The Silent Observer: Don’t miss a stunning retrospective of VS Gaitonde’s art
If you’ve ever looked at a painting by India’s best-selling artist and wondered what you were looking at, here’s your chance to find out. A new exhibition, VS Gaitonde: The Silent Observer, brings together work spanning the artist’s entire career, from figurative to ‘non-objective’ artist. (Gaitonde didn’t like his work being called abstract.)
“The sea was a source of inspiration for Gaitonde, which probably explains the deeply immersive experience of his signature works,” says Kamini Sawhney, curator of the Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, which is organising the show at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj museum (CSMVS). “Back in the ’60s, he used to sit on a bench outside the Bhulabhai Desai Institute, where his studio was, and stare at the sea for hours,” she says.
The exhibition will consist of works drawn primarily from two collections — 14 from the Jehangir Nicholson collection going back to the 1950s; and 5 from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, originally procured by the founding director, Homi Bhabha.
There are also works from the collection of Pundole Art Gallery, which shared a relationship with the artist from his earliest days as a painter that continued until his death in 2001; as well as from the private Darashaw Collection, and the Glenbarra Art Museum in Japan.
The show offers viewers a rare chance to see some of Gaitonde’s early figurative work. Incidentally, Gaitonde returned to the immersive form some time in the mid ’80s, when an autorickshaw accident damaged his spine and rendered him incapable of working on large canvases. “That’s when he started his series of ink drawings on paper,” says Sawhney. “They are mysterious markings that appear to be hieroglyphics or a form of calligraphy.” They are undecipherable.
Gaitonde was part of the Progressive Artists’ Group formed in the city in 1948 (other members included FN Souza and Tyeb Mehta). An untitled work fetched ₹29.3 crore at a Christie’s auction in Mumbai four years ago, and still holds the record for the highest price fetched by an Indian artist. Yet there has not been a major retrospective of his work in Mumbai since his death.
“It’s titled The Silent Observer because the idea of silence was so important to Gaitonde’s process,” says Sawhney. “So while you look at his work and immerse yourself in its silence, take a moment to ponder – is Gaitonde the silent observer of life, or is it you, silently communicating with his art.”