(above eye level display of Bose Krishnamachari's works)
59th National Exhibition conducted by the Central National Lalit Kala Academy is, to put it in the mildest of terms, depressing. You may wonder why myself being one of the preliminary juries say this when the exhibition has the works selected by the same jury. As I have held it always, any art competition in the world does not bring up the best, but what maximum it could do is to bring up the best out of the available entries. The case could also be further explained that with such a national competition that has lost its credibility over a period of mismanagement and nepotism today gets very limited entries from all over India. I do not intend to discount those artists who have applied and also who have been selected. But I want to reiterate the fact that in the case of the National Exhibition it is easy to reject the worst than to select the best. You wouldn’t believe that this time, during the preliminary selection round I came across such entries which had the images of Gods, goddesses and even Mr.Narendra Modi doing yoga exercise. I can understand how artists gauge the political climate of the country and do propaganda art in order to get noticed, if not selected and awarded.
(an awarded work in the darkness)
What makes the 59th edition of the National Exhibition a depressing affair is primarily the award selection. While I could see a number of works that really deserve and command an award in their respective mediums, the awarded ones look really of low quality. When I say this I am sure the Academy administration would turn hostile to me and chances are rampant that I wouldn’t be involved in its future activities. Risking my career forwarding opportunities, I dare to say this because for me art is more important than who get what out of the art administration and other policy compulsions behind it. The awards are obviously not given for the quality of the works (except a few) but for external considerations such as region, medium and age. While age could be one of the criteria, region and medium shouldn’t be strictly the criteria for awarding art. The award winning works do not tell the viewers that they do really deserve an award, especially when they are seen along with better works that are not awarded by the jury members.
(Manu Parekh's work among the selected artists works)
The second problem with the National Exhibition this time, perhaps all the times, is the absence of a curator. As you know, despite all the updating efforts, the Lalit Kala Academy exhibition facilities always remain substandard. There are walls, floors, hanging threads and lights. The Academy has to recognise that these basic infrastructures just do not fulfil the requirements for exhibiting contemporary works of art effectively. This time again, the exhibits are hung from the walls with no rhyme or rhythm. There are not divisions based on mediums or themes. There is no special section for the awarded works. The works are badly lit. One of the awarded paintings with an image of a copulating canine couple is literally pushed into a rectangular niche with no light so that despite the award none would see this embarrassing image. Embarrassing image for who? I am sure, the image is embarrassing for the cultural minister who had inaugurated the exhibition. I am sure that must be the reason why the painting is displayed with no light or one minimum light which is incapable of lighting it up, especially a painting with sombre ferric brown as the predominant colour. If you cannot flaunt your awarded work then why exactly you give an award to it?
(a work that got award)
(a work that has not got an award)
The absence of a curator screams out to the viewer when you see the works of Manu Parekh, Bose Krishnamachari, Jyoti Bhatt, K.S.Radhakrishnan and N.Pushpamala kept along with the selectees of the National Exhibition. It looks like they too had applied for the National Exhibition and somehow they got selected! In fact these artists are featured in this exhibition only because this time the Academy has decided to re-introduce the ‘Invited Section’. The above mentioned artists are ‘invited’ for the ‘Invited Section’ but there is no section carved out for them. I find it as a great disservice to these artists especially to such senior artists. Had there been a curator, the works of Bose Krishnamachari wouldn’t have been displayed at such heights! Now to look at the image you need a ladder to climb on. One would get the shock for his life when he sees the works of Manu Parekh and Jyoti Bhatt displayed inconspicuously. It is not right, the Academy should know. K.S.Radhakrishnan’s sculptures are pushed into a gloomy little corner with no sufficient light. Pushpamala’s ‘Arrival of Vasco da Gama’ captures the attention of the viewers only because of the magnetic power of the image itself.
(a work that got an award)
(a work that has not got an award)
Why and how does it happen? I understand that the present administration headed by Shri.Krishna Setty is well meaning and wants to do things in the right way. But it looks Academy has an inherent way of doing things wrongly. As an art historian, curator and critic, my first demand to the academy is this that it should invite a curator to handle their exhibitions. Here is no self-promotion; I say, the Academy should invite any curator other than JohnyML (I cannot make my stance more clear than this) to put up their shows. Secondly, ad hocism should end. Academy should not treat the National Exhibition as some ‘annual exhibition’; it should treat it as India’s most prestigious national exhibition. The present exhibition does not give out any such impressions. If there is an invited section, it should be planned well ahead of time and there should be a separate area to exhibit those works. The works of the established senior artists should come as a blessing and a context for the youngsters who have been selected for the National Exhibition. Similarly, the India Art Fair is one of the biggest art events in India. The National Academy should have something to flaunt at that time too. This again, should be well curated. But I am told that the present National Exhibition will be taken off of the walls exactly a day before the opening of the India Art Fair and exactly on the day of the beginning of many a collateral show in town. What’s happening to our National Academy? I am also told that there would be a Kala Mela duing the India Art Fair time. But no such intimations have been given out to the art scene so that it could expect something out of it.
( a work that got an award)
( a work that has not got an award)
As an art historian and curator of these contemporary times I would like to suggest one thing in order to increase the quality of the National Exhibition. The major hurdle that the Academy faces today is that a few good artists apply for the National Exhibition. This situation could be reversed and we could make a lot of good young artists apply for the National Exhibition if the Academy takes a decentralised approach to the project. Each state Lalit Kala Academy should become the nodal point for applying for the National Exhibition. And it should be the responsibility of the state academies to get more applications from the state. If there is no state lalit kala academy, the Central Academy could ask the Regional Centres to become the nodal points. For the preliminary selection process, the Central Academy could employ one or two of its jury members handpicked from the same region along with a central observer for the process. Such filtered works should be brought to the centre and there could be another preliminary selection committee. With this process the bad ones will be filtered out in the regional level itself and what one gets in the centre will be of good quality. Regarding the preliminary jury of the centre, there should be contemporary art practitioners and historians in the panel than getting very old artists who are not really ‘familiar’ with the contemporary practices. Also in the award jury, there should be two members from the preliminary jury included in it. Otherwise total mess like this year would be the result. I would say, with due respect to the award committee members, they have screwed up the selection. All these things could be reversed provided there is a decentralised approach.