India has been touted as an upcoming art market for quite some time now and I have been very anxious to experience it firsthand. With a little help from MoMA’s travel program, organized through the Library Council, I was granted the wonderful opportunity to travel through some of India’s most precious art cities and take in all the beauty of the culture, and all the excitement of this bustling art community. My trip began in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, which is the most populated city in India, and has an incredibly vibrant culture. The gallery scene in Mumbai is one of India’s finest. I particularly enjoyed my visit to Project 88, a young, up-and-coming gallery, which was exhibiting work by Hemali Bhuta titled Point-Shift and Quoted Objects. Bhuta’s work is very modern with a post-minimal feel.
My adventures through Mumbai’s art scene continued with Ranjani Shettar’s show at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, which was titled High Tide for a Blue Moon. Shettar has shown extensively throughout the world, yet this is her first museum show in India. I have always been a fan of Shettar’s work and it was fascinating to see her work placed in a historical context. By juxtaposing herself with the Mumbai City Museum, she is forging a relationship between past and present, thus creating a contemporary dialogue that nods to India’s rich culture as well as its promising future.
The home of Mukesh and Nita Ambani, prominent Indian collectors, was my next stop in Mumbai, where I saw their stunning collection of some of contemporary art’s biggest names. Their home, which is one of the most expensive houses ever built, is stunning, with beautiful architecture, lovely decorations, and impeccable art. While there, I saw the most beautiful installation of Anish Kapoor’s work I have ever seen. I also saw the work of a modernist, Indian painter, S.H. Raza, who—after seeing his work at the Ambani house—I began spotting all over India.
I also visited Mumbai Art Space, the first—and only—non-profit art space in India. There, I saw more work by Hemali Bhuta. The installation, which was site-specific, constructed another wall in the space, sparking a conversation on Mumbai Art Space’s history. It also referenced the original state of the space when the non-profit first moved in.
At this point my trip moved from Mumbai to Delhi, one of the oldest cities in the world and India’s capital. Delhi has an interesting confrontation of old and new as Old Delhi was the capital of India’s Islamic community and New Delhi was created as the imperial capital of India by the British; Delhi’s culture reflects this rich history. Delhi was also home to the 2013 Indian Art Fair, where many galleries exhibited some of India’s finest talents. One standout at the fair was the work of Subodh Gupta, an Indian trained painter represented by Hauser and Wirth, whose work has expanded to include sculpture, installation, performance, photography, and video. Gupta is married to artist Bharti Kher and works in New Delhi. I was fortunate enough to visit his beautiful studio and saw model renderings of his upcoming show at Kunstmuseum Thun in Switzerland. From the preview I saw, the show is going to be incredible. Gupta is also working on a project with his wife, Bharti, and Absolut Vodka. The piece provides an understanding of the international, and commercial, reach of this dynamic duo.
Project 88—the aforementioned young gallery space in Mumbai—had an impressive booth at the fair as well. The gallery featured work by Raqs Media Collective. The “blinged out,” jewel-like sculptural work made use of text and various phrases that spoke to India’s economic and political status. (Very apropos for an art fair artwork.)
Zarina Hashmi, an India artist who was educated in mathematics before going on to study woodblock printing in Bangkok and Tokyo, has been shown throughout the world from the Hammer Museum to the Whitney Museum of American Art to a retrospective titled Paper Like Skin at the Guggenheim Museum. She had an installation up at the India Art Fair that was comprised of an entire room painted gold. Zarina created a strong and unique mood with her all-consuming, painted walls that one could not help but be in awe of.
Besides the Indian Art Fair, Delhi also had a particularly vibrant gallery scene. My visit to Talwar Gallery was most impressive. Talwar, who also has a space in New York City, shows Ranjani Shettar and Alwar Balasubramaniam (known as Bala), some of India’s most well known, and beloved, artists. I saw two of Bala’s sculptures outside the space that were incredibly beautiful and consisted of both conceptual and material explorations.
I also visited Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, a private museum in Delhi, where an exhibition of Nasreen Mohamedi’s work opened. The show was titled A View to Infinity, and was hands down one of the greatest exhibitions I have ever seen. Mohamedi’s work has recently gained worldwide attention. Mohamedi had Parkinson’s Disease in her old age but was able to create straight, technical, linear drawings with unparalleled precision. The exhibit included drawings and photographs, an intimate glimpse into the life of this incredible artist.
My final destination was the home of Lekha Poddar, a famous Indian philanthropist and arts enthusiast. Poddar is a major Indian collector whose home is curated beautifully. The house was installed with work by Indian artists, most of whom I was unfamiliar with, with large windows looking onto their gorgeous lawn. The lawn and fountains were stunning. The art, architecture, and furniture was fantastic, yet it was the sense of beauty found in nature—especially flowers—that struck me the most about the setting. Nothing was taken for granted, especially the details to inspire beauty.
My trip to India was extraordinary. The complexity of the depths of their long history—in the cities and in the countryside—coupled with their bustling economy and contemporary charisma, created a vibrant and intense atmosphere. As everyone forewarned, it was a profound experience. For me, though, being led through India by poetic art—works by Bala, Ranjani Shettar and Nasreen Mohamedi, to name a few—made me feel I was being led from the source. It was beyond my wildest expectations…