Artist Sudarshan Shetty is showing in Delhi after a decade and without his giant installations. He tells that monumentality lies in an idea, not in scale
Delhi couldn’t have asked for more. Subodh Gupta, Sudarshan Shetty and Nalini Malani…three biggies of the art world, showing simultaneously in the Capital. Add to it various other cultural events happening in the city and what you have is an incredible time for art and culture. Just recently from the quieter city of Bangalore, came Galleryske and for its first solo, it has chosen Sudarshan Shetty and understandably so. Shetty is, after all, one of the biggest names around and has earned acclaim in the international arena too. The list of his works is impressive and the places he has exhibited them — the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, a special Louis-Vuitton commission in Milan (an installation with 700 pairs of sunglasses) and the World Economic Forum in Davos — are equally magnificent, but that doesn’t translate into popularity, says a modest Shetty.
“Nobody has asked me for an autograph yet. I am not so famous,” chuckles the Mumbai-based artist sitting in the gallery amidst his art works. With “Every Broken Moment Piece By Piece” Sudarshan returns to Delhi after a gap of 10 years. While Mumbai and the world kept witnessing his monumental installations — a metallic dinosaur, a 9000-kg flying bus, a giant rocking horse, mating buffaloes, etc. — the city where he first showed in 2003, and interestingly where his first solo show “Paper Moon” (held in 1995 in Mumbai), was born, missed out on them. And even when he is back, it’s an understated and subtle Sudarshan Shetty and not a bizarre and whacky Sudarshan Shetty.
“It may seem like a very quiet show but one of the most intensive gallery shows of my life. Monumentality doesn’t necessarily mean scale. Smaller, quieter works can be equally gigantic in terms of idea and concept. In this case, I didn’t work to make it apparently spectacular. I wanted it to be spectacular in its experience and labour. It took us one month to make this ten-minute video. Mapping the cracks in the broken cups and saucers with wood was just so much work,” says the artist who exhibits a collection of nine wooden sculptures, mixed-media pieces, and a video work.
Broken crockery that has been rebuilt, commemorative statues affixed with a glass of water, old pieces of wooden doors used in a modern way in a shrine-like structure and other pieces hint at the times gone, by but the artist isn’t lamenting the loss. “There is an old saying that broken ceramic can never be mended. It’s futile trying to redo it, but I attempt this extreme situation of bringing something back to life. And when I do it, new forms emerge,” he explains adding there is a certain kind of continuity in the concerns he is occupied with. “My signature style shouldn’t be read into the scale of the work but what it represents.”
A solo in Brussels in 2015, a museum show in Germany in the same year and a commissioned work for an international perfume brand are a few of the plum assignments in store. “I didn’t become successful overnight. My first work was sold after 18 years of being in the art world. And one didn’t consciously work towards it,” recalls the artist who passed out of the JJ School of Art in Mumbai, 1985. He is right; you would know when you notice that the Mumbai-based artist instead of selecting any major gallery from the happening art hubs of Delhi and Mumbai chose a quieter space like Galleryske in Bangalore.
What has worked for him and several of his fellow contemporaries is the desire for a connect with the viewer. And to achieve that he digs into his roots of theatre and pop culture — a Kannadiga by birth, Shetty’s father was a Yakshagana performer and Shetty painted film hoardings in Mumbai for some time — to enable a viewer to pick out an identifiable element. “Yes, a lot from my generation started looking back at our roots as to who we are, where we come from, rather than from just drawing from somewhere.”