If Laxman Shreshtha is lesser known (and certainly cheaper at auction) than his contemporaries like VS Gaitonde and Prabhakar Kolte, it’s perhaps because he’s so often described as being “stubbornly introspective”.
That’s why The Infinite Project, a retrospective show at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), is a rare and unusual treat. Not only does it display, in two stages, 49 of Shreshtha’s works from 1963 to 2008, but the paintings are from the collection of Shreshtha’s friend and patron, Jehangir Nicholson, and are arguably the best representation of his oeuvre.
“It’s a visual history of how I developed as an artist,” says Shreshtha, whose first solo show was at the gallery of the Taj Mahal hotel, not too far from the museum, where he showed figurative works. Shreshtha moved on to abstracts, mystical landscapes, monochromes and eventually geometrical forms by the 2000s. “It tries to show the walls I’ve broken. In that sense, it’s not like a gallery show at all.”
It certainly isn’t. The museum sees 3,000 visitors a day, about 1,000 of whom take in the modern and contemporary works at the Jehangir Nicholson gallery. Indians don’t learn about art in school or college, points out museum director Sabyasachi Mukherjee. Most never muster the inclination to enter an art gallery. “The purpose of doing a show like this is to build knowledge and excitement.”
To help, the exhibition’s curator Ranjit Hoskote has created what he calls a ‘Context wall’ — a section devoted to great abstract artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, who may have inspired Shreshtha. Lectures, guided tours and panel discussions are also planned.
The Infinite Project has ample evidence of what the Jehangir Nicholson collection’s trustee Cyrus Guzder calls the “duality between turmoil and tranquillity” in Shreshtha’s work. His colourscapes were the inspiration for designer Prabal Gurung’s clothes at New York Fashion Week last year. Shreshtha himself remains removed from how his work is perceived. “When I see my works alone, I squirm. But here, I’m feeling quite proud.”
What: The Infinite Project: a two part retrospective of Laxman Shreshtha’s artworks
Where: Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, 2nd Floor, East Wing, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Colaba
When: Part 1 – Until October 3, Part 2 – October 14 to December 31; Monday to Sunday - 10.15 am to 6.00 pm.
Entry fee: Rs 70