Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Meet Bhupesh Kavadia, an artist who turned an arid land into an artist’s H(e)aven in Udaipur


Bhupesh Kavadia dropped out at the school final year. He thought he was not cut to learn things in the conventional way. Then Udaipur, the city of lakes became his university. When he chanced upon a few theatre activists in the city in 1985, he realized that he had a true calling for stage. Acting took him to places and for a school dropout like him it was a ‘strange(r)’ experience in the beginning to talk about names like Albert Camus, Bretolt Brecht and Samuel Becket. But characters devised by them found expression through the acting medium of Bhupesh.



His theatrical expeditions also involved making sets and props for the stage productions and it was then he realized that he had a ‘thing’ for three dimensional sculptures. Papier Mache gave way to clay and he moved to harder materials like granite and marble. Bhupesh did not know that he was slowly turning into a sculptor. Stage gave him two things; a sense of space and an affinity for emotions and ideas made tangible in sculptures. Then came the now notorious art boom. Bhupesh’s marble and granite works found their way to many a collection in India and to his starving coffer came gold glittering in. The money he made out of his sculptures was invested into establishing a gallery in Udaipur which did not have any gallery till then. Part of the fortune was invested in buying a few acres of arid land, undulating and unapproachable. Then the land became the field of his artistic experiments; first he became a forester but planting so many rare and wild trees and then designing the place according to his whims.



Today, askew land looks like a boon by nature and the sight of Aravali hill ranges and the green vales at a distance and near gives away the feeling of a cool hill station. The edifices that are coming up based on Bhupesh’s plan and the expertise of local masons (Bhupesh has not sought the help of architects or structural engineers. He seems to be going by instinct and practical experience) stand evidence to his sense of space. There is a homely space and also an academic space where you have a library and study room. The sprawling kitchen doubles up as a meeting place and a space to whip up a feast as well as some juicy gossips. There are waterbodies and stretching over them are cottages in blown up scale so that the resident artists could feel space, light and air all the time. One of the cottages has curvaceous walls and Bhupesh says that the cottage developed along with the carving of the land. Bhupesh has employed the traditional building techniques of Rajasthan that give an impressive texture and volume to the buildings.



There is a sprawling square that for the time being houses the large scale marble and granite works of Bhupesh, which in fact need city squares or corporate courtyards for permanent display. They are not commissioned. Nor does Bhupesh know where they would go eventually. He collects scrap granite and marbles from quarries and converts them into sculptures. He has also made a foundry space for bronze casting. Bhupesh has a good collection of sculptures and paintings; the collection proves that sculptures are his first love. Udaipur could be attractive for the artists in the coming days because of art spaces like Bhupesh’. “I could have moved to any city. But Udaipur gives me ideas which I could put into practice and this space is such a realization of a long time dream and it is a dream in progress,” says Bhupesh. A must visit art space in Udaipur.
--JohnyML

About 'Madhuri Dixit', an academic monograph by Nandana Sen for the British Film Institute


Madhuri Dixit- Cutting into the Life and Times of a Cultural Diva

Had it been any other aspirant of Bollywood stardom than Madhuri Dixit she would have ended up either in some B-Grade masala movies or as one of the side actresses (in saheli/friend roles) in the highly forgettable movies that came out during 1980s, dubbed as the ‘most degenerated phase’ of Hindi films. Madhuri Dixit was determined to stay there and was destined to be the reigning queen for almost a decade and more. Madhuri Dixit, unlike the legendary actresses like Vyjayantimala, Hema Malini and Sridevi had/has the edge of being a Maharashtrian/Marathi that has been one of her rights to claim the top position for a longer time than the other actresses. Madhuri, when debuted in mid 80s was a girl who was there just to try her luck but successive flops made the talented actress in her so determined that she did succeed at last!

That’s how generally success stories are packaged in wide-eyed writings on the film stars that are churned out periodically for mass consumption. But the book ‘Madhuri Dixit’ is an academic monograph and has an absolutely different story to tell. Written by Nandana Bose, former professor at the Department of Film Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, USA, this monograph is published by the Bloomsbury for the British Film Institute. In this delightful read academic analysis intersperses with the well-known film trivia pertaining to Madhuri Dixit and the inferences give an absolutely different picture about the star actress who had literally sweated it out to make to the top. A powerhouse of talent and an indefatigable experimenter, Madhuri in her hundred and fifty odd films took out all what she could muster up from her talent repertoire but by the time she started her post-marriage second phase in the Bollywood film industry, felt that there was much more to be explored in her. This book does not tell us a lot about how she managed to stay afloat and afresh delivering box office success after success for a long time but it does speak a lot about why it all happened.

In Bollywood, actresses who come in as outsiders (those who do not belong to rooted film families and production houses) are either taken under the wings of powerful actors or are mentored by established directors. In both the cases, the young actresses are seen as ‘mistresses’ or ‘girl friends’ of the chauvinist actors. The protective cover that they gain through the associations with male actors comes with a price of being them called as ‘home breakers’ for most of these males are married, or as lose characters. Madhuri did not face either of these blames and could survive as a ‘pure Marathi middle class woman with traditional values’. Nandana Bose argues that it is not just an actress’ talent that helps her to be but the definite extra-corporeal support that she gains at the initial stage of her career. Madhuri was lucky to have one of the prominent directors, Subhash Gai to come in as her mentor. Boney Kapoor and Anil Kapoor were her well wishers (despite their close association with the then reigning queen, Sridevi) and the junior Kapoor even shared his efficient personal manager Rakesh ‘Rikku’ Nath with Madhuri. This could save the actress from many shames that could have come along while negotiating with roles and business deals with the male chauvinist members in the filmdom.

Nandana Bose delineates how Saroj Khan, the iconic and legendary choreographer in the Bollywood film industry literally ‘shaped’ Madhuri into a performing body and a ‘text’. Also Khatoon, Madhuri’s hairdresser also had played a pivotal role in keeping Madhuri away from unwanted and unwarranted exchanges and attentions. The book also deals with Madhuri as a text and how extratextual cultural indexes and markers worked for her in making her stardom more alluring and pristine. An actresses who steer cleared all the gossips regarding her possible alliances with male actors always had the ‘pure middle class woman’ image on her side. She gave value to the existence of the middle class girls and her fashion statements became the fashion statements of a larger female population among the Indian middle class. Her body was open to male gaze and it was always in a male desire induced dream that her skin was exposed not in ‘reality’. The apparent vulgarity of her ‘dance’ movements that had created a lot of controversies however did not touch her personality because it was always either for keeping ‘rama dharma’ that she did those acts or always it happened in the wet dreams of the males which she never had the agency to stop.



The author also probes into the construct of the ideal middle class Hindu woman as portrayed by many a Madhuri character. Each time she moves out of the decorum of a middle class Hindu woman, her characters very carefully and cleverly get back into the fold without challenging the patriarchal structures. However, Madhuri Dixit has acted in a few movies which had strong feminist undertones, like Mrutyudand, Gulabi Gang and so on. Madhuri’s marriage with Dr.Sriram Nene in an arranged marriage though had broken many a heart in India, redeemed her into the minds of the very same ‘Hindu’ men and women who thought that Madhuri could retain the virtue of the mythical Sita who eventually got united with ‘Sriram’ Nene. Madhuri’s second phase starts with her appearance as a judge in the reality shows, advertisement icon and then her coming back vehicle, ‘Aaja Nachle’. Nandana Bose says how her image as a dancing star reiterated itself in the film’s narrative and later proved it to be the mainstay of Madhuri’s new avatar as an entrepreneur in the digital interfaces keeping ‘dance’ as the center of her business discourse. The extra-textual associations have always come to help the Madhuri myth going in the transmedia interfaces that she chose to play with. She also very skillfully adopted herself into the social media platforms by engaging new age agencies to work for her, assuring her image is always there in the public not only for star gazing and inspiration but also for scrutiny.

Though academic in nature, this monograph is really a page turner both for the informed reader and someone who delights him/herself in film trivia. Reading of this book makes you go and have a relook at the works referred in this book, which I did quite devotedly and it has proved to be another added dimension to the understanding of the book’s narrative, the subject’s life and the very zeitgeist of the Madhuri movies which not only created the Madhuri icon but also symbiotically created a cultural situation within which the Madhuri transgressions could be enjoyed and contained.
 JohnyML

Friday, May 17, 2019

Fecund Organs that Ooze and Leak: The Trick of Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery





(Anish Kapoor- courtesy Evening Standard)

Truly international artists have their identities made fluid by the circumstances that make them international. Attaching their identity to a particular country often limits them to be provincial artists with international repute. Even if one does not travel quite often all over the world in order to make their identities physically fluid, the museums and galleries would overwork to make sure that their artists’ identities are fluid enough to transcend the geographical as well as political borders. Being international is something related to assuming an identity that keeps shifting according to the needs of an exhibition or a set of works of art or even a particular issues handled by the artist. An artist hailing from the white world (even if he/she is black complexion-wise) automatically gets this fluid identity by participating in international museum shows and art fairs, and also by getting featured in a few influential magazines and journals. However, we know that this fluid identity, it being an artificial construct does not make them international in a political sense because they absolutely lack the ground level realities of politics of their host countries in a given time.

So what do they talk when they talk about the international issues that pester the conscience of the world and the physical realities of the countries that are at the grip of the conglomerations of corporations that seek financial profitability through various anti-humanistic activities? International artists are supposed to comment on them if they really are expected to touch the core of the ongoing issues of the world. But often they do not go into particulars but touch upon the larger abstractions made out of issues that look like affecting one and all. But in fact such issues, for instance migration, refugee problems, epidemics, terrorism, war, drug dealing, women’s liberation, liberation of the oppressed people or people from the war torn areas, issues of the different genders and so on are not affecting everyone in the world; they are limited to pockets but are lionized to make them really global issues so that a series of global forces could get involved in the minute areas pertaining to all these problems and stake their claim. That means, such problems are problems made to be believed as problems affecting us and they remain as reminders of the possibility of turning any part of the world for or against such problems. That’s why many international artists do not touch up on the issues that are local but crucial instead they touch upon the larger abstraction, aforementioned, so that their works could become commentaries of/on it which could be used, ironically, for or against the same issues.


(Anish Kapoor's painting at the Lisson Gallery)

Slavoj Zizek, the famous polemic theoretician, recently opined in one of his speeches that the internationally artists who exhibit in great museums and galleries pretend to be critical of the global state of affairs but in fact participate in the supportive discourse of the dominant that is being helped by the cultural discourses created by the museums and galleries, often supported by the same forces that support the capitalist hegemonic forces that rule most of the countries in the world. So the abstractions are easier for the artists when it comes to their international presence. They can comment on anything. Make extremely out of the context comment on the issues and in fact get away with the consequences of their statements. Why so, because most of their comments are taken for their topicality and entertainment value and the performing aspect of their statement often make a few headlines only to be dead within few hours of their appearance. For example, when the flow of refugees from the war-torn Syria started affecting the social fabric of Europe, Ai Wei Wei and Anish Kapoor walked the London streets with heavy blanket on their shoulders exemplifying the act as the reminder of the legendary exodus led by Moses, making the citizens of the world think that by origin everyone was a refugee on the face of the earth. Sooner than later it was found that both the artists were having their solo exhibitions in London and they got enough eyeballs and the eye of a storm so that even the media could overlook the real refugee issue and focus on the softer performativity of the artist, for the time being.

Anish Kapoor’s identity, as I mentioned before is a fluid identity which helps him to comment on any problem in any part of the world. When India was booming in terms of art market during the first decade of the 21st century, Anish Kapoor had suddenly found out his Indian roots and he was dubbed as an Indian born British artist. But once the market days were over and when he was invited to the KMB’s second edition, it was not his Indian roots that grabbed attention of the press and people but his international identity as a British citizen, who was capable of churning the world with his opinion and work of art. True to his nature and intelligence, and also culture, he brought one of his works and ingeniously re-enacted it inside a gallery at the KMB venue where the whirlpool that he created was seen as the emblematic representation of the world today, all in a chaos; and the hope that from the chaos there arose order. And Anish Kapoor having a great back history of sculptural and glass surface abstractions, the whirlpool could have also been given an extremely abstract description that often helps people to relate simply with the artist. Many people see it as an interesting form, a very clever one making each one wonder why he/she wouldn’t think of it before Anish Kapoor did.


(Anish Kapoor's works at the Lisson Gallery)

Today, Anish Kapoor is having his seventeenth solo exhibition at the Lisson Gallery in London (their Bell Street premises). Kapoor has presented his paintings as well as some sculptural forms. It must be a warming up show because some of his important solo exhibitions are to be coming up in China and elsewhere in the world. So here is a talking point show so that it could lead to the larger shows with more worldly wisdom coming from Anish Kapoor. Kapoor is not really ‘painter painter’ type though he has been painting. Many sculptors often claim that they have always painted on the side. Giocometti’s paintings, in this sense are really worth remembering. So are the drawings and paintings of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. So Kapoor’s paintings cannot be disputed as ‘those paintings’ that he did for the heck of it. The ones that obviously bring the images of the American artist Philip Guston in mind, seem to have a larger issue to discuss as explained by the artist himself in a report published in the Art Newspaper. In this report he says that it is all about the menstruation issue, of the bodily fluids, of a place where the male dirt goes in and a life comes out. As far as Kapoor previous works are concerned, the women’s bodily orifices could be seen abundantly though none had the time or leisure to articulate them sole in those terms. But here the artist himself insists that it could be read so. He does not intend them to be erotic, but they have an erotic feel about them, a sort of fantasy play where he expresses his own fear from the vagina dentate or vagina medusa, if one allows me to say so.

This could be said an un-sanitized statement by Anish Kapoor. He has not so been explicit while explaining his art. But he somehow recognizes the fact that internationally menstruating women and the taboo related to it are big issues that need a sort of addressing by one and all. But only question is whether the feminists in the world would be amused by this voluntary agency given to the issue by the world famous artist. Hardcore feminists who are immersed in parity discourse, may not be interested to see this artistic transgression with sympathy for they believe that the agency of such issues should be held intact by the women themselves as they could voice them much more experiential-ly than the males. The tyranny of experience debars males from articulating the feminine experiences to certain extent. Having the identity of an international artist, Anish Kapoor cannot remain silent on this taboo either.


(An early work of Anish Kapoor)

Perhaps, the Lisson Gallery knows this artistic dilemma better and their marketing tactics, they believe are to be neutral, artistic, sanitized, non-polemical and abstract. Big Money wouldn’t like to get entangled with issues like refugee problem, menstruation, malnutrition etc. They would like to have a work of art that speaks everything in the highly sophisticated and euphemistic terms. In the Press Release issued by the Lisson Gallery, not even once the word menstruation is used. The whole matter is covered up in such way which would have even contradicted Shakespeare had he been alive; he had said, life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Lisson Gallery would correct him, it is full of sound and no fury, and signifying more what eyes could see. Let me quote a few lines from the Press Release: “Elsewhere an ovoid steel orifice, engulfed by a web of welded metallic shards, encapsulates the brutal eroticism of the works in the show. However, this is no easy seduction. Kapoor’s new works do not present us with a symbolized sensuality, rather it is in the ineffable dark voids of these generative forms that the artist creates a space we might intuit an as yet unknown known.”  In another paragraph it is written, “….on the edge of figuration they seem to depict swollen and fecund organs that ooze and leak from their dark interiors.” This is how the concrete is made abstract by international artists and their galleries.



Sunday, May 12, 2019

Death of Curators and the Demise of Indian Galleries


(Indian Pavilion Venice Biennale 2019- Shakuntala Kulkarni's work. All the images in this article are for representational purpose only)


‘Who is a curator?’ asks one of my students from Baroda. It is always good to answer questions than enter into a conversation for the sake of it. Of late, people in the art scene have been hearing a lot about the ‘tyranny’ of curators or rather ‘tyrannical curators’ who make artists work according to their whims and fancies. However, the truth is a majority of the curators in the world do not enjoy such despotic power. Having an insider’s view on things, I could assert that a tyrannical curator is one who works ‘for’ the ideological and financial policies of the institution in which he/she is a part of or hired for a specific project. An independent curator has only a moral right to implement his own agenda and it is not necessary that the artists agree to it completely. But there are always artists who would like to work with a curator of their choice or liking because the curator must be a highly respected personality in the art and cultural scene or must be attached to an indisputable organization. If artists prefer to work with an up and coming independent curator, it must be because the artists find the curatorial idea quite irresistible or the artists themselves must be demanding curatorial platforms to get established in the art scene.

The idea of tyrannical curators is a myth and as I said before the tyranny is a reflected ideology and power of the institution on the curators. Once they are out of job or projects they are not considered that important in the whole scheme of things. According to Pablo Helguvera, the US based Mexican artist and commentator on the international art scene, curators stand just above the artists in the hierarchy, a hierarchy that posits the artists as producers of market(able) products and the museum director holds the apex position. As we know in these days Museum Directors belong to the corporations or trusts that run a museum. If it is a state owned museum often the directors come as a part of the political strategy of the ruling dispensation and the directors themselves shadow curate most of the projects for keep their political ideology intact and also to prevent radical ruptures showing up in the cultural narratives that they want to create. Powerful curators from all over the world are closely attached to the institutions so that the global dominant visual cultural narrative would not go haywire and there will be an apparently decentralized presence that could easily hide the centrist hold over all the projects that ensure the perpetuation of the ideas of cultural capitalism.


(From Venice Biennale 2019)

The grand illusion of tyrannical curators falls flat when the politically driven institutions collapse the role divisions that exist between the museum director, curators, consultants, in-house and hired executives so on and so forth. The Indian Pavilion in the 2019 Venice Biennale is the best example for these carefully erased demarcating lines. It is officially an Indian Pavilion but the Director of the executing agency, the NGMA-D does not play a pivotal role in deciding the artists and the art works. He becomes a silent facilitator of the projects that are exhibited in the Indian Pavilion. The private agency that has undertaken the job of planning, devising and executing the projects has gone by their favorites but definitely in the line that has been drawn silently by the director who has clear instructions from the cultural minister regarding the image that has to be projected about the country in an international platform like the Venice Biennale. It is curious to know that even the private agency that has done a big job in this case has not declared anyone as the curator of the Pavilion while the in-house and hired curators are present at the Pavilion during the opening of the project. That means the people involved in the Indian Pavilion know where they have to draw the line and never cross it. It is an extremely defeated game that has not brought any prestige to the country.

Coming back to the initial question of the curatorial tyranny, I would say that only the independent curators who choose the right kind of institution that would support them can only do justice what he/she thinks in terms of a curatorial project. Only at the ideological level that a curator could show the way and it is not advisable at all that the curator dictates the artistic creation or suggests the possible materials to be used in the production of the works. There are two ways of approaching this; one, the curator could select the artists who are already doing works of art that reflect the curatorial idea in many levels. It is an ideal situation. Two, the curator could invite artists to a project and ask them to reflect on the curatorial idea the way they want, in their style, in their chosen materials. The only condition that the independent curators could put at this stage is about the technicalities involved in the display. In an independent project, the burden of display comes often on the shoulders of the curator. He/she is responsible for arranging the basic facilities for the display, obviously with the help of the institution that he/she is working with/for in the project. If the institution is incapable of providing certain technical support, then the curator should definitely inform the artists regarding this so that the artists could devise different strategies in the very making of the works.


(Jitish Kallat's work from Venice Biennale 2019)

Curatorial ideas are not only challenging for the curators themselves but also for the artists. Though people vaguely make comparisons between film making and curatorial work, in reality they are extremely different. Film making is a collaborative project with a director at the helm of affairs. The actors and technicians are not given complete freehand in their respective works. There is a directorial intervention in the very aspect of film making. But in the case of an exhibition, the curator is not like a film director. Curator cannot ask an artist to behave/produce in a certain way. If at all there is a comparison, curator is more like an editor who arranges the materials using a peculiar logic of his/her own so that different works gel well in the given context. Unlike in a film where all components are driving towards the totality of it, an exhibition project does not necessarily create a single point narrative. The components of an exhibition could stand differently, creating different interpretational directions and also destabilizing the curatorial logic. In the case of a solo exhibition perhaps, a singular narrative could be created using a curatorial idea and a willing artist. But when we come to the mega shows curators function more like editor-technicians than like directors who have total control over everything. Institutions and institutional directors take over the final product of a mega show while curators are relegated to facilitators’ positions.

Institutions or no institutions, some artists are extremely particular about their works and the ways in which they are to be seen and shown to the public. They are not just being control freaks but their idea of displaying their works for the public means a lot of self-curatorial decisions. They overlook or undercut the curatorial decisions often and come up with ideas of display which eventually the curators have to succumb to. That happens only when the artists are super stars and the curators are just paid laborers in the institutions (such super star artists will not work with independent curators if they are not supported by huge institutions). However, when the curator is also a super star like Okwui Enwezor or Hans Ulrich Obrist and they join hands with international brand platforms things change for better; both the parties will consider walking half way to each other. Such shows actually make differences in the global art scene while the Indian Pavilion in Venice Biennale like makes no impact anywhere.


(from Venice Biennale 2019- Ashim Purkayastha and Nandlal Bose)

Curators could have been holding a lot of power in the art scene provided if the very ideation process was not bought cheaply. The biggest culprits in collapsing the curatorial interventions in the Indian art scene are the gallerists, who started hiring the curators from here, there and everywhere thinking that they would bring investors to their galleries. A lot of curatorial talents were cut to size and rendered backroom executives. Many were given hopes and became managers of art events in the galleries. Itinerant curators were brought in thinking that their names would help the exhibitions. At when things went really weird, in the vaudevillian charade the gallerists themselves started doing the curators’ mantle. If curatorial projects are killed in India, the whole responsibility should go on the shoulders of the gallerists who lacked sophistication, grace and cosmopolitan outlook. If one of the biggest corporations in India, through its double museums and unquestionable art collection has taken over the Indian art scene making the rest of the galleries working overtime to please the founder director of that institution, none but the gallerists have to be blamed. They killed curatorial interventions and in the process killed the young and upcoming curators. History will not let them go scot-free. That’s why, even in the latest KMB edition when the curator developed a conflict with the organizers none stood by the curator because all the curators have been working in the galleries as executives making negotiations with the KMB management to get their in-house artists to be a part of the KMB’s forthcoming editions.

Considering the market realities and the contemporary history, I do not see any prospects of changing the monopoly or loosening its hold over all the collaterals in the Indian art scene. The present day galleries will be reduced to ‘viewing rooms’ or the gallerists will become consultants for these monopolies. When the monopolizing organization cannot showcase all what they deal with in the market, these galleries will be functioning as the local showrooms for the biggest ‘maker’ of visual art culture. The signs are already there; the art journals have been reduced to single edition events during the Art Fairs. Art Galleries have stopped having regular exhibitions. Former star artists are reduced to the present day shame. Within the confusing political narrative and the confused economy, the gallerists have found it safe to go with the dominant ideology than showing any trace of resistance. Most of the self-declared progressive artists have their names in the payrolls of the monopoly institution. It’s not a doomsday prophesying but waking you up into the dawn of a stark reality. There is only one way out. Believe in your art and live your life. The ones who are at the mercy of the galleries and the monopoly now neither have any belief left in them nor do they live their lives; they just wear good clothes and smile therefore they are.  




Friday, May 10, 2019

About Smaller and Longer Titles for/of Works of Art: With a Pinch of History



(Spoofing Damien Hirst with his famous work) 

Titles ah! Titles are the entry points in/of a work of art. Most of the artists find it difficult to title their works. Some artists approach their curators or even gallerists to name their works. They give them fancy names and if they are really bored of things around, they would maximum call it ‘Untitled’. ‘Untitled’ is the state of being of a work of art; devoid of name, location, particular meaning and intent. It expresses the artistic state of being too. When the artists especially those abstract artists think that their works represent nothing it is safe to call them ‘untitled’. But for many it has become a title in itself; ‘Untitled’. It exactly sounds like the name ‘Anamika’ which means someone with no name. And it is one of the names preferred by the intellectual types to call their girl children and I think it comes next to the name ‘Aparna’. This untitled phenomenon is something like artists making diptych and triptych. I have thought about it; the rationale behind splitting a work into two or three pieces. According to my understanding idea of making diptych and triptych comes from the old religious art where altar panels were split into pieces and the narrative had to be broken. Some of them were portable and some by virtue of the architectural plans, though immobile had to be divided into pieces.


(Departure, a triptych by Max Beckman)

During the modern times, diptychs and triptychs became some sort of an artistic norm when the works had to be transported from one place to another; it was sheer convenience that prompted artists to split their works into pieces. Besides, it also depended on the sizes of the canvases or papers available for making paintings. Then, again it depended heavily on the sizes of the studios from where the artists worked. Even today if you don’t have a huge studio but you want to make a huge painting, the only way is to split up the canvas and then work in pieces only to assemble in the exhibition spaces. However, with huge spaces at their disposal artists still make diptychs and triptychs because they too have become some kind of a modernist norm which is too alluring to resist. With the idea of assemblages came along with the idea of installations in the post-modern era, splitting up a narrative or object representations into a few pieces and assembling them on the walls gained traction within the display practices. Also it has given birth to a way of looking at art in fragments and then making a mental picture about the possible narratives. This, on the one hand has imparted the artist with certain amount of freedom in manipulating the conventional mode of painting and on the other hand, it has liberated the viewers from the tyranny of the modernist large scale works.


(work by Sunil Das)

I would rather leave that point regarding multiple frames there and proceed with the idea of titles. I remember one of the modern artists in India, late Sunil Das telling the students (I too was one then) why he used certain red and black arrows within his paintings. Das’ paintings represented a lot of bulls and women. One could see a deluge of movements and the display of beastly strength in those paintings however, it was a bit difficult for us, the students to make an entry into the paintings. Answering to a query regarding this, Das pointed at the arrows in his paintings and said that they could be seen as the entry points. It was a moment of revelation for me (I do not know about the feeling of other students) because I knew by then that the eyes, driven by the brain activities had the tendency to move clockwise and capture the narrative within the painting. Even in the repetitive image based vertical narratives in the Indian miniature tradition as well as in the zig zag narratives of the modern narrative school the left to right orientation was evident. But having arrows, doors, windows, cracks, rupture and so on within a painting that could function as entry points was a new thing for me. Hence in retrospection I found out that when a classical point of departure was absent or rather hiding from the eyes of the onlooker, he/she could make an entry by simply following a brush stroke, an arrow or any such suggestion within the painting.


(a still from the movie Day of the Jackal)

How does one approach a work of art when the point of departure as well as the entry points I have aforementioned are absent? The only extraneous clue to this entry is provided by the titles. Titles are at once a name and an entry point. That is perhaps the case of any social organizing principle. We tend to give name to accommodate a thing/person into a certain existing order which is comprehensible to all. That means, a name erases strangeness and otherness and functions as an inclusive method. Inclusion in a particular order or system is also part of soft subordination and subjection. Once, given a name, an object or a person cannot be out of the social narrative. It does not leave any gaps that disturb the sense of fulfilment and security. That’s why in the movie, Day of the Jackal, we do not come to know about the identity of the person who tries to assassinate the French President. Hence it becomes imperative to eliminate him from the narrative to regain security and satisfaction. And does title/name matter so much to a work of art beyond it being the entry point?


(Luncheon on the Grass by Manet)

Even in the modern art history, titles of the famous works are attributed by someone other than the artists themselves. It could be an art critic or journalist in a newspaper or an art historian himself at a later stage when he writes about the work. The title ‘Luncheon on the Grass’, the famous Manet painting which had apparently started the modern/Impressionist art movement was given to it by the journalists as an explanatory term as it was titled by Manet himself as ‘The Bath’ and the ‘Foursome’. Most of the works by Vincent Van Gogh, as we know today are titled by the later historians and writers and it is quite understandable when we realize that all those works derive their names from the central image of the painting. Cypress Trees is full of cypress trees, Starry Night is a starry night, Sunflowers is a painting that shows sunflowers. Even his last painting, ‘Crows in the Wheatfield’ is an explanatory title. But we know the paintings mostly by their title. Once they are titled they are brought into the common order of art history and the awareness about it. Hence, when we listen to a title like ‘Persistence of Memory’ we cannot think about anything else but the melting clock painted by Salvador Dali.


(The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even by Duchamp)

Smaller titles are remembered easily but the image can be forgettable. Works of art with stark images or oft reproduced images are remembered for their images and it not necessary that a name is remembered along with it. The works of Da Vinci and Michelangelo are remembered even without their titles for many of them are traced back to the commonly shared mythological understanding. So is the case with Raja Ravi Varma. Now take the case of the works by Rabindranath Tagore. We do not remember any title. But we know them by genres like ‘faces’, ‘women’, ‘landscapes’, ‘doodles’ and so on. Early modernists have this problem of being categorized in the genres. But there are artists who remain in our minds for the titles; for example Marcel Duchamp. ‘Fountain’ is a title that evokes an industrially produced urinal. ‘Nude Descending the Staircase’, we cannot think anything else than the painting itself. ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even’ rings in the peculiar image done by Duchamp. Except for a few paintings with specific titles like ‘The Damsels of Avignon’ and ‘Guernica’ by Picasso, most of the works by this prolific artist were titled by others according to their convenience and like in the case of Tagore, by genres.


(Who are we, Were do We Come from, Where are We going by Paul Gauguin)

This automatically leads us to a question: Do smaller title carry the magic or the longer titles? Smaller titles are to be remembered for their brevity but to me longer titles make a lot of impact than smaller titles. The work may be small or less ambitious but the titles could be really impressive and enigmatic. But at times longer titles are given to more enigmatic and philosophical works of art and in most of the cases the artists are extremely conscious of this nomenclature. They know why they attribute a certain name to a particular work of art. When we look at the work of Paul Gauguin titled ‘Who are We, Where do We Come from, Where are We Going?’ despite the sequential narrative in a horizontal format that trickily start from the right to left we are hugely impressed by the gravity of the question itself. It asks us to think about the origin of the human beings, their past, present and future. Gauguin tired by debts and diseases it was naturally for him to ask that question but his focus was elsewhere; he was asking this question vis-à-vis the life and times of a girl child/a woman. He traced the life through her physical growth, sexuality, old and death. Almost in the same time, in Kerala, Kumaran Asan was asking the same question in his poem, Veenapoov (the Fallen Flower). Gauguin inspires A.Ramachandran to do his ambitious magnum opus ‘Yayati’. While Gauguin looks at the life of a Tahitian girl, Ramachandran picks up the thread in the complicated life of King Yayati, Urvasi and Pooruravass. The single word title ‘Yayati’ is further split into Ushus (morning), Madhyahna (Noon) and Sandhya (Night); three stages of life, which is quite Shakespearean in essence as the Bard had said (life) ‘sans eyes, sans tooth, sans ear and everything.’


(How to explain picture to a dead hare by Joseph Beuys)

Another impressive title is by Joseph Beuys who in 1965 did this pivotal performance on the impossibility of communication or the possibility of gaps in comprehension, between what is said and what is understood. He in his performance covered his face with golden foil and held a dead hare on his lap and almost lamented how he could explain things to the dead hare. The title of the work is ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’. I could be a question raised to the political authorities who just do not understand a thing said by the creative people. Also it could be the impossibility of communication itself. I am once again reminded of Kumaran Asan when he said ‘God has not given me a language so that I could show my soul to the other…today language is incomplete and there could be communicative errors due to questionable inferences’ in his poem titled ‘Thoughtful Sita’. In Beuys work the longer title makes it philosophically deep and rooted.


(The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst)

A title that has intrigued one and all is by Damien Hirst. In 1991, he did a very ambitious work by tanking up a huge tiger shark poached from the Australian seas and displayed in a vitrine filled with the preservative solution, formaldehyde. A work that scandalized the art world with questions of aesthetical as well as production ethics carried a title, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. Death is one of the greatest philosophical questions that world religions have asked and have tried to find their own solutions. The one and only unavoidable phenomenon Death comes to everyone but none seems to be having a trace of anxiety about it. In Mahabharata, in Vanaparva, there is a section called Yaksha Prashna where a Yaksha confronts Yudhishtira, the senior-most of the Pandavas and puts some philosophical questions. The condition was that if Yudhishtira could answer all the questions satisfactorily the Yaksha would bring back the dead brothers to life (which has etymological connections with the Sophoclean event in the confrontation of Oedipus and Sphinx). The Yaksha asks: What’s most wonderful? Yudhishtira answers: ‘Day after day countless creatures are going to the abode of Yama, yet those that remain behind believe themselves to be immortal. What can be more wonderful than this?’ Now my question is what else is said by Damien Hirst’s title, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’.


(An Old Man from Vasad who had five penises suffered from Running Nose by Bhupen Khakar)

In 1995, late Bhupen Khakar did a painting which had also scandalized the morally challengeable audience in India and the title was ‘An Old Man from Vasad who had Five Penises Suffered from a Running Nose’. This was a take on a folk story where a wise fool laughs at a goddess (Kalidasa at Devi) upon seeing ten heads. He was wondering how she would manage if she catches a bad cold. Bhupen twists the story to suit his purpose of making the hidden obvious regarding a gay man. What would a gay man with overriding libido do if he is irresistibly horny? In India, in those days the article 377 was not scrapped and an intolerant society would have killed such a gay man itching to masturbate which is shown as him dealing with a running nose. The same approach is taken by Khakar in an earlier work titled ‘You Can’t Please All.’


(An Actor Rehearsing the Interior Monologue of Icarus by Surendran Nair)

The story of longer titles could also be seen in another controversial work titled ‘An Actor Rehearsing the Interior Monologue of Icarus’ (2000) by Surendran Nair. This work was banned from a show at the NGMA, Delhi and the exhibition titled ‘Combined Voice of the New Century’ curated by Prima Kurien. India was ruled by the BJP then with a moderate Atal Bihari Vajpeyi as the Prime Minister. However, the moral police of the time thought that Nair was trying to vandalize the prestigious Asokan Pillar that has been adopted as our national emblem by none other than a committee headed by Dr.Ambedkar who had started the Navayana Buddhist Movement in India. Asokan was a Buddhist Emperor or rather he was converted himself to Buddhism but the co-optation of the Asokan symbols was a part of the right wing tactics to find a larger and deeper history for itself and thereby denying that history to the Navayana Buddhists. The curator was bold enough to close the whole show rather than removing this particular painting and the painting entered the modern cultural history of India as something that disturbed the ‘moral values’ set up by the right wing. Somehow, since then Surendran Nair has used more and more Hindu imageries in his highly sophisticated and stylized paintings.

(Yayati by A.Ramachadran)

Longer titles bring attention to the works. Do we need to arrive at such a conclusion? Or is it accidental that the works with longer titles at times get into some kind of controversy? Whatever it is longer titles generate some kind of a curiosity among the viewers; if not at least among the art historians. A single word title or a smaller phrase title could be like a single punch on the nose whereas a longer one could be a barrage of punches and kicks that make you an absolutely changed man! In more refined terms I would say, a single word title is an invitation to a definitive (aesthetic) event while a longer title is an invitation to a maze where the exiting task is all at your own risk.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Depth of History, Politics and Memory: Balamurali Krishnan’s New Suite of Drawings


(artist Balamurali Krishnan)

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
-          Milan Kundera (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

Allappuzha (Kerala) based artist, Balamurali Krishnan’s latest suite of drawings somehow becomes a visual extension of Kundera’s oft-quoted statement though the artist has not intended it to be so. Titled ‘Onattukara Memories,’ the exhibition cannot just wish away the artist’s struggle against both power and forgetting. Power, in many ways demands forgetting. Remembrance is one way of man’s refusal to move and to be removed. When personal resistances become feeble against the mighty installations of power, memory opens another front of resistance through the registration of it in fragile mediums that overtly do not threaten the power but by passing the memorial traces to the onlookers infect them with a strange sort of remorse which could goad the infected to stand up in resistance to protect the last patches of survival before it goes into oblivion. In that sense remorse is a sudden awakening into the light of remembrance; guiltless existence is a forgetful existence. The danger of forgetful existence is that it could be forgettable existence too. Balamurali Krishnan not only as an artist but also as a living human being does not want to have a forgettable existence. However fragile a medium that drawing is, it could burn the edifices of power provided they are seen, recognized and understood.

(work by Balamurali Krishnan)

Onattukara is a celebrated land in the topographical history of Kerala for its peculiar status as one of the strongest centers of Buddhism in the state before the eclectic and egalitarian religion was defeated by Hinduism using violent means of destruction and persecution though both these acts of annihilation were marked in the general history of the country as the defeat of Buddhism at the hands of the philosophical and logical arguments of Hinduism. The place names, space names, names of the temples and so on upon the etymological analysis reveal the fact that they all were part and parcel of the Buddhist life practices before its total decimation. Buddhism was one religion that deliberately collapsed the caste system which was rampant (and still is) in Hinduism and most of the people who either entered the fold as followers or just became believers even while practicing their pagan beliefs were coming from the ‘depressed classes’ or the lower castes. Traditionally the depressed classes worked in the fields as farmhands, crafts people and other menial workers. Buddhism had given them respect and a worthy social and emotional life. With the aggressive engagement of Hinduism with the compassionate Buddhist religion, the believers were once again suppressed vehemently to their lower positions. The next phase was of integration while maintaining the caste system, religious symbols were co-opted and the physical evidences of the erstwhile Buddhism were destroyed by force. Those evidences that withstood the vandalism were forced to remain in obscurity through neglect.


(Work by Balamurali Krishnan)

The integrated Buddhism in Onattukara region like elsewhere survived in memories of the people and in the general memories of the land. The replacements done to the place names and to the worship areas however did not cause total oblivion. Like the memories of a historical wound they remained in the minds of the people in the area. What carried the resistance and compassion of Buddhism was the land itself. Its precious paddy fields, ponds, orchards, ‘dark’ worshipping practices, folklores and general public memory through festivals and collective social activities remained the repositories of Buddhism. However, the ‘development’ models pursued by both the local governments under the pressure of the global forces are now causing the decimation of such memories. Joining hands with the capitalist market the right wing forces (read Hindutva forces) now take away the paddy fields and other ecological treasures to convert all those areas into townships, apartment complexes, super-markets and so on. When such social phenomena happen people think that this is how they progress! But only the sensitive and creative ones realize and recognize the need for having memories of the losing lands and their lore.


(Work by Balamurali Krishnan)

There is something autobiographical about this suite of drawings by Balamurali Krishnan. He had been living in the Northern part of Kerala for almost two and half decades and when he came back to his ‘Onattukara’ he found the fast receding farm lands and the fast proceeding constructions of high-rises. The artist felt that the land had been irretrievably lost; today the land has only its integrated festivals, social rituals and most importantly the memories held dear by the people as individuals and as collectives. Perhaps, a social movement or a political struggle would bring attention to the slow and at times fast erasure of history from the face of earth by the powerful lobby. But Balamurali Krishanan knows for sure that such collective resistances, with its generic nature in various parts of Kerala have lost their momentum and it needs a new thrust which can be achieved by aesthetical interventions. Hence, this suite of drawings has a purpose; the purpose of remembering, registering and resisting. Aesthetical interventions may not be so handy when it comes to the direct confrontation with the rich and powerful who become instrumental in the act of forgetting, which the artist thinks need to be countered by the art of remembering. But aesthetical interventions could function like social catalysts that could provoke the ‘remembrance’ of the people in general.


(Work by Balamurali Krishnan)

Most of the works in this suite are large scale drawings done on paper with broad and thick charcoal sticks. The black and white-ness strips the possible narratives of their literary embellishments and places the images starkly before the eyes of the onlookers. The monochromatic color pattern that Balamurali Krishnan has chosen for the present suite of drawings makes the memories separated from the immediacy of time that brings so many inextricable things that could muddle our viewing as well as thinking process. Thus projected into the eternal time of remembrance the images exist in history as narratives demanding interpretative attention. Also there is a sort of democratic treatment of the events and images that are pressed into combined visual imageries when they are treated in black and white; each image demands equal attention or rather the onlooker is tend to look at each image evenly before inferring the meanings he or she wants to. The black and white scheme also symbolically turns the ecological representations their possible collapse and abandonment. Each portion of the land that is dealt with could become a memory trace as well as a living reality.


(work by Balamurali Krishnan)

One of the large works is created out of a series of small works which gives it a kaleidoscopic presence. The historical memory or the memory of history of the place is brought in to each frame like vignettes so precious and miniature-like demanding closer observation which could end in introspection leading to retrospective aspects of history. This frame is the real ‘memory’ of Onattukara because of the repeated images of Buddhism and Hinduism. One could see how the Buddhist history has become portable statues which could co-opted into the dominant narrative. Also one could witness the horrifying presence of the Brahminical acts. While the Brahminical presence is given fully identifiable human forms the Buddhist presence is contained in the emblematic human figures. We do not see the historical confrontation between them but we do see how the defeat of Buddhism and the Buddhists faithful has been happening in the personal levels. We see the ‘birth’ of the downtrodden classes as they are divested of their right over the land and their own bodies denying autonomy and agency to act in the society and exercise their free will.


(work by Balamurali Krishnan)

C.Ayyappan, a famous short story writer had written the mental state of a character like this: He was embarrassed and shocked when he recognized that he had got down in a wrong and strange bus stop. Here, Balamurali Krishnan’s works give us this feeling that the artist has got down in the right bus stop but he is shocked in realizing how unfamiliar the ‘familiar’ place/s look. Each work has that ‘strangeness in mind’ feeling. In most of the large scale works we see the foreground and middle ground covered by the dying or dead land; in some, it is a scene seen from a broken threshold. In yet another one, it is a huge rupture passing through an erstwhile fertile land. In each work, in the horizon line we see the representatives of progress and development moving steadily in disciplined lines. One the pivotal works has a central image of a dumpster truck ejecting a whole land with its inhabitants including rats, snakes, birds, animals and human beings along with houses and trees as if all of them were just scrap objects. It is the most painful picture of dispossession and displacement not only of people and their habitats but of the memories that each displaced being and object has carried.


(work by Balamurali Krishnan)

I do not know whether history, memory, politics and the land can be treated separately. In Balamurali Krishnan’s works they all come together as inseparable constituents of a sincere narrative. History is the outcome of a political process and from the political process a history is generated or continued. In that way it is mutually regenerative. Memory becomes the nutrients in this process and together they constitute the meaning of the land. Hence, Balamurali Krishnan’s depiction of Onattukara is not just a snapshot of the land rendered by hand but they speak of its history and politics through memories. David Hockney, in one of his conversations says how photographs are two dimensional for their inability in capturing the third dimension. The third dimension he speaks about is not spatial in the strict sense. It is about the dimension created by the artist himself and in him the snapshots achieves depth which again is not spatial but of history, politics and memory. A must see exhibition.


Monday, May 6, 2019

Bursting the ‘Two Inches Right, Three Inches Left’ Display Specification During the Boom Days




(a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres)


“Make your work as complicated as possible,” said a comparatively senior woman artist to an up and coming artist. The inflow of money unexpectedly in those days had given him this permanent expression of confusion on his face. Not hiding the puzzlement he asked politely why it had to be so. “Be specific about your work and its display,” she continued, “so they will invite you to the venue of exhibition for installing your work and you know what that means! That means you can travel with your works.” He gazed at her face unbelievingly. “Don’t look at me like that,” she told him. “What I say is truth and that’s how travel all over the world.” He thought about it. Yes, she did travel to various art destinations with her works. Though none knew about her works, everybody knew that she was travelling. And if you travelled in those days, you were thought to be a great artist.

You don’t be puzzled like the young artist in our story. I mean by ‘those days’ the days of our art market boom. Sky was the limit for the artists. Someone in some small town in India once got enough recognition for him and his works decided to make a building with iron pieces welded together. He was lucky enough to push it out of the fabricator’s facilities. There were many in those days of market collapse who couldn’t take their works out of the fabricators’ premises. One day, it would be interesting to think about curating a show of such works that still remain in crates at the factories either with no takers or in dispute with the fabricator himself. Yes, those days were such wonderful days when the Indian artists could travel all over the world. The openings of the exhibitions were star studded affairs where not only wine and cheese flowed but there flew kisses and hugs thick and fast. But everyone was not so lucky to have travelled the world. Their works were simple, as in paintings, sculptures, affordable installations, video art and so on. Nobody had serious thought about it body performances in those days. One good thing about performance art is that you have to travel to perform it anywhere in the world. But all the performance artists are not invited everywhere. You need to make a name for yourself not only with your performance but with your ability to exotic-ize it, speak of it in obscure terms often mixed with spiritual jargon and express yourself in good English. If you don’t have any such thing with you, try and get a foreign girl friend or boyfriend. But as you know, all of you are not that lucky in that department.


(artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres)

Forget it. Let’s focus on the conversation between the mid-career globe-trotting female artist and the novice who had just found some success, some money and a lot of ambition. What she told him on that day says a lot about the attitude of the artists who made themselves precious. It was quite understandable that your works travelled and you couldn’t because your works were too easy to be handled. Handling in art means, the work-boys in the galleries who generally assist the curators should find it easy to fix it on the wall or on the floor as per the demand and design of the curators. And curators in turn are often instructed by the artists themselves though emails, chats or over phone calls. Sometimes they exchange the design through photographs or diagrams. Today, with the advanced communication technologies, one could make a real time video chat with the artist sitting elsewhere in her studio. But travelling makes a lot of difference. Travelling on the one hand helps the artists get a good exposure to the world, the art scene elsewhere, visit museums, make friends and create networks. Networking is one important thing to be successful in the art scene in any part of the world.

However, it is not necessary for any artist to be invited to the gallery only because his/her work is in a group show or part of a curatorial project. If the gallery is out of the country it becomes rather difficult. But the boom days where the days when money lost its real value; it became a part of the show off. Given a chance the artists all over the world would have lit their cigarettes with burning dollars or pounds. But as Indians always had this auto-moneychanger built into their brains they wouldn’t have done such thing. A dollar in Indian rupees counts a lot. They in fact had not seen such things in their lives. So it became a norm most of the times for the galleries to invite a flock of artists to be a part of the vernissage or to be humble, the opening ceremony. See, one had to be in that elite lot to get invited. Being an artist not always was a passport to travelling. But then some clever people like the lady whom we met at the beginning devised a way that it became imperative for the curators to get the artist in situ to complete the display. It may be a question of a thread running across frame. It could be forty five degrees or forty seven degrees. But what about a degree that only the artist could figure out? Then the artist has to be there in the gallery during the display. This curatorial pressure was not really minded by the cash rich galleries then. They invited the artists without much ado. Once you travelled you could not only put your work in forty six point three three degrees but also could travel to the museums and do a lot of networking.


(work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres)

I am extremely clear about this thing happening in those days not just because I was a part of the traveling contingent of the artists and experts or simply being a cheer leader depending on from what side you would like to have seen your own place in the traveling group but also because I had faced it first hand in one of the shows curated by me in a Delhi gallery. I wouldn’t reveal the name of the artist. The artist had sent a diagram. A few threads had to run across a frame which would create some shadows falling on the main body of the work or rather some part of the work. In those good old days, to pre-empt the artists vagaries, arrogance and at times stupidity, the gallerists had created a particular post called ‘exhibition designers’. Anyone with some knowledge about design, electricity, projection, electronics and basic arrogance to shout at anybody or get the works done, could have become an exhibition designer. Hardly Indians became exhibition designers. Often jobless mechanics, engineers and ex-museum hands used to be flown in from Europe. It was exactly like having white girls at a farm house reception for a billionaire’s marriage party, which would boost up your status several notches (even you could read it as the Empire strikes back). They simply would stand there at the gate and say ‘na-ma-ste’ and put vermillion marks on the guests’ foreheads. That’s all. Imported exhibition designers did not do anything more than this.

In my exhibition, fairly funded, I did not look for a foreign hand as exhibition designer. We got an Indian lady to do the needful. She would say that this couldn’t be exhibited here or that had to be thrown out etc. But eventually she would place it where exactly I had suggested. Then we came to the complicated work sent by the artist from Mumbai. We followed the design to the T. Once the exhibition designer herself was satisfied, the funder took a photograph and sent to the artist. The artist gave a green signal. She was even offered a ticket to fly into do a double check. She did not come either for the display or for the opening ceremony. But she did visit the show on the third day or so with some foreign friends. Then I got a call from my gallerist friend saying that the artist was screaming at him and in the absence of the curator, was remembering his parents and their lineage etc. Her complaint was that the threads were not in the right place! She wanted to be out of the show. She wanted the label to be removed and the gallerist made it clear that she was no longer a part of the show. He consulted with me and as I excelled in defiance asked the gallerist to remove the label and declare her to be out of the whole thing, and he did it promptly. Eventually the whole thing had snowballed into an ugly fight where the important gallerists were pitted against the curator.


(work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres)

Artists did a lot of mean things in those good old days just to travel and put the other artists many leagues behind in snobbishness. I remembered this when I was reading a conversation between the conceptual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Hans Ulrich Obrist. Let me quote them to give a clear picture and how the intelligent artists approach this issue of ‘one inch left and two inches right’ business of the conceptual artists:

Hans Ulrich Obrist: So it is very different from most conceptual or minimal art where there are certificates that are used as control tools.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Yes, I don’t have that phobia of the two inches. You know: ‘If a work is two inches to the left, you have to destroy the work!’ No, that is just that big thing from the 1960s; they were constipated. I always say, ‘Honey, take a bow and relax, no big deal, two inches, three inches.’ But it is funny because when I send this stuff to museums, art handlers and historians have a hard time deciding what to do with them. They keep faxing us back saying, ‘What do we do with this thing?’ and we keep faxing them back saying, ‘Whatever you want!’ and they just don’t believe it. They say, ‘This cannot be true!’

HUO: They would rather refuse the liberty that you offer to them?

FG-T: Right- they want the traditional conceptual instruction saying ‘five inches to the left, six inches to the right and then two-two feet down,’ and I say, ‘No, you do whatever you want. You are responsible for the construction of the piece. IIN the same way, I tell the viewer, ‘You are responsible for the final meaning…”

Our artists were not like Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the boom days. They are still not like that. Only difference between then and now is that now nobody is inviting them to in the gallery/museum during the installation of the works.