Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The week in art
Highlight of the week: the return of Lakeeren gallery. It's in a cramped space in Colaba previously occupied by the short-lived Farah Siddiqui Contemporary Art, but I'm certain Arshiya Lokhandwala will make the most of it. The artists featured in the inaugural show, All that is solid melts into air, showed prominently at Lakeeren's previous incarnation in Vile Parle. After soldiering on for years in that space, Arshiya left for a course at Goldsmith's followed by a Ph.D at Cornell, missing the boom years for contemporary art in the process. Her doctorate means that her exhibitions now come with jargon-loaded wall text, but that's easily ignored when the art is good (actually jargon-loaded wall text is common in many galleries, but is usually composed by us critics rather than proprietors). The highlight of All that is solid melts into air is a miniature rolling shutter by Atul Dodiya. It doesn't actually roll up and down, looks a bit like a slate-grey headstone, and displays names of mid-career artists mixed among a list of ailments: a very amusing in-joke.
Jitish Kallat provides a generous selection of four large paintings on paper, plus a sculpture. The sculpture, one of his fossil vehicles, is for me the least successful of the four I have seen so far. I'd rank them, in order of merit: The autorickshaw (Autosaurus Tripous); the water tanker (Aquasaurus); the sedan (Collidonthus); and the bull / bike on view at Lakeeren (Ignitaurus).
The effect of Ignitaurus is ruined by legs sticking out of the bull's jaw. This sort of thing is bound to happen when metaphors get mixed. Jitish started with vehicles that resembled fossils, but now, instead of leaving the dead animal bit in the background, he's attempted to merge a skull and ribs with a bike shape, leading to the anatomical anomaly.
While a skeletal train would probably look cool, the theme feels played out, and I hope never to see a ship or an airliner in this style.
Sharmila Samant has contributed one of her saris made from bottle crowns. The ones I've seen previously have never looked like saris to me, and this one doesn't either. For a piece of art to have symbolic resonance, it must first work at the most elementary level. If Sharmila's sari doesn't look like a sari, it doesn't matter what she wants to say about processes of globalisation, the work is already a failure.
N S Harsha offers one of his post-colonial tales about white guys doing bad things to dark people, assisted in their nefarious activities by a comprador or two. There's also a sheikh in the centre contemplating Damien Hirst's shark. A comment on the art market, which, incidentally, is the stated theme of the show (the market, that is, not the shark).
After calling this the highlight of the week, I've said more negative than positive things about it, but as a whole the exhibition feels substantial and features a well-balanced field of important artists.
Runner-up: Bose Krishnamachari's LaVA at Gallery BMB. Three years ago, Bose created his Laboratory of Visual Arts, a moving library stuffed with books and DVDs about art, design and film. At BMB, to fill a hole created by the cancellation of a travelling international show, he has paired this archive with some two dozen works from his personal collection which demonstrate what a great eye he has. The artists featured range from local thirty-somethings to Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha.
Debut of the week: Shine Sivan's Sperm Weaver at Gallery Maskara. Meticulously put together sculptures, showing a mature control of form, and an excellent use of found material. But who's satisfied with sculptures these days? So we have photographs and a video as well. A couple of the images are passable, like the one that has the artist swathed in wedding dress fabric in the middle of a ploughed field. The video, which shows Sivan wallowing in a foamy pond, reveals, like most artists' videos do, a profound lack of understanding of basic stuff like when to use a dissolve, when to use a cut, and how to combine the two.
Disappointment of the week: a tie between the group show Detour at Gallery Chemould and Qusai Kathawala's solo, Our Breath Concrete, at Volte. The latter has two components, a grid of LED lights hanging on strings; and an interactive work in which participants' breath causes patterns of light to move about on a table. The LEDs are pretty, but nothing more, and the table seems like a lot of effort for very little impact. Detour, meant as a centennial commemoration of an early Gandhi text, Hind Swaraj, brings together photographs, photomontages and videos from highly regarded artists. Despite some fine individual contributions, I found the show, curated by Ranjit Hoskote, peculiarly sterile in its overall impact. It might have made a better tribute to Nehru.