For Chennaiites, it was a wholesome experience. Art Chennai 2011, that brought together senior artists and emerging talent on one platform, had the city vibrating to its energy.

Chennai city was witness to an art extravaganza last month. The festival termed Art Chennai 2011: India's Festival for Modern and Contemporary Art was brought to the art lovers and the public by Sanjay Tulsyan MD, Tulsyan NEC, the convenor and a businessman collector of over 25 years. The concept for showcasing artists from across the region and nationally originated with him. In conversation with Sanjay he remarked, “This festival is not primarily about selling art, rather the idea is to showcase senior artists of Madras particularly those who have not exhibited in a long time like P. Perumal or Rajavelu, and others as well as to bring works of artists from other centres, so a greater visibility of many more artists comes to the city. And the genres are equally varied as photography, videos, installation, assemblages and others. Also I am aiming to connect with the present generation who are visiting museums and looking at art when they travel, this will provide opportunity for them for looking at the contemporary art”.

Under one roof

The Festival included 27 art shows by various galleries in the city, “Art conversation” an informal discussion and talks by nationally and internationally known collectors, art critics, curators, artists and the role of art market. These sessions were informative and insightful and offered opportunity for debates and discussions. An Art Residency with 27 artists selected by Sanjay — both senior and emerging — from across various urban centres. According to Sanjay, “The uniqueness of this residency would be to bring together artists with varied sensibilities represented through various forms, styles and genres under one roof”. Participation of galleries from outside Chennai included Gallery Espace [New Delhi], Gallerie 88 [Kolkata], Project 88 [Mumbai] and Open Eyed Dreams [Kochi] and video presentation by thirty artists. The festival came to a close with an Art Auction for Rotary Club's Chennai Projects, on March 26. With space constraints it is impossible to mention the names of artists represented by various Chennai and outside galleries. Those artists whose works went under the hammer included icons within the art arena as V. Viswanathan, S.G. Vasudev, Arpana Caur, Chandra Bhattacharjee, Shuvaprasanna, N.N. Rimzon, C. Douglas, and other well known names as K. Muralidharan, Rajan Krishnan, Zakir Husain, Babu Eshwar Prasad, Paula Sengupta, Mithu Sen, Binoy Verghese, Shipra Bhattacharya, Parvathi Nayar and Benitha Perciyal to name the most important among others.

Commodification

The concept for creating a spectacle of art shows originated with Sanjay Tulsiyan and Pradipto K. Mohapatra, Chairman, Coaching Foundation India, both passionate collectors of art. The reference to ‘spectacle' translates as a key concept for analysing the condition of art within the public domain. In such a case it makes visuality a form of domination one that dazzles, seduces and stuns the spectator. The installation on Bhopal Tragedy by Samar Jodha at the Lalit Kala Akademi was dramatic in its presentation comprising a huge container painted black with the pictures of the Holocaust inside, outside the text of the tragedy was inscribed with statistics that graphically displayed the number of deaths and those affected by it. Another spectacle for the public was a seven-minute video projected on the outer facade of the Taj Coromandel Hotel the main venue for art conversations and artists' residency. It also included an installation by Kerala-based artist Rajan Krishnan, ‘ORE', a hill/heap made out of more than ten lakh handmade terracotta figurines For him it was a kind of ‘re-visit' to Antony Gromley's “Angel of the North” at Gateshead, England. Nevertheless spectacle is a useful concept and condition in which art is experienced and made visible today. In this respect the context of display becomes an important issue as it colours our perceptions and informs our understanding of works of art, which makes explicit that various spaces as galleries or other spaces as hotels, which are not neutral containers offering a transparent, unmediated experience of art, but are also inextricably bound up with the art/market. The commodification of art is played out here, though the ‘ intentions' vary, which in the present instance, the premium placed is on ‘looking' by the art lovers and public and not on ‘selling'.

This marks the growth of a ‘culture of exhibitions' centred on the display of new art. Of the 27 shows staged in Chennai galleries, it is not possible to mention all. A few important and path breaking shows were the “Dialectics of Tradition” [LKA] represented by the works of K.C.S. Paniker, V. Viswanathan, K.V. Haridasan and K. Ramanujam. The works of these canonical masters produced during the 50s and 70s was like a blockbuster exhibition, a scholarly endeavour which served to educate and give visibility to the public. The exhibition, “Evocations and Moods: Avant-Garde Art of Rabindranath Tagore” [LKA] sourced from private collection of Nirmalya Kumar, Professor of Economics at London Business School and Pradipto's displayed the litterateur represented by various artists as Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath, Atul Bose, Jamini Roy, Hemendranath Mazumdar and included works by Rabindranath. The “Contemporary Trends in South India” [LKA], showcased young and emerging artists. It was a sheer visual delight in terms of visual language, techniques, mediums, themes and subject and included a performance by Bangalore based artist Smitha Carriappa. At Apparao Galleries, the show, “Modern Masters of Indian Art” for many of the Chennaiites was the first encounter with works of artists as Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Krishen Khanna, V. Gaitonde, Nasreen Mohammedi, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Jehangir Sabawala, J. Swaminathan and Akbar Padamsee. Most of these works were sourced from collectors and the works on display were simultaneously historical for charting the trajectory of modern Indian art from 1950s to 80s presenting in a nutshell the narrative of the rise of modernity post Independence. The other two exhibitions at Apparao Galleries were of the two Southern canonical masters A.P. Santhanaraj and K. Laxma Goud. The latter was titled “Room with a View” and comprised mainly letters written by Laxma to Sharan Apparao and illustrated with overtly erotic drawings.

The photography exhibition titled “Notes from the Desert 1999 – 2000” at the newly opened Focus Art Gallery had the works of Delhi based artist Gauri Gill. Her black and white prints starkly brought alive the reality of a remote desert village in Rajasthan. Paradoxically the varied emotions writ large on the faces of the protagonists were conveyed with poignancy through the medium. The most striking was the “Birth Series” 2005-2010. The Asharaa Contemporary Boutique showcased 15 photographers from across the country including Raghu Rai, Pushpamal N., Waswo X. Waswo, Nandini Valli, Varun Gupta. The range was wide in its genre and evoked interest in the viewer in terms of different techniques, methods and process.

Few first timers

The artists with an abstract visual language were showcased at Lakshana Art Gallery, in which the works of Rm. Palaniappan's Alien Planet print series were exhibited for the first time and were amazing in the range of his technique and concept. Saffion Gallery displayed works of P. Perumal and K. Rajavelu, artists integral to the Madras Art Movement. Ashvita Gallery's presentation had Benith Perciyal, a strongly conceptual artist with a traditional approach to painting methodology, R. Magesh's installations and sculpture inscribed with subtle humour and wit, and S. Yuvaraj's installation of “Listening” had an entire room filled with ears, the fibre glass mould of which were derived from different individuals.

The representation of artists was a healthy mix of seniors, middle group as well as young emerging talent. It was a unique and a wholesome experience for many Chennaiites and had the city abuzz vibrating to its energy and vitality. Sanjay wishes to make this an annual event but also laments saying, “Need more support from the government in terms of infrastructure and from corporates' monetarily, then slowly in a few years we can take it internationally, and Chennai will also emerge as an important art capital in the South”. This healthy trend of showcasing contemporary art should become integral to the life of the metropolis and will also offer challenges to the artists to be on the move conceptually, materially, technically. In this respect Sanjay and Pradipto with their advisory teams must be lauded for this pioneering effort.

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012