Friday, January 28, 2011

I Fall on the Bed of Humor and Weep

Oscar Wilde once said, when two women meet a third one’s character is assassinated.

I am going Wild here: When a woman gallerist curates a show, character of the artists whom she curates gets assassinated.

That’s what exactly happens in ‘Of Humor, Wit and Satire’ curated by Tunty Chauhan, director of the Threshold Gallery, New Delhi.

‘Of Humor, Wit and Satire’ sounds quite Baconian, right? Francis Bacon of the 16th century, not our painter Bacon.

Tunty Chauhan curates this show because she assumes that all these artists and works featured in this show could evoke laughter, if not sublime smile, amongst the audience. But the show as a whole fails to do so. Why? Let me explain.

Amit Ambalal, K.G.Subramanyan, Arpita Singh, Rabnbir Kaleka, Atul Dodiya, Bhupen Khakar, Manjunath Kamath, Dhurvi Acharya, N.S.Harsha, Dilip Ranade, Prithvipal Ladi and Ved Gupta are the featured artists.

(Oh Pankhi Pyare bole by Amit Ambalal)

Ambalal, K.G.Subramanyan and Arpita Singh do not belong to the humor category because they are existential in their approach. Their satire is built on irony and contradiction of realities. Grinning figures do not evoke laughter. Bhupen Khakar’s witticism comes from his satirical approach to the middle class values. Obviously, when it is a curated project, one need to strategically show why Bhupen Khakar or Amit Ambalal is there along with Dhruvi Acharya or Dilip Ranade or N.S.Harsha.

(Classified by Arpita Singh)

(Pranayam by K.G.Subramanyan)

Humor and satire are the two most refined entities of violence. You can spill blood by making someone blush, said Levinas. And this metaphorical blood is the result of the critique by humor. This show fails to spill this blood.

I have never seen humor or satire in N.S.Harsha’s works. Of late, exactly since the ‘Looking Glass’ show at Religare Arts, Harsha has been showing a sort of dark irony, which is more inclined to political critique than a personal approach towards in general, in his works. In Harsha’s works at the Threshold show too I am not able to find any humor or satire than a folk sense of phlegmatic irony resulting from the helplessness of the village folks.

(Gajar by N.S.Harsha)

Dhruvi Acharya is surrealistic than witty. Dilip Ranade makes the viewer smile for a moment, which only after a second gets translated into a frown. Interestingly, had these works been in some other show they would have been appreciated for their artistic worth.

(Work by Dhruvi Acharya)

(Work by Dilip Ranade)

Disparate images, when forced to share the same platform should evoke laughter as often in the case of Manjunath Kamath. He is successful in doing so even in this show. He creates a stack of utensils tied to each other and placed on a horse which has rollers under its hoofs. Nothing is stable there; there is an immanent sense of collapse there.

(Glocal Play by Manjunath Kamath)

But I don’t understand why Ranbir’s work is brought in as a humorous, witty and satirical piece? If that is the case, we can read Communist Manifesto and laugh our heart out. May be this is the time to do so. We have started taking our cheque books out when we hear the word ‘Culture and Art’. Ranbir’s work is a pretty serious take on art and art history. If Ladi’s sculptures could make me laugh, instead of feeling those shudders that they evoke along my spine as if I were witnessing an apocalyptical vision, I will give one edition of ‘Very Hungry God’ to Tunty as a gift.

(Lion and Milk Bowl by Ranbir Kaleka)

(Prized Catch by Prithvipal Singh Ladi)

Two works that really make you smile are ‘Anarkali and 72 Idiots’ by Atul Dodiya and ‘Laugh till We Die’ by Ved Gupta. In Anarkali….Atul selects seventy two portraits of Indian artists taken by Bose Krishnamachari and presented in his ‘De-curating’ show and interpolates them with moustaches, horns, dentures and so on. These 72 idiots (actually they are not) are ogling at Anarkali who sits in a different frame. Someone told me that it is Tunty Chauhan’s portrait. This work justifies the title of the show.

(Anarkali and 72 Idiots by Atul Dodiya)

Ved Gupta forces your lips part because you see the same stocky figures doing nothing but laughing. It is very difficult not to laugh when you see some one getting orgasmic heights of laughter. Same thing happens when artists with pedestrian ideas and pedestrian style appear before you in the garb of intellectuals.

(Laugh till We Die by Ved Gupta)

A few lessons for women (men too) gallerists who attempt to curate shows:

1) Curating is not just about presenting a set of works with a theme and a title.
2) Curator should come forward with a curatorial note and that should be guiding the viewer.
3) A decent display does not mean a well curated show. When an artist from history is presented along with young contemporaries, there should be a different display strategy so that they ‘physically’ engage between each other and produce new meanings within the gallery space.
4) Having said that, one should not over depend on an exhibition designer. Most of the designed/er shows are remembered for design only; artists and their works are not remembered.
5) Traveling across the world and attending a few art fairs do not give the authority to curate.
6) Even attending lectures at India Art Summit and waiting in queues to see the spectacular marathon interviews at Lodhi Garden also would not help to become a curator.
7) Never call a group show, a curated show. Leave group shows as group shows.
8) Scholars are also like gallerists. They fall for the charm of the time. For example, when Yasodhara Dalmia curated ‘Indian Subway’ for Vadehra Gallery, she arrayed Shibu Natesan to Sudhanshu Sutar in this show. In fact, it was just a group show with mid-career contemporaries and could have been organized by Bhooma Padmanabhan of FICA or Vidya Sivadas of Vadehra or even simple phone calls to artists by Roshini Vadehra. But when a curator is involved he/she should bring in a different expertise. Yasodhara Dalmia ‘lent’ her name to the show not her expertise.
9) Be humble and always tell yourself (at least when you look at mirror that I am sure you do ten times a day) that you don’t know much about ART though you know a lot about market and the wares that you deal with. Chanting it ten times a day will prevent many curatorial projects from taking shape.
10) Respect trained curators.

I like Tunty Chauhan as a person and she is a friend. So just before leaving the gallery I thought of plucking a feather out of Ambalal’s painting and tickling myself, only to do justice to my friend.


AMBUJA said...

Dear John,

I have been following your blog and enjoyed this article.

Madhu said...

I am surprised at the ignorance of this blogger. He obviously does not know what humour, or indeed satire mean. I suggest he does some research--in both the Indian comic tradition and elsewhere.
A blogger is welcome to his opinions but I would draw a line at using the space for his male chauvanist views about women gallerists.

tunty said...

Johny , i would take u seriously if it was not sooo personal !
Ever Heard of Dark Humour ?

me said...

People of all ages and cultures respond to humour. The majority of people are able to experience humour, i.e., to be amused, to laugh or smile at something funny, and thus they are considered to have a sense of humour. The hypothetical person lacking a sense of humour would likely find the behaviour induced by humour to be inexplicable, strange, or even irrational. Though ultimately decided by personal taste, the extent to which an individual will find something humorous depends upon a host of variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence and context.