he lived for 60 long years, that he embarked on the ‘bindu' and the ‘panch tatva'. While he became a life-long student of this philosophy, to the world and people at home keenly watching Indian contemporary art, the image became one of the most endearing of its times.
But now even the physical distance of 4600 miles has been done away with. The iconic artist returned to India last December, and celebrated his 89th birthday recently in his newly bought house — two floors in a plush building — in Safdarjung Development Area in New Delhi. His health might have played a spoilsport in the last couple of months — severe chest congestion was followed by a fall which subsequently led to hospitalisation and a fractured left femur bone from which the artist is yet to recover completely — halting his plans to roam around the country, visit his friends, but the joy and contentment in his spirit is intact.
Eminent artist S.H. Raza at his New Delhi residence. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
Eminent artist S.H. Raza at his New Delhi residence.
Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
His wish of being a Hindi speaking and tax paying citizen of India has been granted. And now, as he gradually inches towards recovery, the artist talks of his plans of visiting Mandla, his hometown in Madhya Pradesh, besides Rajasthan, West Bengal and South India. “I was lucky to have had a house by the sacred river Narmada. We could see it from our house and we bowed to her every morning. What luck I had! I think I have another seven-eight years left and I want to visit all these places as soon as I get alright,” says a beaming Raza. Explaining why he chose Delhi over Mumbai for his permanent place of residence, he adds, “Delhi is well-connected. I have many friends and it's easier to travel from here.”
He is seated in his wheelchair against the backdrop of a canvas bearing the drawing of a cross in pencil. While the cross-laden canvas is meant to be a gift for a dear one, the new set of paintings which will be showcased at Vadehra Art Gallery in November this year will have sketches and patterns in ink inscribed with the words ‘bindu' and ‘avartan'. “Besides all this, I have taken up another project which is ‘Apna Ghar',” he says.
Raza had left India in 1950 after winning a scholarship to the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts and lived in Paris for more than 60 years. “I fell in love with a French artist. We went to the same arts school and trained under the same professor. Her parents were scared that I would return to India after marrying her, so, I stayed on.” His wife, Janine Mongillat, died after a prolonged illness in 2002 leaving him alone and further fuelling his desire to come back to his roots.
The recipient of Padma Bhushan had set up Raza Foundation in 2001 and now, the Foundation is in talks with the Delhi Government to set up a museum within the city, housing the seminal collection of Indian contemporary art of the Raza Foundation.
Before he left for France, Raza together with M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, K.H. Ara and V.S. Gaitonde, was in the process of arriving at a new visual language that was essentially rooted in Indian sensibilities. The artists, who called themselves the Progressive Artists Group, wrote a new chapter in the history of modern art of the country, which had just attained independence. “People at that time made fun of us. Many didn't agree with our philosophy. But today if you look back, in which other groupwould you find Gaitonde, (Akbar) Padamsee, Souza, Kishen Khanna,” says the artist in response to a question regarding the significance of the group today.
Remind him about the auction world — his acrylic on canvas ‘Saurashtra' created auction history last year when it sold for Rs.16.42 crore at a Christie's auction and now hangs in the Kiran Nadar Museum in Saket — and he sounds dismissive when he opines, “People don't know what is Raza up to, or any other painter, but they know how much his painting sold for. Painting is not done to earn money but to research art. A lot of people have forgotten that today. Your art has to be true, only then it will have some value.”

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Neelam Raaj | April 30, 2011

Indian presence in Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale is often called the Olympics of the art world. The city's palazzos and pavilions see artists - and nations - vying to impress a notoriously hard-to-impress audience. In 2007, Subodh Gupta's pots-and-pans stainless steel skull Very Hungry God was positioned by the Grand Canal and catapulted him to the global stage. This year's event, the 54th Venice Biennale, which will open to the public on June 4, is India's breakout year.


Praneet Soi, who divides his
 time between Amsterdam and his 
native Kolkata, will create an onsite mural 
for Venice while New York-based 
Zarina Hashmi's work tackles
the concept of 'Noor' or divine light
For the first time in decades, India will have a national pavilion (Indian artists such as Subodh Gupta, Riyas Komu and Nalini Malani have shown here but not under a national umbrella). In an exclusive interview, TOI-Crest caught up with Ranjit Hoskote, the man who has been constantly on the move ever since he was appointed curator of the India pavilion last August. Shuttling between Mumbai and Utrecht, the two cities where he has been living over 2010-2011, and Venice and Delhi, Hoskote has been hard at work coordinating with the Lalit Kala Akademi, artists, and with the production team. "Sudden questions pop up, like when electrical facilities pop up in the middle of a mural and we have to make a calibrated deviation from the plan, " says the 42-year-old who wears quite a few hats. A poet, cultural theorist, translator (he's put the launch of his latest book, a translation of the work of 14th-century Kashmiri saint-poet Lal Ded, on hold), he admits that this curatorship is quite a high-pressure job. "Since this is, in effect, our first initiative in Venice on such a scale, we have had to invent protocols and mechanisms for everything. Many people in the art world labour under the delusion that curators lead glamorous lives. What they don't see is the behind-thescenes work, the hard work of negotiation, design sessions, extended meetings, diplomatic discussions, the nuts and bolts of it!" 

Despite a very vibrant art scene, this is the first time India has a pavilion at the116-year-old Venice Biennale. Did you want the debut to make a statement? 

India has had an exhibition presence at previous editions of the Venice Biennale, especially during the 1950s and early 1960s, routed through the Embassy of India in Rome. But after a showing mounted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations during the 70s, India has been notably absent. Also, after the Biennale reorganised itself substantially at the end of the 90s, we may now see it as a constellation that speaks of a new world order, with greatly transformed regional equations. Within this new constellation, it was important for India to have, for the first time, a professionally curated exhibition commissioned, very appropriately, by the country's National Academy of Art, the Lalit Kala Akademi. So yes, it is vital for me, as curator, that India's debut should mark a strong symbolic statement - in the choice of artists, the complex histories and entanglements they embody, and their place in a newly unfolding narrative of artistic practices that develop across multiple locations. 

Venice is quite the European cultural bastion. What does this mean for Indian art? 

Venice is also still very much the symbolic centre of global contemporary art. It means that we have to attend more responsibly to our status as a cultural power that is taken seriously. The time to celebrate the market uncritically is over. The time to overrate price and reduce artists to lifestyle brands is over. We now have to view our art as something that has powerful critical insights to offer on the layered experience of the present, and to address it through the appropriate optic of knowledge. That is the lesson we have to learn. But I'm afraid we are not going to learn that lesson just yet. There is so much we have to unlearn before we get there. 

The pavilion is somewhat menacingly titled Everyone Agrees: It's About to Explode. 

My eye fell on this sentence, from a text by an anonymous group of theorists called The Invisible Committee, which was shared with me by Mriganka Madhukaillya of the Desire Machine Collective. It was one of those fortuitous, magical moments. The sentence holds a reservoir of multiple meanings. It could speak of a society whose confident energies, simmering discontents, plural and productive articulations are all set to explode. It could speak of an art scene that is on the point of explosion in all directions. It could speak, also, of a cluster of ideas about location, identity, subjectivity and post-postcolonial, transcultural shape-shifting, whose time has come. 

You've chosen four artists - printmaker Zarina Hashmi, painter and video artist Gigi Scaria, mixed media artist Praneet Soi, and The Desire Machine Collective, made up of the husband-and-wife team of Mriganka Madhukaillya and Sonal Jain. Why didn't you choose some of the more established names? 

As I said, it was important for me to make a strong symbolic statement about contemporary Indian art. My argument is that contemporary Indian art is defined by multiple horizons of meaning and value, and not only by the yardstick of the market. 
So, instead of having a vast number of artists to illustrate the booming art scene in India, or merely replicating the conventional wisdom of the art market, I chose four powerful positions, each of them conceptually rich and robust in expressive power. While some of these positions have been incorporated into the ranking system of the gallery world, they have not been neutralised by it - and they enjoy the critical acclaim that correctly attends truly dynamic practices that keep transforming themselves instead of settling into anxious formulae. It was also important for me to point to the variety of locations from which contemporary Indian culture is produced, and that it is reducible neither to place nor medium nor generation.

Zarina Hashmi incarnates, for me, a subjectivity profoundly shaped by the trauma of the 1947 Partition, by the experience of diaspora, and concerned with an exploration of epiphany and illumination. Praneet Soi's transcultural practice allows us to look at the transformation of the studio into a series of fluid situations, shaped through interactions with diverse collaborators, research modes, and a transition among disparate economies of image-production. Gigi Scaria, a Kerala-born artist who has lived and worked in New Delhi for over a decade, reflects on the processes and demands of internal migration, travelling among diverse psychic landscapes, social textures and interpersonal asymmetries. The Desire Machine Collective, based in Guwahati, signal the emergence of a vibrant contemporary art scene in the north-east, a part of India that is often regarded as quite separate from the mainstream - they combine their own work in film and public art projects with the conferences and workshops they organise through PeriFerry, a platform based physically on a barge moored on the banks of the river Brahmaputra.

In this sense, the India pavilion is, for me, a laboratory to test out various conceptions of cultural citizenship, of a cosmopolitanism that is not exclusively based on the metropolitan condition. I use the Indian Pavilion as a laboratory to investigate the idea of India. Through the four artistic positions presented there - as well as through the three associated conference platforms that will follow, in India - I bring into play the many claims and counter-claims, the extensions of conceptual boundaries and the multiple locations within the subcontinent from which artists now work, as ways of opening up the idea of the nation-state. Cultural citizenship, rather than national identity, is one of the key themes that I am exploring through this experiment. 

What are the works that will be on display? 

There are seven works in all. I have chosen three existing works by Zarina Hashmi - Home is a Foreign Place, Noor, and Blinding Light. We have produced a 35 mm film version of an earlier work by Desire Machine Collective, Residue, and a new recension of Praneet Soi's slide-projection-based work, Kumartuli Printer. The new works that I have commissioned are a mural that Praneet Soi will paint onsite, and a threescreen video installation by Gigi Scaria, called Elevator from the Subcontinent. 

There has often been the discussion that Venice, with the national pavilions, is an obsolete model. Two years ago, you wrote a column in The Times of India arguing against a national pavilion which you said was an outdated idea. Now that you are curator, have you changed your mind? 

My argument, in that text, was polemical and intended to draw attention to the possible dangers of the national pavilion format, and of interpreting the logic of national pavilions literally rather than creatively.

Among these was the danger of trying to 'represent' the nation through some form of heavy-handed regional or constituencybased quota system, and the pressure that this would place on the curator. The other peril that I pointed out was that artistic practice is increasingly moving away from the nation-state as unit of cultural measurement, and assuming fluid, entangled, transcultural, hybrid forms.

I am happy to say that the commissioning body for the India pavilion, the Lalit Kala Akademi, made it absolutely clear from the very beginning of this project that I would not be subjected to any kind of pressure in my curatorial work, as to choice of concept and artist. And the Akademi has supported me completely in this.

As to the critical engagement with the nation-state, the national pavilion becomes the ideal setting for such a revisiting of the idea. As I have said, the pavilion can be opened out and turned into a laboratory in which to test out notions of how we belong, and to what we belong - what does it mean to subscribe to a notion of cultural citizenship, to be related to a dynamic set of ideas concerning India rather than the textbook image of a territory. 

The site of India's pavilion is the Arsenale, a sprawling complex of docks and warehouses. It sounds architecturally arresting. 


The Desire Machine Collective, based 
in Guwahati, signal the emergence of a vibrant 
contemporary art scene in the north-east.
'Residue', a video shot at an abandoned thermal 
power plant, was shown last year at the 
Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. (Top) Gigi Scaria's 
installation is called 'Elevator from the Subcontinent'
The Arsenale is the former ship-building yard and weaponry production centre of the Venetian Republic, as it used to be for centuries, a great trading and maritime power controlling the Mediterranean, until it collapsed under Napoleon's attacks and was eventually annexed into the newly formed nation-state of Italy in 1866. The Arsenale is a fantastic place, redolent of history, grotty, with exposed concrete and unfaced brick walls, huge columns, vast empty bays. I never cease to marvel at how this ruin-like space is transformed, with each edition of the Biennale, into the magical stage where some of the most inspiring contributions of contemporary global art are presented. 

How seriously does China take cultural platforms like Venice?

China takes its soft-power initiatives very seriously. The Chinese presence in Venice, as in most other centres and off-centres of the global art scene, is substantial. Their pavilion has been curated by the Beijing aesthetician Peng Feng and is titled Pervasion of Chinese Flavours. Its project is to weave traditional Chinese aesthetic conceptions with contemporary idioms of practice, a tendency that is prominent in contemporary Chinese art. That said, China cannot wish away the fact that, when art oversteps the boundaries laid down for it by the state, the official reaction is tumultuous. China has recently embarked on a campaign of persecution against the artist Ai Wei Wei, who has expressed himself firmly on behalf of cultural and political openness. This has generated enormous dismay and protest across the global art scene.