Presenting 33 works on paper, this is a small, unusual show with an ambitious, but ambiguous title.
'States of Departure: Progressives to Modern Day’ forgets to clarify exactly what the 'Progressives' were trying to escape, and by what means was their output to be understood as 'progressive'.
The result of this lack of engagement, therefore, presents a bizarre deadlock between the verbal summation and the physical content; the selection offered here largely contains conventional figurative and landscape recordings on paper by a clutch of modern ‘masters’ such as K. Laxma Goud, M.F. Husain, Nalini Malini, Paresh Maity, Akbar Padamsee, Jamini Roy and F.N. Souza.
The Gallery stipulates that "this group of artists saw it as their duty to make Indian art catch up and overtake Western modernism, leading to careers of experimentation and large, varied output" - however this passionate aim does not quite come through in the selection curated for this summer exhibit.
However, three of the artists (Goud, Malini, Maity) were born too late to be a part of the Progressive movement and to share its aims and stylistic sensibilities, and the other - Jamini Roy, who despite being a contemporary of the Progressives - has been misguidedly drawn into their fold by the gallery.
Roy, who largely produced his output independently of belonging to a shared group aesthetic, cannot be labelled as the same sort of 'progressive', if at all, as the others. Although his movement towards a folk-tribal aesthetic was in reaction to the academic style of the Bengal School (as was that of the Progressives) his art represents and celebrates an elysian regression to the traditional tropes of Indian culture and art - albeit one in his own unique use of line and colour - something which the Progressives were out to avoid. His output distinctly upholds the conventional format of representation of subjects such as mother and child, folk and mythological figures that allude to Indian Khaligat painting - not quite a justifiable 'State of Departure'.
The inclusion of Nalini Malini and Paresh Maity’s works in this show although interesting in their unique pieces, come across as irregularities instead - a greater discourse between the works and to visitors could have been the juxtaposition of canvases between Maity and Souza, and Malini and Husain.
However, some invigorating experimentation (‘departure’) is glimpsed in K Laxma Goud’s Prone Couple and Man’s Head, as well as Nalini Malini’s The Last Bus.
Despite Aicon’s intentions, the selection and theme that binds them together is on the whole, underwhelming. If they had openly challenged the use and meaning of the word by providing a better or larger selection of 20th century and contemporary works which they believe are 'progressive' in their formal, theoretical, and historical qualities, - this would have made their comparison and contrasting aims much more clearer and valid when displaying the pioneering, divergent threads that these Progressives pursued.