I'm off to India. My flight leaves tomorrow…have I packed everything? Of course not! Funny thing is, this hardly bothers me because I know when I get off the plane I’ll be too excited to miss all the things I’ve left behind.
This will be my fifth Indian monsoon in a row. Every year when I return to New York I feel like nothing much has changed—my home has been humming away its unrelenting urban harmonies quite happily without me. But flying into Delhi or Bombay each year is another matter all together. I left just as the Commonwealth Games debacle was getting underway, and I can hardly imagine what C.P. looks like this time. (Though I rather hope it retains a healthy dose of its pre-C.G. colonially-flavored chaos). There is something ironic in this role-reversal -- the stereotypically "timeless," India racing at break-neck speed ahead of the tired trembling behemoth of New York’s creative spirit.
Such transformation is put into stark relief by the microcosm of the contemporary art world. Each year I return to India I am shocked by the proliferation of galleries, publications, and increasingly experimental art happenings of all kinds. Independent curators seem to be hitting their stride en mass, and galleries are increasingly embracing opportunities to exhibit non-commercial work. The fact that Indian art has continued to develop along such critical axles so rapidly in spite of (and perhaps in some sense as a result of) the market collapse two years ago is remarkable. I wonder what will surprise me the most this year?
But enough with the platitudes.
I want to find out for myself:
- What are the most interesting new spaces to spring up since last year? (Nida Ghouse’s recent writing has given me a couple of great places to start.)
- How are the older more established galleries responding to the upstarts? Are they holding tight to their stable of blue-chip Progressives or are they trying to chase after the fresh and feisty 21st century avant-garde?
- How is the broader geography of the art world shifting? For instance, the recent conference in Chennai piqued my interest in how less traditionally active capitals for contemporary art are asserting their presence at a national level. How about international artists and curators coming to India, and the increasing interest of museums and galleries abroad?
- How is contemporary art practice bleeding out into the consciousness of non art-world elites or the attitudes of more traditional art practitioners?
The list goes on and on.
A couple of days ago I was chatting with an Art History friend about the endlessly interesting, and ultimately unanswerable question of why certain artists ended up being so very much more famous than everyone else. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Picasso, and Pollock came to mind. Surely these guys (yup, all guys) aren’t the four best artists that have ever wielded a paintbrush. I think their individual fame has more to do with how the captured the zeitgeist of particular moments of transition in the ways artists thought about art and the way viewers took in their work. (Renaissance, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism).
It seems clear to me that the sea change washing over the subcontinent in these last few years will produce a formidable crop of household-name geniuses. Hussain must pass the mantle. This time, I believe it’s not crazy to imagine that the next great Indian artist would be known far beyond India, just as Pollock rolls of the tongue smoothly on all continents. The thought that I may meet this figure if I keep making the rounds—or perhaps have met him or her already, is simply scintillating to an aspiring art historian of the present. If I return with a hunch that I’ve done so, you’ll be the first to know.
-- Sophia Powers
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