The ŠKODA PRIZE for Indian Contemporary Art is reputed to be India's "largest and most prestigious award" for visual art. Funded by ŠKODA Auto India and Seventy Event Media Group, and presided over by an advisory committee headed by respected independent art critic, curator and writer Girish Shahane, the prize is given to promote and reward "cutting-edge work demonstrating vision, innovation, and a mature understanding of material and form," by established and emerging artists.
On 28 January, 2012, at a swanky ceremony held at the posh Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, the second annual ŠKODA PRIZE went to Bangalorean artist Navin Thomas, for his exhibition From The Town’s End. Thomas' show extended his enduring preoccupation with the intersection of nature and technology. Using found objects such as discarded electronics, outmoded telephones, a singing toy, a mosque PA horn, old army loud-speakers, and other objects capable of making and transmitting sound, he examined the interaction between living creatures, such as frogs or birds, everyday house-hold electronics, as well as sonic and magnetic fields. He has described the show at GALLERYSKE in Bangalore that won him the award as an exercise in "electro-acoustic ecology." The award came with a check for 1,000,000 INR.
Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya received the inaugural “Breakthrough Artist Award” and 50,000 INR. Other "Breakthrough Artist Award” nominees included Srikanth Kolari, Dhruv Malhotra and Prashant Pandey. Art exhibition of works by the top twenty artists on the prize committee's "longlist" was held at the Lalit Kala Akademi through 6 February, 2012.
Navin Thomas and LN Thallur.
The winner of the grand prize was selected after intense debate among members of the jury panel, comprised of Pooja Sood, Director of KHOJ International Artists’ Association, Heike Munder, Director and Curator of the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich, acclaimed contemporary artist Vivan Sundaram, Martin Clark, Artistic Director of Tate St Ives, and headed by Kiran Nadar Chairperson of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. Runners-up were L.N. Tallur, who makes witty, trenchant kinetic sculptures with a striking variety of materials, Jitish Kallat, who had solo shows in Berlin, Chicago and London, in 2010, and the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai in 2011. Both runners-up were awarded residencies in Switzerland, courtesy the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia.
LN Thallur, Mithu Sen, and Jiten Thukral.
Among the Delhi glitterati and culturati in attendance were last year's prize winner Mithu Sen, known for her eclectic, trans-disciplinary practice and wry approach to questions of gender; a mix of emerging stars and established artists from Shine Shivan to Subodh Gupta, Vishal K. Dar, Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, Ranbir Kaleka and Rashmi Kaleka; curators Priya Pall and Heidi Fichtner; gallerists Abhay Maskara, Shalini Sawhney and Peter Nagy; Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, Managing Trustee and Honorary Director of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum; social commentator Suhel Seth; fashion designers Nida Mahmood and Rohit Gandhi, and many others.
While presenting the 2012 ŠKODA Prize to Navin Thomas, British artist Marc Quinn remarked that Indian contemporary art was now on par with "Bollywood and cricket." While the comment was perhaps intended to indicate that Indian contemporary art had come into its own internationally, a number of guests at the ceremony debated the remark. If the point, some said, is to celebrate the coming-of-age of Indian contemporary art, why use clichéd tropes of "Indian-ness" (Bollywood and cricket) as benchmarks, rather than acknowledging the creative parity of the Indian art world with other centers of artistic gravity such as New York or London? In keeping with the spirit of the award, many argued that Indian contemporary art has arrived and taken its place among the best on the international scene.
(Image at top: Navin Thomas, Installation Shot, 2012; Courtesy of Skoda Prize Advisory Committee and the artist)