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Art with the common touch

The best, most cutting-edge Indian art was on view at the Indian Art Summit. But did it move the aam junta? Gargi Gupta reports.

art and culture Updated: Aug 23, 2009 00:06 IST
Gargi Gupta

Contemporary, conceptual art is not for the uninitiated. So naturally, the Indian Art Summit (IAS) — the country’s biggest art jamboree which ended yesterday — did not have a ‘popular choice’ award, as beauty contests and television reality shows do. But assuming, for a moment, that it did, and that it was the aam junta, and not the ‘insiders’ — collectors, galleryists, critics, curators, artists and their ilk — who were voting, which of the hundreds of works displayed at the Pragati Maidan do you think would have walked away with the popular endorsement?

Not Subodh Gupta’s Three Monkeys, for all its bigness and pride of place in the foyer of the summit space However much Gupta’s conceptual wizardry may wow audiences abroad, it seemed to leave viewers at home a little befuddled.

“Why Three Monkeys?” young Arjun Narang, a student who had joined the ‘curated walk’ by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Arts and Aesthetics, wanted to know.

“He’s referencing Gandhiji here,” second-year MA student Dipa Donde, who was conducting the walk, tried to explain. “I think he’s commenting on society, on the element of fear everywhere,” she continued, pointing to the gigantic soldiers’ heads trimmed with eye shades, masks and helmet, and fashioned out of Gupta’s trademark antique brass pots and pans.

Arjun didn’t look too convinced.

Anish Kapoor, the other big-ticket artist at the IAS, fared slightly better at the popularity stakes. Lisson Gallery had brought in Kapoor’s smaller works, stainless-steel, wall-mounted concave plates lacquered red and dark grey. Young boys, and even adults, thronged near, stepping close and then back to check out their reflections in the mirror polish.

“Oh, I can see myself upside down,” someone commented. “No no, come closer and you’ll see yourself straight up,” another corrected, while a little boy flailed his hands to see how it looked magnified.

But if crowds and sheer gap-mouthed wonder count for anything in the estimation of an art work, then it was clearly Sandata ni Lila, an interactive installation in metal by Filipino artist Lirio Salvador in the stall of Manila gallery The Drawing Room, that was a big hit.

Was it meant to be a man-size guitar, or a sci-fi monster, with its exposed numerous wheels, pulleys and gears?

It didn’t matter, as galleryist Cesar Villalon invited visitors to press the fender or tap a knob, and play back sounds — a loud eeeee, a small oo, or an intermittent tap-tap. For the few who overcame their initial diffidence to do as he said, the effect was quite electric — art could be fun too.

With all the business conducted over the four days, IAS has definitely given the world of art, hit hard by the downturn, a huge leg up. But by dispelling some of the ‘aura’ surrounding high art among the lay viewers, it has done it an even greater service.