Subodh Gupta, the most recognizable contemporary artist in India to emerge from the last art boom, watched his auction prices falter with the recession. Now, the 50-year-old artist known for piling shiny lunch-pails into massive sculptures is enjoying a closer look—at home.
On Friday, New Delhi's National Gallery of Modern Art opened the first major museum survey in India of Mr. Gupta's art, a hometown validation that could bolster his support among collectors locally and abroad.
Mr. Gupta's 40-work exhibit, "Everything Is Inside," is curated by former Venice Biennale director Germano Celant and fills both of the museum's sprawling spaces. The original Art Deco building—a onetime palace for the maharajah of Jaipur—displays Mr. Gupta's new series of small paintings that depict meals he's eaten lately, his version of a food diary captured in crisp miniature. Other areas feature the artist's steel and bronze renditions of objects that symbolize India's global growth: piles of workaday lunch dishes, called tiffin boxes, as well as taxis and airport luggage carts laden with bulging suitcases.
One of several new works in the museum's glassy new wing is "Solid Water," a 60-foot-long wave of silvery dishware arranged so that it appears to spill out of a corridor and cascade down some stairs into the lobby. It is inspired by the "devastating beauty" of natural disasters like tsunamis, the artist said in an interview. (An opening in the middle of the piece will let visitors use the stairs.)
"A good artist starts with his roots and uses that cultural identity to say something larger to the international art world," Mr. Celant said. "But for an artist like Subodh, it's also important to come back and be seen at home."
Born in northeastern India, Mr. Gupta grew up copying pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses like those he saw dancing in his mother's calendars. By 1989 he had gained an important patron in the then-chairman of Tata Steel, 500470.BY +1.91% Russi Mody, who sponsored a gallery show of Mr. Gupta's earthen-hued early paintings and bought a few himself for around $400 apiece.
Seven years later, heavyweight international collectors like Christie's owner François Pinault had taken notice, and Mr. Gupta's career arguably shot up faster than anyone else's. Some of his asking prices topped $1 million or more.
That doesn't mean European and American collectors fully understood his art. Mr. Gupta said he intended his use of tiffin lunchtime dishes, gleaming and empty, to evoke the rampant hunger still faced by India's poor, but art circles largely overlooked this critique.
When the market crashed, Mr. Gupta said, he felt relieved. The waiting lists for his works fell away and, with them, market pressure to produce a continual avalanche of pieces. "In the pressure, I made some bad works I wish I hadn't made," he said.
India's contemporary art scene hasn't bounced back to the same degree as other emerging art hubs like, say, China. Dozens of galleries and biennials exist across India, but the scene lacks China's government-supported, museum-building boom and auction proliferation. Christie's only held its first auction in India last month.
Mr. Gupta's auction prices still haven't fully recovered. In October 2012, Sotheby's sold "Cheap Rice," one of his dish-laden rickshaws from 2006, for $387,799; during the market's peak in 2008, Christie's sold a similar rickshaw for $842,500. But collector and dealer Aparajita Jain, who works for a Delhi gallery that handles Mr. Gupta's art in India, said she thinks his prices, and career, still matter to India's contemporary art scene overall.
Ms. Jain said that is because Mr. Gupta remains one of a handful of Indian artists of the boom-era generation—alongside Jitish Kallat and Mr. Gupta's wife, Bharti Kher —whose prices serve as a referendum on the health of India's contemporary world. "The art bubble burst in India and weeded out the artists that were not going to stay," Ms. Jain said.
The NGMA show, up through March 16, could reinforce Mr. Gupta's career, said Mr. Celano.
Even so, the curator said the gems of the exhibit aren't Mr. Gupta's oversize hits. Mr. Celant said he sees fresh potential in the plate-size paintings that Mr. Gupta has started making of his meals—a meditation on food that could resonate in any culture, Mr. Celano said. "To paint your own plate is such a personal thing," he added. "It also shows Subodh is not afraid to change."
Fri Oct 04 2013 15:01:43 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
I was 18 in January 1982. To my Father's great displeasure, I was taking a semester off from college to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I got a job on a loading dock in Manhattan on the west side, facing the Hudson River. And I needed a car.
Our neighbor Margaret Wolff was a widow and she decided to sell the 1964 Volkswagen Beetle she and her husband drove for many years. How much? She was asking $250.00. The price was right. It ran okay. I already knew how to drive a stick. This was going to be the first ride I could call my own.
First things first. My wonderful Mother, at my request, sewed together imitation sheepskin seat covers. The running boards were rusted out. I knocked them off, and replaced them with hand-cut oak running boards I fashioned in my basement and coated with the same stuff boat-owners use on teak. I suspended them from the wheel arches with ordinary L-brackets from the hardware store.
Next, the stereo. I purchased a $30 Kraco AM-FM cassette deck and installed it myself after removing the stock AM-radio. Since the trunk in the Beetle is in the front, the job was easy as the back of the metal dashboard was wide open to me. But there was one problem: The Beetle battery is 6-volt and the stereo was 12-volt. That took me all day to figure that out before a $30 transformer had to be purchased. Brown indoor-outdoor carpet from (now-defunct) Channel Lumber was fitted to the floor and tacked down with double-sided tape.
I soon discovered water was coming in the car during a hard rain. The source: big rust holes around the edge of the floor. When I sat in the driver seat, the rusty floor literally sagged and made the holes bigger. Yikes. I was off to the local metal-smith to get a piece welded on to secure the floor.
I loved the crank-open sun-roof. But it worked only about eight or ten times before it gave up. Fixed by the local VW mechanic, it worked another dozen times, before it, and I, gave up on it. Oh well. The car had triangular vent windows, which I loved to tilt in to have the wind rush in at me on hot days. There was no AC, of course.
The beautiful thing about the original Beetle was its simplicity. When it wouldn't start, I crawled underneath and rapped a screw-driver on the solenoid, or took the wires off the distributor cap and re-fastened them. Worked every time. The engine, in the back, looked kind of like a sewing machine.
Six months into driving the Bug, I was T-boned in Manhattan by a yellow Ford Crown Victoria taxi. The light weight of the Beetle resulted in my car being bounced, rather than smashed, and sliding sideways about twenty feet. I was, unbelievably, unscathed, though a bit dazed. The dent pounded out.
After another year of driving it, and a re-built engine being installed and my re-enrollment in college, Fordham University, I sold it to a friend for $750.00. She had 127,000 miles on it. About six months later, the friend told me that a rear tire literally exploded off the side of the car for reasons still unknown. He sold it for parts.
I know that buried in one of the boxes of childhood book reports, sports trophies and letters in my basement or attic, I still have one of the keys to that car. Why? Because you always remember your first.
Now, what's your story? In 300 words or less, share with us your story about your beloved first car. And if you don't have a picture of it, upload us a picture of yourself you are willing to have seen by potentially millions of people, and we will find a picture of your car. If you do have a photo of you and your first car, by all means upload them to us by following the Share Your Story link above.
AOL Autos Editor-in-Chief David Kiley is author of Getting The Bugs Out: The Rise,Fall and Comeback of Volkswagen in America. John Wiley & Sons, 2001.
Fri Oct 04 2013 15:12:05 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
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