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Researching contemporary India

Since the 1950s, Kassel, Germany has served as the venue for documenta, regarded as the most important showcase of modern and contemporary art, initiated by painter and educator Arnold Bode as a comment on the infamous Nazi propaganda exhibition Degenerate Art, held in 1937.

mumbai Updated: Feb 15, 2010 01:48 IST
Purva Mehra

Since the 1950s, Kassel, Germany has served as the venue for documenta, regarded as the most important showcase of modern and contemporary art, initiated by painter and educator Arnold Bode as a comment on the infamous Nazi propaganda exhibition Degenerate Art, held in 1937.

Two and half years ahead of documenta 13 (it’s held every five years), Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, its artistic director is visiting India, on “research” and to speak about how large exhibitions shape visual culture and the sharing of world-views.

“I am not so interested in contemporary Indian art, as I am in the condition of contemporary India. Given its colonial, post-colonial and modern history, India makes a very interesting case study,” said Bakargiev, who first visited the country ahead of the 16th Sydney Biennale, Australia’s largest international festival of contemporary art.

Whether her visit bodes well for Indian artists, Bakargiev doesn’t quite let on, saying that it’s too early to comment on who will be featured at the June 2012 exhibit. Unlike other art fairs, she says that the documenta’s role is not to track and showcase the developments in contemporary art. Its objective involves looking at contemporary art against issues of society. “It’s where Asia, America, the East and West discuss and debate issues such as cultural politics and contemporary art. Documenta is like an adventure with artists to understand the world,” Bakargiev said.

According to the author of Arte Povera, the late Bhupen Kakkar was the first Indian artist to be represented in documenta 9, followed by Ravi Agarwal, Amar Kanwar and the Raqs Media Collective. After its formative years, documenta ceased to be a European property and became the Mecca of the art world, with over 750,000 visitors at each edition. “Documenta was born out of the trauma articulation of collapse and recovery post World War II, it is free from market constraints.”