Millennium Post


Subodh Gupta’s art, etched from the simplicity of everyday life, is magnified with his vision into grand pieces of reverent creation. There is little hesitation in proclaiming this maestro as the Godfather of contemporary Indian art, writes Uma Nair.

Flashback 2005 – when Paris was waking up to the phenomenon of Subodh Gupta. When Gupta's installations told western audiences that India was more than clichéd ancestral spiritual tradition and cheap exoticism. Gupta was just emerging on the market, his work at the Venice Biennale was seen first on a poster that summer. The artist's portrayal of everyday Indian life by transforming domestic objects into works of art engaged his audiences. Gupta played on the symbolism of objects in rural and urban contexts. At the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) that year, the In Situ gallery in Paris sold Two Cows, a bicycle loaded with bronze and aluminium milk jars at 40,000 euros.

French Connection
Gupta's French Connection goes back in time. The continuation of his success harks back to France 1999: at the invitation of Commissioner Nicolas Bourriaud when he exhibited at the Sète Center for Contemporary Art. 2003: He was a part of the inaugural exhibition of the Palais de Tokyo. In 2007: he exhibited for the first time in a French gallery, In Situ, with Fabienne Leclerc, his faithful friend and Gallery persona.
Fast forward 2018: Subodh Gupta is on an invitation at the Monnaie de Paris. His retrospective "Adda/Rendez-vous" opened on April 13 and is scheduled to run until August 26, 2018. He unveiled 30 works to the Parisians, including two works made for In Situ. Today, Gupta's works trade for more than a million euros. In an interview with me in 2016, he said: "Money is important because in the art world it defines an artist's power. It is one of the expressions of success, you can be a great artist and you may not have money, but yes I'm lucky: I have been given recognition and I have the 'money'."
Diversity of Materials
Adda showcases the diversity of Subodh Gupta's work, featuring his emblematic sculptures made of stainless steel, kitchen utensils such as his Hungry God (2006), his best-known work, or metal molded objects, of two bronze bicycles and milk pails such as Two Cows (2003), as well as new productions such as Unknown Treasure (2017) and the video Seven Billion Light Years (2016). In addition to the diversity of materials used, Paris will see a constant exploration of the presence of rituals and spirituality in our daily lives.
Kitchen to Cosmos
In the same way that cooking is central to all Indian homes, it is the elements that are at the heart of Gupta's work. The childhood reflection, dwells on personal and community practices, objects and intimate experiences, while apparently insignificant, also lead to another dimension, the one of the cosmos.
The exhibition has been arranged along the main staircase and the historic salons of 11 Conti, along the scenic banks of the Seine, and continues in the courtyards of the Monnaie de Paris. The architectural elements and the steel make for an enchanting pairing.
The diversity of the works on display shows the artist's use of different scales and materials, as well as his practice of readymade. Some works are exhibited in the heart of the collection of the 11 Conti museum in order to stimulate a reflection on the uses of the metal, both from the point of view of its symbolic value, as well as from the point of view of the necessary techniques and know-how to implement it and give it meaning.
Dialogue Between Two Worlds
The select retrospective has monumental, metallic works of Gupta and the DNA of the Monnaie de Paris, which for 1,150 years works with the precious metal that makes money. French newspapers say that this is a real meeting between the artist and the savoir-faire of the Monnaie de Paris.
The curators have developed the exhibition in six parts:
• The language of the common
• Insatiable vanity
• There is always cinema
• The gods are in the kitchen
• Travel and exile
• Celestial bodies
While a number of works will look at the metals used by Gupta, it transmits different aesthetic functions and designs. When using metals, freed from their functions, stopped, accumulated or reproduced almost identically in a new material, they are exposed as a work for the visitor. Metal kitchen utensils – including the humble tiffins, it is the language of being assembled and juxtaposed that will speak to French audiences. The sight.
"Modernity and rituals go very well together," says Gupta. "That is India. My family places importance on rituals. I'm not a believer, but it's my heritage, so it's my art."
"When I made cow dung cakes and showed it in New York, I was saying that cow dung can never grow old-fashioned. It exists even today," he explains. A number of works hold references to milk, in terms of vessels as well as his work.
Litany of References
A litany of references and commentaries meet people in his most famous work, Very Hungry God (2006) – a skull made of steel utensils, to emphasise the need to feed an ever more hungry God. The sight of the monumental steel vesseled skull in a French salon is drawing awe and admiration and Gupta believes that the skull talks to the architecture.
Subodh Gupta immortalises household work with symbolic works such as Atta (2010), a painted bronze installation, dusted with flour, on a wooden table, Faith Matters (2007-2008), an installation presenting shining brass and steel vessels slowly turning on a sushi belt.
In another register, Subodh Gupta often speaks of departure and exile: a brass door (Door, 2007), a wooden boat filled with pots held by ropes – Jal Mein Kumbh, Kumbh Mein Jal Hai (The Pot in the Water, 2012), or an aluminium car (Doot 2003).
And, the Monnaie de Paris offers a beautiful exhibition on India and medals, with 45 objects (including medals, art fonts and kilo Taj money) including three works by Subodh Gupta questioning the world's money in the rooms of the 11 Conti Museum: a 1 KG War Ingot (2007), A Penny for Belief, Brass Platter with Pennies (2008) or Apples Of The Earth (2018).
"Installations are about visual dynamics," says Gupta. "My visual studies are stronger than my academic studies – I learned about minimalism then – I thought about how my world related to that, and I started creating... There is a difference between the written and the visual story. Visual stories are unlimited, every individual takes with them their own and it invites responses."
Stainless Steel
Aurélien Rousseau, CEO of La Monnaie de Paris, has said that the meeting of our universe with that of Subodh Gupta is a unique opportunity, unique because our work is also that of the precious metal.
"I have worked with stainless steel for many years, it also becomes a statement of consumption because more than 70 per cent of our population uses stainless steel for breakfast, lunch and dinner," Gupta explains. "I am fond of cooking and I also spend time in the kitchen."
"When 90 per cent of the population use this shiny metal for food – there is also an irony to the shininess of the object, and its emptiness – because some of the plates go without food too. Many layers come together to make my works that hold multiple stories."
Over the past two decades, Gupta's penchant for exploiting India's cliches has defined the sculptor's signature. His ability to lock onto these cliches and examine them from a number of angles has made him distinct – the over-stuffed kitsch-Baroque armchair or a scooter slung with milk pails; with style and wit, he has concocted sumptuous stews that have withstood the test of time. In Paris, this is an Indian summer that testifies Subodh Gupta as the Godfather of contemporary Indian art.

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