Leading contemporary artist Subodh Gupta, laments the Indian mindset that judges artists only by the price they command. The 49-year-old, known for his signature steel-utensil style, says, “In India, people know Subodh Gupta’s work only by how much it sells for, but they don’t know what my artworks are or what they look like. This perception has to change and this can happen only when we have more museums in India that promote contemporary art. We hardly have any.”
The artist is all set to open a rare show of his works at Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art next week. The show, touted as a major mid-career survey exhibition of the artist, will see twenty works by Gupta, most of which have never been exhibited in India.
“It’s a comprehensive show of my old and new works. For the first time, I am able to do such a big show in India. People have only seen these works in photos but now they can see them live. It’s a great feeling,” says Gupta.
About parallel art events such as auctions and art fairs, Gupta says, “Auctions, globally, are hyped. An artist’s job is to create. Buying and selling is a totally different world. But, I feel good that I am at least able to enjoy my works, unlike many who did great work but suffered and starved their whole life. And now when they are no more, their works are sold in crores.” He adds, “Art fairs can never be a platform for artists. They are art markets. People copy only what they see getting sold. They are no inspiration to the artists.”
It was in the backdrop of drumbeats from the Republic Day parade practice around India Gate that we were greeted by artist Subodh Gupta giving instructions to his crew for his site specific installation at National Gallery of Modern Art. As part of his upcoming show at NGMA, the installation is staged at the lawn between Jaipur House and the museum’s new building. Titled Dada, it’s made with steel utensils and talks about ‘enriching the values of one’s own roots’, a subject dear to the artist.
Gupta’s works have always drawn own attention to the aam aadmi. With sculptures made with bartans used in every household, Gupta transforms and gives significance to the commonplace and the common man. For a solo show in London in 2009, Gupta casted a mango in bronze, and called it ‘Aam Aadmi’. The piece is coming to India and will be a part of this show. Asked if he is going with the current flavour of Delhi’s political scenario with titles like that, he says, “I am not going with the flavour but I am definitely going with the reality.”
The show, Everything is Inside, has 20 works created by the artist in the last 17 to 18 years, most of which have never been exhibited in India before. It is spread across Jaipur House and NGMA’s new wing. While the Jaipur house has sculptures made from everyday objects such as bicycles, tiffins, cooking vessels, sinks and cow-dung, the new wing has life-sized sculptures such as Mind shuts down, and All in the same boat.
Talking about his signature and oft-stereotyped style of using pots and pans, Gupta says with conviction, “I am happy that I am still able to use these materials in my work with a different meaning and new form each time. My utensils have their own journey and I’d like to continue with it.”
Noted Italian art historian, critic and curator Germano Celant feels connected to artist Subodh Gupta’s works in many ways. It’s the first time the two have collaborated for a show. Though Celant cannot recall the first Subodh Gupta artwork he saw, he says that a bicycle sculpture carrying milk pots found an instant connect with him.
“The same visual and history belonged to me. It was Italy from the ’60s. So there was an instant connect. It was easy for me to say, ‘Oh Gosh, here’s an international language that belongs to me and to him as well’,” says Celant. Talking about curating the show that has extreme artworks ranging from a tiny painting to mammoth sculptures, Celant adds, “It’s like playing a game of chess. You move your pieces and follow your instincts. The idea is to create an elegant equilibrium and that’s a strong way of communicating the artworks.”
Expressing his love for Gupta’s use of bronze for his pieces, Celant further adds, “Bronze was the first material used to represent God. It’s symbolically very important. The democratic way of looking at these works is to look at something that you would put on a higher pedestal.”
So what does the show mean to him as a curator? “The show is a mirror. If you are a sensitive person, you see yourself. You see a part of yourself here. You will understand the importance of your roots. And when you go back, just say to yourself – ‘whatever I do I am proud of myself’ – your roots are your future and your power. You don’t have to abandon them,” concludes Celant.