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About art, seriously

The launch of "Indian Art, An Overview", edited by Gayatri Sinha, in New Delhi this past week, saw the city's art fraternity discussing trends in art coverage. RANA SIDDIQUI reports.

WHEN IT'S about art, it has to be solemn and dignified. Though most art-related evenings in New Delhi do not live up to such expectations, the launch of "Indian Art, An Overview" edited by well-known art critic Gayatri Sinha at Art Junction, Intercontinental The Grand, New Delhi this past week, matched the art's status in the `real' sense. Though attended by the Who's Who of the Indian art scene including Ram Kumar, Anjolie Ela Menon, Shamshad Husain, Rajeev Lochan, Veer Munshi and others, the evening was low profile.

Launched by eminent art critic Krishen Khanna, this 246-page book, priced at Rs.1,995 and published by Rupa Publications is a seminal study on Indian art through modernism to post modernism, spanning a period beginning from 1850 onwards. The glossy book, as Khanna put it,"is ecstatic, a very well-researched and thought-out book that does not give way to inflated images and writings but rationalises without vindictiveness."

The book features critics and art historians like Geeti Sen, Jyotindra Jain, Shivaji Panikar analysing contributions of Kalighat paintings, the Bengal School, Santiniketan and Madras aesthetics; essays on the influence of Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Shergil and Progressive Art Group; history of print making and sculpture in India and more.

But Khanna felt the book could be improved if the pictures had been arranged as inserts in one long collage than putting them simply on the margins. He declared, "This is not a coffee-table book, but a serious one. Though not a scholarly one, it needs concentration to go through, for it's a series of essays well churned out."

While Anjolie found the book "just lovely", Rajeev Lochan opined that "a great deal of effort is needed to come out with such a book."

Reminiscing on the developments in arts coverage, Gayatri Sinha said, "In the early `80s, I and Shantanu used to write with a lot of concentration on the art scene and exchanged views on what more could be included in an article. Those days Delhi had only four art galleries but much space used to be given to art columns in the media. Now art galleries have grown up to horrific size but art writing has shrunk to the minimal."

Gayatri Sinha's opinion found an immediate echo. "It is very unfortunate that the whole of a page is devoted to fashion, cinema and social events in most newspapers, but art writing is relegated to the backburner. See, only recently Anish Kapoor had come to India and received the prestigious Dayamodi Award but how many wrote about it? In 1950, When The Statesman would write about art, it used to be considered an event," recalled a speaker.

Lochan also moaned, "There are barely a few art events these days, so I am made to appear in page-3, forcefully."

While Veer Munshi complained, "We don't have many art publications as in the West. In India, art is much fragmented." Khanna added, "Today's art writings are more peripheral and less of substance".

A dismal scenario? Perhaps, but that can't dim the beauty of this Overview.

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