Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Berlin Canvas !

Dear Readers,

Here is my latest article published in The Telegraph newspaper in the Sunday edition reaching over 1 million readers......

Europe has been really cold this winter with a lot of freak storms and a chilly winter. In Berlin, though the art scene has been hot and vibrant. Due to the lovely confluence of cultures, Berlin attracts the best artists and with rental spaces still reasonable as compared to the rest of Europe, it has some of the most stunning gallery spaces.

Both Bodhi and Nature Morte, India’s top contemporary art galleries were present in Berlin at one time (Nature Morte is still around here) and there are also galleries like Christian Hosp which have been showing a lot of Indian and Pakistan contemporary art. Then came the recession and running a gallery with declining sales became a losing proposition and Bodhi had to shut shop.

I was fortunate that there was an important show at the architecturally inspirational “Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt”, the house of world cultures. The building looks like a flying saucer and is brilliantly conceptualised. The curators called the show “Why all the rage?”.

We had three important curators — Valerie Smith, Sussane Stemmler and Cordula Hamschmidt. They explored instances of rage and how it plays a role in people’s life — how rage gets manifested in communities and the effect that it has on people’s minds and bodies. The idea of rage as transformative energy is a key concept to the development of “On Rage” a vehicle from the negative to the positive, from status quo to revolution, from hopelessness to control.

Two artists who really stood out for me in the entire show were Shoja Ajari, an Iranian artist who now lives in New York. He was the co-winner of a Silver Lion award at Venice Film festival and he does photographs and video installations. Final Judgment, his work, was a video projection on canvas and projects the moral tales of Shiite Islam concerning the judgment day. Then inside this intricate work there was recent news footage of Muslim global political activity. It was stunning to see a canvas with flitting moving images — a very strong representation.

Shoja Azari‘s Final Judgement

Seher Shah was at her best with large scale drawings from her solo show “Paper to Monument 2”. These drawings dwelled on the complexities of urban excavation through public memory. Her three works were in the centre of the display and the black-and-white contrast of her drawings again reinforced my belief that she is one of the most important young artists of our times.

Paper to Monument II by Seher Shah

I also went to Probir Gupta’s show at Nature Morte Berlin. Probir’s work touches upon issues of war, religion, development, globalisation and genocide. He uses shrapnel in his work that he sources from abandoned military waste. Using this debris as his “clay,” he models mutant and macabre bodies and landscapes. The resulting paintings, fascinatingly complex with unexpected shots of colour, are chaotic to look at. Technically, he employs a thick, almost violent, use of impasto and brush strokes.

Assembled Identities by Probir Gupta

I liked the works which are not new but are the works that did not sell in the Philips de Pury auction house exhibition in January 2009. The works were beautiful but you could see that the pricing could have been better and hence even when I went, only one had sold. Large canvas works were priced at Rs 25 lakh. Now with the top names in Indian contemporary art down by 80 per cent from the peaks, Probir has still not understood the reality on pricing.

Artists need to understand that just because they sold a few works some years back at the height of the Indian contemporary art boom that does not become a pricing platform for years to come. I would have ideally liked the works to be priced drastically lower.

But in the art world, egos are bigger than usual and logic dies a slow death. That also shrinks the small collector base as people don’t like being taken for a ride. It’s high time that artists understood that collectors will not buy without logic and the fact that only one work has virtually sold in the last 15-18 months is a testimony to the new and informed collector !

Well, the journey was not complete in the art city of the world without staying in the art’otel at Berlin City Centre West. What attracted me to the hotel was the collection of Andy Warhol works they had. I enjoyed staying a in a hotel surrounded by the pop art works of Warhol and the rooms in bright orange, purple and green. Let us see when we get our first art hotel in the country!

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

Painting with Passion !

Dear Readers,

Here is the electronic version of the latest article published in the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph Newspaper reaching over a million readers !

I meet a lot of people who look askance at the new wave of Contemporary Art and would rather have pretty paintings which resonate in their living spaces. My take on this has been that art is not about only paintings but the entire gamut of expression from sculpture, installations and photograph to video art. This week I want to focus on an artist who is more in the original genre of painting and creates stunning pieces with a background and experience that actually makes you calmer when you view his work.

It’s interesting to meet Sidharth, who was born in a Sikh family and later in life, moved away from the worldly pleasures of life to join a monastery and become a monk. In the monastery he was named Sidharth — the name he still bears today. But after some time in the monastery he left and using all his accumulated learning started painting.

Sidharth is an artist with a difference in the Contemporary Art landscape of artists in the country. I have always been amazed by his connect with nature and the meticulous research that goes into every work. In the era of computer- generated art and studio assistants, Sidharth stands out as he does not even use commercially available colours. The other thing that he uses a lot is thin gold foil. That gold work is clearly visible on the canvas. In each of the canvases he usually narrates a story using the images.

The skills that he learnt at the Namgyal Monastery help him derive his colours and shades from Mother Nature. He uses natural pigments, vegetable dyes and his intrinsic knowledge of the topography to make his own colours in various hues. Always, very curious to learn and imbibe more, I have in my association of many years with him seen him use and implement the best techniques from Chinese, Japanese and now Russian schools of art.

He also makes his own handmade paper and thanks to his use of natural colours, you find a rarely seen luminosity in his works. The other thing which is very noticeable in his works is that most of the background colours are very bright, which is a result of the natural pigments and dyes that he uses. Crucially, the people shown in his work have faces without a predominant nose. That’s because Sidharth believes that the nose represents ego in our world. He tries to paint people when they are devoid of ego or rather to depict them in a utopian world where there is no ego!

Laughing Cow

His link with Mother Nature was an influence at his latest solo show at Religare Art Gallery in New Delhi. The connect is clearly visible in his series of paintings on the “Cow” — worshipped as a mother figure in India. He focuses on the worshipped Kamadhenu to the cow in the industrialised urban environment today, eating all the garbage and then producing milk which has pollutants causing disease.

Kartar Pur

The Poster Cow

His canvases tell a complete story that focuses on the worshipped Kamadhenu and a satirical comparison to a woman who is running her house with all products derived from milk. The ritual dismembering of the sacrifice is evoked in the dehumanisation of the perception of the cow reduced to its parts as against the various deities residing in Kamadhenu. He calls this work Laughing Cow, and it is his satirical take on the evolution and journey of a cow from ancient times to the urbanised modern world.

Sidharth is an expensive artist and although he did sell at Sotheby’s once, he generally doesn’t feature on auction circuits and the recession actually did not hit him much. He has a stream of steady collectors and fans — actress Dimple Kapadia being one of his biggest admirers.

The smaller canvas works are around Rs 2.4 lakh and larger sizes which are 4ft by 5ft can fetch up to Rs 10 lakh to Rs 12 lakh, although there are smaller works starting from Rs 70,000.The prices are steep. But the originality of his paintings and the sheer radiance emanating from what are clearly works of love painted with passion makes him an artist well worth considering for one’s collection.

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.

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