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Delhi's date with Italy

A dash of Italian art. A peek into the work of a recluse sculptor. A look at Kavita Jaiswal's works. Delhiites experienced all this and much more this past week. GAYATRI SINHA writes.

A work by Renato Guttuso.

ITALIAN ART 1950-1970, masterpieces from the Farnesina Collection has recently opened at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.

The exhibition represents works of art drawn from the Farnesina palace, a building constructed during the politically charged 1930s, which now houses the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The core collection at the Farnesina comprises over 200 works of painting sculpture and new media which broadly seek to demonstrate the contemporaniety and leading concerns of Italian art.

What has come to the NGMA, however, and which will travel to Mumbai are modernist works, and not the installations, media image painting, video and digital art that is also part of this complex collection.

The NGMA showing mainly deals with the points of disjuncture that enter post-war Italian art, and the build up to the Art Provera movement. The early artists included in the show rejected a "lifeless and conformist realism" that prevailed in the early 1940s and espoused instead the values of light, colour and a structured signage. Among these early masters are Burri, a medical graduate who began painting as a prisoner of war in an Asllied cap in Tunisia, and Lucio Fontana. Singly they worked with material and spatial concepts, the philosophy of existentialism and informality - and the number of Burri works in the show demonstrate this bold spirit of experimentation with the innate quality of materials.

In the `60s the arrival of the School of the Piazza del Popolo or Italian pop art bring in a new spirit with significant artists like Gino Marotta , and the highly individual and polemical work of Renato Guttuso like "the writer Goffredo Parise visits in Beijing the factory of red booklets" which in fact takes the polemical debate beyond Italian shores. This exhibition bears out interesting points of comparison with the Indian encounter with modernism, and bears out points of similarity and divergence.

Nambiar's show

Balan Nambiar packs into his sculptures elements of both deception and definition. At first sight his body of tensile steel sculptures (Art Heritage) could easily be read as constructivist works, based on the principles of reduction and geometry - the smooth translation of modernist ideals into metal. The real treasure house of discovery however, lies within Nambiar himself who is as much a researcher into ritual performance of a body of tantric rituals, particularly of the vama panth, or the left handed practices as he is of state of the art engineering mechanisms. The driving force in the artist seems to be to appropriate, enter and reconceptualise forms both familiar and tantalizing from his boyhood in north Kerala. His chosen method is through the modern processes of steel casting, and then the objectification proffered through art gallery display. In this exhibition there is a seemingly seamless oscillation between concept and form. For instance in the diminutively rendered saptamatrakas, one of the most ancient and potent forms of goddess worship, each embellished with the descending triangle, Nambiar conveys a highly reduced, essential geometric or yantric symbol of shakti, and the central form of the srichakra. Nambiar's intensive research into the understanding and translation of concepts that spans cultures, materials and time is beautifully represented in his work on two ritual objects, the Valampiri shankha the most holy kind of conch shell used for its heraldic authority, and the Kannati bimban or the mirror installed in lieu of the icon in Bhagavati shrines in North Kerala. In his hands, for instance, the Kannati bimbam of Devi Bhagavati with a prabhavali becomes layered and lucid passage through arches of steel deeply suggestive of meditative penetration. Sadanand menon's catalogue piece describes Nambiar as a "reclusive if highly productive sculptor". Certainly such works need to be widely seen and circulated.

Jaiswal's works

Kavita Jaiswal presents a large body of mixed media works on paper at the Shridharani Gallery. Jaiwal has worked in the past with the concept of excavation, like an archaeologist of the subconscious if you like mainly in monochrome. This current body of work sustains her work in the phenomenology of all matter, and celebrates spontaneity, although Jaiswal maintains her tentative approach to colour. The movement in the work emerges from the fluid inter-relationshp between line and form, much in the same way as Jaiswal moves easily between the different media at his disposal.

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