After an art lover suggested some months ago that it’s a good idea to get a catalogue signed by the artist, one started asking for catalogues from art galleries only to be disappointed. Galleryske didn’t bring out a catalogue on Sudershan Shetty, who is showing in Delhi after 10 years; nor did Nature Morte on L.N. Tallur. One waited for National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) to bring out one on Subodh Gupta but that didn’t happen either. The premier public art institution dedicated to modern art brought out related merchandise instead. Though NGMA did produce a catalogue for Atul Dodiya’s show, at Subodh Gupta’s show “Everything is Inside” the visitors were handed a rather cute booklet that carried excerpts from Germano Celant’s monograph on the famed artist with essays by Bharti Kher, Sunil Khilnani, Raqs Media Collective and Celant. But nothing could better the beautiful monologue (priced at Rs.7500) that Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) came out with post Atul Dodiya’s show. Edited by Ranjit Hoskote, the gallery produced it in collaboration with Prestel.

In the art industry, catalogues are no longer the norm. They have come to be replaced by lavish tomes on the artist with multiple essays probing his art practice. “I think over the years, people who are involved with art had started feeling the absence of substantial material on the artist. And that’s the gap art galleries are trying to plug,” says senior art critic and writer Ella Dutta. She credits Renu Modi’s Gallery Espace and Ebrahim Alkazi’s Art Heritage for coming up with some splendid catalogues in the ’90s, the period when catalogues enjoyed huge popularity. Dutta distinctly remembers the black and white catalogue done by Geeta Kapur for the show “Pictorial Space” in 1978.

Roshini Vadehra of VAG, one of the first few galleries that took to producing books on artists, says they still do catalogues depending upon various factors. “The idea behind doing a book is to document. While a catalogue can pass on limited information, a book is more comprehensive. We believe that they do help in overall promotion of art.” The gallery hasn’t published any catalogues for S.H. Raza’s ongoing show “Parikrama: Around Gandhi”, instead it has released two books on the stalwart — “Geysers” and “A Journey of a Master”. For Nalini Malani’s “Cassandra’s Gift” and the Jayshree Chakravarty’s ongoing “If you will stay close to nature”, it has, however, brought out a catalogue.

Delhi Art Gallery is another major player when it comes to art books and most of its recent shows such as “Manifestations X”, “Mumbai Modern” and “Indian Portraiture” were accompanied by books and not catalogues — but it did bring out one on the latest edition of India Art Fair.

“I think most Indian galleries, such as ourselves, are concentrating on larger books on their artists, at least trying to bring a number of exhibitions together into a single book, often collaborating with other galleries to do so. We have done this with a number of our artists including L.N. Tallur (with Arario Gallery in Seoul and now, on a new book, with Jack Shainman Gallery in New York); Mithu Sen (with Gallery Chemould); Pushpamala (also with Chemould). These books have more substance and a much longer shelf life than the small, 10-20 page catalogues documenting a single show, which were the norm in India 15-20 years ago. The internet has a lot to do with this. We can now make that small 10-20 page catalogue of only the works in a show at the gallery and send it out for free as a PDF. In many ways, those old fashioned catalogues were just glorified mailers in the days before email,” says Peter Nagy of Nature Morte, which has recently brought out two new books on the work of Thukral & Tagra — “Q”.

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