Where does great art belong? Hanging on the hallowed walls of museums and galleries, enjoyed by few, owned by fewer or in our homes, our streets and our public spaces, seen by everyone who passes by it, inspiring conversations and sparking debate? Is art judged by aesthetics alone? Or by its ability to evoke feeling, good or bad? Talk to artist Madhvi Reddi about neat brushstrokes and technique and she’ll tell you that, “Skill is cheap” and it’s the content that’s important. Ask her where she likes her art and she replies, “In a living room with warm lights and a glass of wine.” Because, art, Madhvi Reddi believes, belongs in our homes where we can interact with it easily.
We met the artist last week at Room Therapy, Jubilee Hills where her recently launched print line is on display, along with the original work. The new boutique - a retail space - is an unlikely place for an artist whose work has been displayed in galleries in India and the UK but turning conventional notions about art and artists on their head is exactly what Madhvi has set out to do. Creating and making available prints of selected works is her way of making gallery quality art accessible to a larger section of folks who appreciate art but cannot afford to pay gallery prices.
“People visit museums and fall in love with the art but no one can really afford the originals, so you go downstairs and buy a print or a poster — because that’s the only way we can afford to deal with it. Now, just because there are ten of those around, does it ruin your interaction with that piece?” asks Madhvi, challenging the notion of exclusivity in art. In launching her print line, Madhvi is doing a few things differently, starting with presenting her gallery quality work in a less intimidating space than a gallery. “How are people going to know this is a viable option unless it’s displayed here with other stuff? Besides, that is how you will display it at home,” she points out. “This is where the lay person and non gallery-hopping people can come and buy it.”
As an artist, however, Madhvi “lives, breathes and dies” in the gallery and studio environment. “The reason these works have the conceptual depth behind them is that they were born in the gallery environment or the studio environment where it is the result of an introspective process that is finally articulated - with the print line I’m not going to sit and doodle and make prints of them - all of them have to come from my gallery and studio practise so they retain that conceptual quality.” Apart from this, Madhvi will also personally rework every limited edition print to ensure it is as close to the original as can get. This, she says, is the ethical way to do it. “This might mean two days of boring work but this is something that I am committed to. When people buy the prints, they buy gallery quality, limited edition Madhvi Reddi. This is an art product which will now hang in your home, now you will engage with it conceptually, now you are looking at things that are not just banal visual experiences, and suddenly you are engaging with contemporary art in your own home - and at as low as Rs.4000-11,000.” Madhavi believes that this engagement will in turn enrich the contemporary art space in the country.
The aim is to bring the price points even lower, to compete with the endless number of “Buddha faces and Rajasthani women” available in home decor stores today. The underlying principle behind the pricing lies in the fact that to Madhvi, art is not merely about skill.
“Skill shouldn’t be the only way to engage with art. If so, how does one gauge performance art, installation art or any art in the contemporary space today?” she asks. For this reason, Madhvi stays away from all the technical definitions of skill, purposely keeping it to a minimum in her work. “What I am selling is intellectual content. I am taking aesthetic sensibilities off the table because I don’t know how else to get the viewer to get past it and engage with what the artist or paintings are saying,” says the artist. “I am only charging the buyer for the subject and intent.”
However, Madhvi’s dream of taking good art to everybody’s home can only be realised if she is joined by others in the contemporary art world. According to her, it needs to be a collective effort by all artists in the contemporary space today who need to understand that the effort will not dilute their ‘brand’ or make their work any less valuable. “We artists need to get off our high horses be a bit more open to sharing with each other and explaining our work to lay people who want to appreciate art. You can be clever, sincere and honest without being egotistical or esoteric. If you can’t explain your work to me in ten minutes, then I know something is off.”