Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bhavna Kakar’s Love is a Four Letter Word

(Bhavna Kakar, Director Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi)

‘Chai keliye jaise toast hota hai’ (The way toast is needed with a cup of tea) is the new anthem of Airtel, one of the mobile phone service providers in India. Somehow, when I see the show, ‘Love is a 4 Letter Word’ at the Latitude 28 Gallery of Bhavna Kakar, this line comes repeatedly in my mind. Why? I ask myself several times. Finally, yesterday evening while I was driving my car and listening to the same anthem in my FM Radio, I got my answer. There should be ‘some’ reason to have ‘something’; that something could be anything.

As a title, Love is a 4 Letter Word is catchy. It has been inspired by a Joan Baez song, one of the write up says. From movies to novels to serials to dialogues, this phrase has been there everywhere ever since man realized that ‘love’ is also a four letter word like many other four letter words. The phrase is intense, at the same time tacky. It is emotional and serious, at once it is sentimental and ironic. I don’t know whether Bhavna while organizing this show thought of all these multiple possibilities of this popular phrase. However, the wall text by Avni Doshi gives a very sincere effort to define love. Love is this that.....what not. But then after three lines it goes blah blah blah. If any doubt please go to Latitude 28 Gallery, enter, turn your head to your right and it is just there.

Bhavna has always been interested in tongue-in-cheek titles. We should not forget how she, for two seasons continuously asked us, ‘Does Size (really) Matter? (parenthesis mine). So that pre-occupation with ‘size’ is over, now there is no problem to move on to the ‘four letter words’ like love. After D.K.Bose lyrics from ‘Delhi Belly’, now if some Lado Sarai Gallery comes up with other famous ‘four letter words’ starting with ‘F’, don’t feel surprised. I am talking about words like ‘Firm’, ‘Form’, ‘Farm’ (Strength, Shape, Environment and so on. I know you all think the other way round. We are dirty minds).

(Invitation card for the show)

My revelation through Airtel anthem was simple: During recession (is it an illusion?) to sell works, without losing the name, fame, dignity of the gallery, there should be a (curatorial) theme that justifies a show with a collection of works by a set of artists who have already a niche market. There in Palette Art Gallery, the show ‘Red’ was one such effort (Will come to that in another review). So Chai keliye jaise toast hota hai’, waise, sales keliye ek theme hota hai. There is nothing much to think about the title as it is not argued well by the gallery or the wall text writer (no curator’s name is mentioned or did I miss it?)

Now to the artists and their works. There are four dear artists in this show. Fifth one I don’t know personally. Manjunath Kamath, Bose Krishnamachari, Chintan Upadhyay and Chitrovanu Majumdar. Sana Arjumand from Pakistan is the fifth one. And their good works together make a ‘dud’ show. As an art critic who is a close friend of the participating artists it is very difficult to say something like this. But let me clear the air: Good works, but together they don’t make much. Each work is marooned in their own island like lonely travellers waiting for a saviour ship to appear there in the horizon.

(Bose Krishnamachari and his work)

Braille paper and script has always been an inspiration to Bose Krishnamachari. During 1990s he did a lot of portraits of artists and philosophers on the Braille paper. Also during his abstract period in mid-90s, he had experimented with the Braille papers. But with his NO solo in Dubai (2010), Bose became a full-fledged lover of Braille systems by converting them into certain wall sculptures (relief sculptures). In this show, he comes up with the word ‘Love’ written in Braille script. It is sensuous and invites touch, though none is allowed to do so. ‘Going blind’ is a theme, I believe, that has been pricking his conscience for a long time since his ‘NO’ show. We can expect more Braille works from Bose in the near future. The present work in this show is quite successful within the given context of theme and engagement.

(chitrovanu Majumdar and his work)

Chitrovanu Majumdar surprises with his sculptural installations and reassures the viewers with his paintings done in his hallmark style. In the paintings that depict the most passionate moments between a male and female, with so much of aesthetic discernment the artist removes the ‘points’ of encounter through the hazy blacks and reds. He inscribes the surfaces of the paintings with letters (as if they were culled from love letters) at once giving the pictorial plane a pattern orientation and design as well as an abstract quality. Chitrovanu’s sculptural installations with two metal blocks stuffed with artificial rose flowers, vertically fitted on a wheeled platform, interestingly remind me of the male-female principles, hard and soft cores, reversed and inversed quite consciously and made ‘kinetic’. In Latitude 28, I thought it needed a different display space. Perhaps, right in the middle of the upper gallery with darkness surrounding it with only two spot lights from up illuminating it.

(Chintan Upadhyay and his work)

But in the upstairs we have Chintan Upadhyay’s new avtar; two huge paintings and one series of digitally manipulated photographs. Love has been a problem for Chintan for a long time. So there is no problem if he paints like a wounded soul. So in the paintings we have two huge bouquets with blood dripping from here and there, also now the smart alec babies playing the role of cunning cupids. It is like that, when people fall in love cupids wound them. The bloodshed is ironic; real/suffered and the unreal/aspired. The paintings are framed in decorated frames with golden sheen. They are aptly melodramatic in their imitation of the baroque. The digital photographs of house burning have a direct resemblance with the performance that Murali Cheeroth had done in Sandarbh 2010. Murali also had used a ‘home’ image and burned it down in a slow process. Anyway Chintan Upadhyay is unlimited. And the Dabaang sculpture of the smart alec baby head with punkish attribution is interesting. One is sure that Chintan is going through a period of ‘f**k off’ attitude. But I wonder why he did not present anything from his series ‘Love’ where he asked thousands of people to write the word ‘Love’ in their respective languages.

(Manjunath Kamath and his A Fake Love Story, Digital work)

Manjunath Kamath never fails to live up to the themes in his own quirky ways. He is a maverick who could play between the large and small scales and formats. The large paper work, which is curiously titled, ‘Tree Lover after Benod Behari Mukherjee’ has a man wearing a deer’s antlers and growing branches out of that. Those who are familiar with BB Mukherjee’s ‘Tree Lover’ would really be amused to see how the philosophical mood of BBM is inversed to create the dumbness of beings that mindlessly destroy their own surroundings. Manjunath does not connect love to the ‘love affair’. In his series of small works sizing up to a few inches (Does Size Matter?) Manjunath spontaneously creates a series of images that could connect with the so called ‘love’ between a man and woman. Hence, the shoulder strap of bra becomes as important as a young man enthusiastically wearing an Anna Cap (Gandhi cap is old fashioned) that has an inscription, Mein Kaun Hun? (Who am I?). The digital work of Manjunath looks a bit less inspired though it has all twists and turns and puns of a quintessential Manjunath.


mall.underconstruction said...

your blog is perhaps the only art-writing that i can understand, get the correct information from and then decide if i agree or disagree with you.


DAREBARE said...


Jesal said...

sound criticism with an amazing humour. too good.

Tania Sen's Icons said...

great review! bottomline is always cut and dry and dictated by the fiscal atmosphere rather than emotional, however, was there not a single woman artist in all of the country who might have been considered sales worthy? An honest question, not a criticism by any means...

shailesh mohan ojha said...

achha laga...

waswo x. waswo said...

Nice to see the blog's format change Johny...makes the reading much easier, and what you write is always worth the read. Yeah...have seen many exhibitions with good artists, good works, but sum total a "dud". It's not easy to pull a group show together.

chintanupadhyay said...

hey buddy. what a critic. congratulations. now everyone will find you honest. good good keep it up. just one point to make as a factual detail the digital print BURNING HOUSE was made in 2007 as a part of Sandarbh artist Residancy in Baroda. This was part of a project call City Under Construction. Srayesh Karle, M Shashidharan, Shankar Natarajan and Lochan Helped me to make this print. the first artist proof is in collection of Indrapramit Roy (in 2007) and second one is with Anish Ahluwalia (who himself is a great photography artist. if you get time must see his new series of photographs for inspiration).
As you have mention Murli's work resembling this says a lot in itself but if you have idea that i was inspired buy that performance then it was already too late (As you know i am always ready to get influence and inspired by other artist) It would be nice if you say the truth and ask me the history of the work before dipping your words in the masala mix curry (not going with any taste and go with everything hahaha, just a joke...) so the fact is clear that work was produced in 2007 and i have completed it in many stages ( just check if the factual details are important before making any loose entertainment).

about resembling one artists work to another is a debatable issue in our art world(we are are culprit in the paradise of piracy as we discussed many times)

As you know I am your fan and love the way you write. fiction which look real sometimes is the bigger art then then real. you are amazing.
all the best my dear have fun:)
chintan upadhyay unlimited

JohnyML said...

Dear Chintan,

Thanks for writing that comment explaining the provenance of your work 'burning house'. I totally agree with you that you did it in 2007.

But buddy, what I saw was a print signed by you 2011. I asked you, if you remember, in the gallery about the year of its making. You said, 2007.

Between 2007 and 2011 there are four years of gap. This brings a problem in our exhibition tactics. Once I went to see a show of Satish Gujral at the NGMA, New Delhi. I found similar works signed in two different decades. How can it be possible? There cannot be identical works done between gap of twenty years.

As an art critic, before I wrote those lines, I went through all your works as per the years. Nowhere this work was mentioned. Here I give you a link of Sandarbh February 2007

Here too I don't find that particular work.

Comparing this work signed in 2011,I have all the freedom to believe that you have done this work in 2007.

This also leads us to a major exhibition/curatorial strategy. If a work is signed on a particular year and in fact it is a work done earlier, it should be mentioned properly, at least for the critics like me.

But then, I never said you copied Murali or Murali copied you. I just said, Chintan Upadhyay is unlimited.

You saying that my observation on Murali says a lot in itself is done in bad taste.

Call my writing masala mix curry or anything, people like reading it. Then Chintan, even sitting idle give me inspiration.

Piracy is not a problem at all. I think we have discussed while doing Metastasis of Signs. So I don't want to go much deep into that.



chintanupadhyay said...

my dear Johny you are right that i have signed the work as 2011. as i said it has gone in many stages. and finding about the right dates could be a critic's job too when the artists are present. we do many experments and it is not important to show all. in the sandarbh website it was not included for its own reason.

regarding the copy i never said that you have said it. i just looked into the intention if any how you have this idea..

As Vinod Bhardwaz told me and was nostalgic about his poem he wrote 30 years back called "Jalta Makaan" (burning house). and Gulam Mohhamad shaikh's paintings with burning houses and many more examples we have.

i like the new way of writing when we have to see one work in context of others who have used same medium and same image. if you call this a critic then keep it up. but for me it is too banal.

it is good you dont like masala mix writing then i prefer the well research piece.

banality is good sometimes but there are different approaches too my dear.

chintanupadhyay said...

May be this is the difference writing on the blog and writing in a journal.

JohnyML said...

Dear Chintan,

Critic is not a second fiddle to artist. When Homi Bhabha and Aneesh Kapoor are on the same stage, you cannot say that Aneesh Kapoor is several times better than Bhabha.

Revealing the provenance of a work of art exhibited in a show is the gallery's job. Critic need not necessarily do that. Besides,it is not necessary that a critic always seek the author's point of view to begin with.

My friend, banal art gives birth to banal criticism.

Show me one well researched piece that is worth readable in the contemporary art criticism.

Writing in blog and writing in journal do not hold much difference to me.

May be artists do that: easy works for small galleries and well thought out works for big galleries. :-)

I am too close an insider to be lectured on the workings of art and artists. So please don't attempt that....



sreyashkant said...

superb conversation reminds the tom and jerry....good keep it, that we can be entertained out of this...........
and Jonhy, u'r criticism is too far good ....

arjuna said...

Ah, the meaningless and absurdity of contemporary art is highly highlighted here...Has art been reduced to this kind of discussion. Is there no more meaning to it? Apparantly there is not, definately not in contemporary art. Therefore all watch out for the revival of the classical arts. It is coming...There is an objectivity to art. And there is a meaning to it...Beyong the nitpicking of details that are obviously meaningless and if they have a sliver of meaning, irrelevant...

The art critic of time magazine for several decades says it...

Check out the 12 part video titled the mona lisa curse on You tube...

And the artist arjuna brings it in, with arjuna does the classical training part 1...

arjuna said...

Here is a little piece of writing that well details the jargonized gimmikery of everyong trying to be nonsensically more gimmeky than the other and the writing becoming more and more non sensical:

A lot more to come on this...The world art scene is breaking through this contemporary nonsense...Its time India catches a whiff of this...Let us not be part of the "lost generation" of people trying to outdo each other in terms of gimmicks in art and art criticism...

The beautiful, cerebral, ultimately content-free creations of art’s well-schooled young lions.

By Jerry Saltz

I went to Venice, and I came back worried. Every two years, the central attraction of the Biennale is a kind of State of the Art World show. This year’s, called “Illuminations,” has its share of high points and artistic intensity. (Frances Stark’s animated video of her online masturbatory tryst with a younger man hooked me; Christian Marclay’s The Clock, which captivated New York earlier this year, rightly won the Gold Lion Prize for Best Artist.) Yet many times over—too many times for comfort—I saw the same thing, a highly recognizable generic institutional style whose manifestations are by now extremely familiar. Neo-Structuralist film with overlapping geometric colors, photographs about photographs, projectors screening loops of grainy black-and-white archival footage, abstraction that’s supposed to be referencing other abstraction—it was all there, all straight out of the seventies, all dead in the water. It’s work stuck in a cul-de-sac of aesthetic regress, where everyone is deconstructing the same elements.

There’s always conformity in art—fashions come in and out—but such obsessive devotion to a previous generation’s ideals and ideas is very wrong. It suggests these artists are too much in thrall to their elders, excessively satisfied with an insider’s game of art, not really making their own work. That they are becoming a Lost Generation.

Our culture now wonderfully, alchemically transforms images and history into artistic material. The possibilities seem endless and wide open. Yet these artists draw their histories and images only from a super-attenuated gene pool. It’s all-parsing, all the time. Their art turns in on itself, becoming nothing more than coded language. It empties their work of content, becoming a way to avoid interior chaos. It’s also a kind of addiction and, by now, a new orthodoxy, one supported by institutions and loved by curators who also can’t let go of the same glory days.

sanjay said...

Johny .... liked the piece and specially the comments exchanged between u & chintan.

i somehow agree with u regarding the comment which u made ---
" May be artists do that: easy works for small galleries and well thought out works for big galleries. :-)

I agree with u as i have seen artist participating in art camp whereby they give works or make works accordingly and see the works which they make while having an solo or group exhibition in a big gallery.

continue with your frank and crytsal clear opinions we luv to read them.

best of luck