click IMAGE to link to notes from a biennial – on archivism
Dirk Stewen untitled [Bronx Monkey II] at Maureen Paley
I’ve been enjoying quite a few shows recently which are likely to be blown out of the water by the imminent frieze fair and so with mighty respect to the latter I thought I’d flag them up as alternatives…
Future Movements Jerusalem at Liverpool Biennial [18 Sept-28 Nov 2010] is an essential exhibition of work from and about Palestine. I posted on Raouf Haj Yihya’s Meter Square here, the New Statesman bravely ran a rather muted piece here and my own review will run at Babelmed shortly. Surprise yourself if you can get to it, or wait for it to travel south as I know it is scheduled to do. But be sure to see it.
Otherwise, Liverpool is a far better Biennial than scarce notice of it by lazy old journos suggests; everyone rightly notes the almost painfully compelling acid-Warhol-mashup-vids of Ryan Trecartin’s but there’s much else, including NS Harsha’s very nice installation [right] at 52 Renshaw Street and not least at Tate Liverpool -where a dubiously conceived but actually nicely put together show called The Sculpture of Language by Carol Anne Duffy exhibits some great and rarely aired works.
Dirk Stewen at Maureen Paley [08 October — 14 November 2010] is the most winning new work in town for me. If you do make it to the frieze jamboree then add this show to your bottom-line schedule otherwise you’ll have failed yourself and London. If you’re not friezing it then take advantage and spend some time in a show spread over two floors, beautifully arranged/hung works combining utopian gesture with extraordinary concentration, tentativeness and beauty. The work seems hardly there at all and yet surprises/delights with a precision that makes for indelibility. It’s Stewen’s first show in London, I’d never seen the work before and this exhibition made me happy to be alive; don’t miss it! Continue reading “nb, visual art noticeboard [alternatives to friezing…]”
NASREEN MOHAMEDI: NOTES
BIDOUN WINTER 2009 #19 NOISE
by Guy Mannes-Abbott
A previous post on Mohamedi referred to my catalogue text from 2001. Now I’m posting my short review of her recent retrospective exhibition as it appeared in the UK. I was pleased and proud to write something on a show that went almost unnoticed -and was certainly not engaged with- in the UK [again], but there’s much more to be written about her work and its contexts.
For now, here are scans of the pages in Bidoun [below; click to enlarge]. Let me repeat that it’s essential wherever you are in the world to see the work itself -to stand in front of the drawings in particular- whenever the opportunity arises. Until you do you will have missed an important 20th Century artist and maker of our new world.
I’ll return to Nasreen Mohamedi at greater, speculative and more definitive length in the future…
Nasreen’s Notes – Reflections on Indian Modernism [Pt 1] has now settled at the Kunsthalle Basel until the 5th of April.
The Estate of Nasreen Mohamedi is represented by Talwar Gallery NY here.
Where next? What next!
This image is one of several in the show, in which she has reframed high contrast photographs of the street, backyard and classroom furniture at Baroda where she taught. No direct link to her drawing, plenty of indirection…
During the last year London finally began to notice the breadth and depth of subcontinental visual art. A form of catching up across loosely defined generations has been going on, symbolised in October 09 by Nasreen Mohamedi‘s ongoing retrospective at MKG, Subodh Gupta getting a showcase at Hauser & Wirth, NS Harsha with an installation at inIVA and a solo show at Victoria Miro, as well as another intriguing group show at Green Cardamom. As crude a notion as ‘catching up’ in this way is, it seems that London’s tokenistic effort to do this with the Serpentine Gallery’s Indian Highway in December 08 just might also be the last of its kind.
Veil [detail] 2005 Aisha Khalid
In contrast to the Now That’s What I Call Music approach of group surveys, Tommaso Corvi-Mora has shown Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi, two of the best artists from an established generation in Lahore, Pakistan, since 2001. A similarly smart curator could yet put together a show of Bhupen Khakhar’s pop art from the 1970s for example. Another could put together a retrospective of the influential late Lahori Ustad Zahoor ul Akhlaq. Perhaps ‘West End’ gallerists ought to be showcasing artists from the next wave, like Naeem Mohaiemen, Khadim Ali, or Mohammed Ali Talpur for example. That is; as well as rewinding and catching-up why not just press play?
I don’t mean to exaggerate London’s importance -it probably needs the subcontinent more than the subcontinent needs it- but it reveals an approach predicated on the take-out or the M&S spicey snack; diluted convenience over actual cuisine or anything else. The same is true in the world of books, where the UK prizes writing prepared in English at the same time as translating very nearly nothing.
Gupta and Harsha are Indian artists with global reputations, about whom London had very little to say, at least critically. I came across the former in Delhi in 2002 and had too much to say about the recent work to post my notes here, but in summary:
Subodh Gupta Common Man Hauser & Wirth 1-31 October 09
The proportions of Gupta’s first major exhibition in London were peculiar. Its occasion was part introduction, part retrospective, its character declarative and incantatory. It spilled across two sites in Mayfair, imploding with a self-consciously wide range of forms, tongues and bases with pointless talismans [Wall] and point-scoring appropriations [Et Tu, Duchamp?]. The solid core were subtle variations on now familiar stainless steel sculptures [Everyday, I Believe You, A Penny for Belief II] here on marble plinths; offerings and monuments both quotidian and sincere. The most interesting work [Spooning, Black and White] showed a further refining and abstracting of his own sculptural language which augurs well. Gupta is an artist unafraid of thinking big in the best sense, making art that is powerfully symbolic of everyday life experience. Art from nothing and everything, for the ‘common man’ of lore and life itself.
Here are my abridged notes on Harsha’s show at Victoria Miro 10th October-14th November 09.
NS Harsha Picking Through the Rubble
by Guy Mannes-Abbott
NS Harsha has been here on his way around the world before now but this exhibition at Victoria Miro is his formal introduction in the UK. Harsha is primarily an artist of paint. A painter who uses various vernacular mediums of Indian life and art to adorn almost anything, anywhere. His works have been miniatures ‘quoting’ from Company paintings to comment on colonial legacies with great wit. They’ve been murals painted on to walls, deriving from the village arts and crafts found across India, and bringing the everyday to life in site specific works across the world. Victoria Miro is showing large mural-inspired paintings of his delicate kind which are, incidentally, his most saleable work yet.
The ground floor gallery shows off a set of five large canvases with thinly applied acrylic in soft hues. All are 5 feet high and 12 feet long; the Imperial measurements somehow appropriate and one of few unselfconscious markers present. Harsha has lifted his art off the walls to join in on an art market that requires it to hang independently. As his international reputation has grown, his site specific works have magnified too. The upstairs gallery here contains one such pointlessly scaled installation; a made-for-Museum piece called Either Side of the Path of Enlightenment. Hidden away nearby is Eclips; a modestly sized canvas of Harsha at his best; elliptical, mysterious, warmly human, wittily questioning.
Harsha’s large scale murals share qualities of pattern and looseness from the wall-mural tradition, overlaid with his trademark specificity of person, face, moment. Spot an innocent civilian and Thought pickers especially, but also In musth, could pass as wall paper with their repeated motifs. Harsha wants us to look more closely at things we think we know or recognise. At his best this process is a witty but also sharp political commentary, veering on the philosophical. This is the quality that distinguishes Thought pickers, an Untitled canvas as well as Eclips but it’s precisely this that amplification for the market’s sake threatens.
Harsha’s ‘innocent civilians’ are rendered with a halo like effect around individuated heads. To the right of the canvas and in its midst is an exploding suicide bomber taking out those nearest her in an acrobatic display of painterly gesture. Her halo is less crisply rendered but I think it’s still there; Harsha is no reducer of sense. A decade ago he painted a series of miniature sized pictures which played with the same ambiguities of language to similar effect. One of those, Native Intrigue, also took a phrase from the dominant ideological lexicon and inverted it to reveal and softly ridicule its limits.
In the War On Terror we’re all innocent civilians as well as all-knowing and complicit. Harsha is reminding us that if we perceived ourselves as global citizens, we could no longer stand by while crimes against humanity, war crimes, murderous sieges and mass murder in the guise of democracy are perpetrated in the ‘defence’ of our ‘values’. So we’re the opposite of innocent. Perhaps the least invested in our shared guilt is the suicide bomber in this mural who is at least protesting. Whose guilt is confined to small-scale, handmade outrages.
Untitled 2009 [detail] N.S. Harsha
Untitled is Harsha at his best; a broad philosophical insistence rendered as gently as possible and more characteristic of his body of work. This huge mural on canvas divides in half; on the left are a mass of painterly gestures, scraps of colourful fabric, unordered or unformed, individual, intensely vibrant. On the right they’ve been woven together into something strong, useful, evidence of human presence. Rendered at many angles in the muddied middle are busy human beings turning the scraps into thread. Collecting, gathering, weaving, moulding, working up the disparate into something with collective strength. Something formed. This is enough; there’s no manifesto delimiting what that collectivity, strength, humanity or purpose ought to be but no baulking at the absolute necessity for it.
A couple of canvases –In musth and Absurd blossoms– feel forced to me in exactly the way that Harsha’s best work is not. Thought pickers makes the point; being typical of this set of new works but as natural and easy as the witty precision of layered intent it contains. Again we have repeated motifs; individual bent backed figures regularly placed on the canvas. Each has a collection of brightly coloured rags, paint strokes, petals on their backs. The colours are the thoughts, the figures are pickers, collectors, bringers-in of the thoughts used to sustain life.
Harsha’s figures are modelled on urban rag pickers and rural twig and stick pickers; gracers of subcontinental back streets and rural tracks, gatherers of subsistence. This should give us thought, not least about the way this apparently impoverished existence is also sustainable. Thought pickers renders a kind of inhuman abjection and yet it comments on our thoughtless acquisitive purgatory in ways that are unique in their lightness of touch and softness of voice.
Upstairs, Eclips is more of this; a beautiful puzzle of an image, easily missed in the corner and set apart from the rather cumbersome ‘Path’ installation. Eclips is a divine droplet of Indian thought, containing a press of distinct human beings, falling through time and space, going nowhere, but underpinned with a mystifying carrot. Mysterious but not pointless; the carrot here might as well stand for the rewards of focusing on our shared humanity; those vulnerably massed group of people who share a single fate as they come in to splash down and begin life on earth. It’s a carrot in a world of sticks.
Harsha is an interesting artist who works political wit and philosophical incisiveness into a highly refined practice that is also essentially vernacular. As his reputation has grown, as London has finally realised the health and vigorous breadths of subcontinental art, his work has expanded in scale to meet the curatorial market. Thus size becomes a key demand, alongside concern about portentousness.
Harsha’s best work is the obverse of this; an irritant of the portentous, able to stimulate large and productive thoughts in us with the slightest of means and on the smallest of scales. These modesties are bound up tightly with the source, inspirations and languages of his art practice. The global artworld -certainly as manifest in London- struggles to understand or even recognise the modest scale of these subtleties and so forces even an artist of the wit and precision of NS Harsha into its mould.
Picking through the rubble here, there’s enough left to remind us of the real value in Harsha’s work. It’s also a happy day when someone of his particular set of skills breaks through to International recognition. The moment must be celebrated even if attended with sadness and regret when it reduces the singularity of the work in question. Hasten along to Victoria Miro and catch NS Harsha while he is still making his own work and while that work is still Harsha’s to make.
Arabic Letraset lettering from Nasreen’s studio memorabilia Ph Guy Mannes-Abbott
In September the fullest retrospective (Jan19link) so far of the work of the late Nasreen Mohamedi arrived at Milton Keynes Gallery. Nine years earlier, the curators of this travelling show, Grant Watson and Suman Gopinath, had asked me to write a catalogue essay for their ‘Drawing Space Contemporary Indian Drawing‘ (Jan19link) in London -which also featured Sheela Gowda and NS Harsha.
In 2000 NM’s work was almost unknown outside India and closely treasured within. It mesmerised me and became another of the endless roads that drew me to Gujarat. There I met her friends, as well as colleagues from Baroda’s Fine Art School where she taught for many years, most memorably the brilliant and beautiful Bhupen Khakhar who died in 2003. Before his death our friendship was sealed by witnessing the state-sponsored pogroms of 2002 [in which Muslims were burnt out and slaughtered across the state of Gujarat] trapped together in his car between burning road blocks and the main road where armed police gave cover to a well-organised ‘mob’.
Extreme close-up NM artwork: grid-ungrid-diagonal-to-curve Ph Guy Mannes-Abbott
MKG drew together two sets of drawings [from her family and the Glenbarra Museum, Japan], the broadest range of photographs yet shown, some diary pages, early collages and several vitrines of memorabilia and working materials. One of these contained photographs of her with family and friends, some of which were taken at Bhupen’s studio-home. One shows her with another artist-friend, Krishen Khanna, long the owner of my great grandfather’s colonial bungala in Simla, where his studio is ‘cut’ in to the mountainside.
NM’s reputation has continued to grow since 2000, especially after she was ‘discovered’ at Documenta 12 in 2007! I expected MKG’s comprehensive exhibition to trigger proper recognition as well as consolidate her art historical place. While the latter is an ongoing process, it was disappointing to see that she remains just a little bit too much to take on board for incurious British minds yet.
Close-up NM photograph of sea water, foam and lines in the sand Ph Guy Mannes-Abbott
However I was happy to be asked by Bidoun to review the exhibition and although it’s only a short piece, no less delighted to see it in the current issue Noise [Winter 09/10] which you can rush out and buy! I’ll post it here eventually but meanwhile here are some other links;
The Drawing Space catalogue remains the best introduction to NM, reproduces some drawings, extracts from her uniquely worked diaries -including a reproduction- and a photograph of her minimal studio. Copies of the elegant little book [which is as good on Gowda and Harsha] are still available for £7 at inIVA here, or Cornerhouse here.
Norway’s OCA originated a smaller version of ‘NM: Notes – Reflections on Indian Modernism [Pt 1]’. Their site has a page linking to a pdf [8.51mb] of a booklet with some reproductions and a text by Grant Watson. A version of Grant’s text is also in Afterall magazine’s Summer 09 Issue, No. 21 here. That issue of Afterall contains the best reproductions of NM’s notoriously difficult to reproduce work currently available.
In NY The Drawing Center produced a good publication for their ‘Lines among lines‘ show in 2005, including Geeta Kapur’s revised essay on her friend, which I once thought eulogistic but now find increasingly resonant. Talwar Gallery in NY has an artist’s page of drawings and the photographic ‘sketches’ which she never intended to show but which are fascinating.
Until a properly thorough monograph exists with suitably high quality reproductions of the work, the best source remains Nasreen in Retrospect Ashraf Mohamedi Trust Bombay 1995.