Art Radar Asia

Contemporary art trends and news from Asia and beyond

  • Photobucket
  • About Art Radar Asia

    Art Radar Asia News conducts original research and scans global news sources to bring you selected topical stories about the taste-changing, news-making and the up and coming in Asian contemporary art.
  • Advertisements

Posts Tagged ‘travel art’

A common man uncommonly direct – Indian contemporary sculptor Subodh Gupta in conversation in Hong Kong

Posted by artradar on December 6, 2009


CONVERSATION SUBODH GUPTA INDIAN CONTEMPORARY ART

New Delhi-based contemporary artist Subodh Gupta is not backward in coming forward with his views. Smiling firmly, he chose not to respond to introductory remarks made by moderator William Pym, Managing Editor of Art Asia Pacific magazine at a talk hosted as a side-event of the Christie’s Hong Kong autumn 2009 auctions .

Instead he turned to face the audience: “Let me tell you all clearly why I am here today. Originally this was supposed to be a one-on-one talk with Art Asia Pacific. I was happy about that. But then it turned into a group talk hosted by Christies. I prefer to work with curators, writers and critics rather than auction houses”. Christie’s Hugo Weihe, International Director of Asian Art who was sitting in the front row looked slightly startled.

So Subodh Gupta is a man who is not afraid to say what he thinks….this talk was shaping up to be interesting.

Subodh Gupta

Subodh Gupta

Moving attention swiftly to the art, Pym invited Gupta to discuss a series of slides of his works many of which were featured in his Hauser and Wirth solo show “Common Man” which ended October 2009.

Subodh Gupta, A Penny for Belief II

One set of works comprised three over-sized thalis (thali is a Hindi word meaning plate on which a series of small bowls of food are placed) each featuring its own grouping of like items: used sandals, kitchen utensils and coins in oil.
Gupta explained that a primary source of inspiration is what he sees and has seen in his everyday environment, the objects which surround him. His trademark references to Indian kitchen utensils reference his earliest experiences:

He was born (one of six children) in the northeastern state of Bihar, which he describes as the Wild West of India. His father, a railway guard, was a drinker and died in his early forties, when Gupta was 12. His mother, who came from a farming family, sent him off to live with her brother for a few years in a remote village — “Not a single school kid wore shoes, and there is no road to go to school. Sometimes we stop in the field and we sit down and eat green chickpea before we go to school. (Times)

Today however Gupta sporting international urban grunge-style clothing complete with goatee, only haltingly accepted the  proposal suggested by Pym that he might be a cultural ambassador for India, someone who plays a role in teaching the world about his native country. “My inspiration comes from everyday life. Yes I suppose you can say I am an ambassador but only by chance because I am from India. Every artist reflects their own cultural environment. Nowadays I live in the world, I see more of the world. My art expresses that.”

The assemblage of local and global influences is evident in Penny for Belief II in which a large thali is filled with oil and coins. He explained that his globe-trotting lifestyle led him to notice that many cultures share behaviourse for expample the belief in the value of throwing coins for blessings. Local rites have underlying universal themes.  “In the United Kingdom, China and India, they throw coins into different things: oil, water and empty pots. But they all believe in throwing coins”.

Observant pattern-seeking Gupta is an artist who believes that art is a conceptual endeavour. Ever direct, he looked straight at the audience as he said: “If you still believe  that artists today make art themselves, you are romanticising.   My job as an artist is to think, conceive the ideas. My art is made up for me by expert artisans all over the world, the thali works were made in America. The Jeff Koons boxes were cast in Zurich.”

After leaving school, Gupta joined a small theatre group in Khagaul and worked as an actor for five years. This has informed his view of his role as an artist. “As an artist I have to adapt myself to the subject of my art. An artist is like an actor, he also has to adapt himself”.

Gupta clearly relishes art-making as a participatory and flexible endeavour and  he is comfortable allowing viewers of his work to join in too. He explained that he let visitors throw their own coins into his thali artwork. “Didn’t the guards at the Hauser and Wirth gallery stop people from doing that, they are usually very protective of the art” asked Pym looking surprised. “No we told the guards to let visitors throw their own coins. It is part of the art and, you know what, we had coins from all over the world”.

Subodh Gupta, I Believe You

Subodh Gupta, I Believe You

Despite his willingness to farm out the manual process of art-making, Gupta’s has a deep respect for labour and hard toil. He described how the sandals in “I Believe You” were sourced: “I noticed that  the labourers in India wear sandals and each bears the mark, the footprint of its owner. Unique marks, like fingerprints. I bought some new sandals and swapped them for the workers’ used slippers. They symbolise these people in India – and of course all over the world – who work day to day for their bread and butter. These hard-working honest labourers. In this piece I am saying: I honour you, worship you, believe you. It is almost like a prayer. Thalis have associations not only with food but also with prayer.”

Subodh Gupta

Labourers and travel remained the focus of the conversation as it turned to slides of his renowned luggage trolley series which included one of Subodh Gupta’s sculpture of a gilded bronze luggage trolley and three pieces of aluminium luggage called Vehicle for the Seven Seas (2004). According to Artcurial, this work posted an auction record price for the Indian artist when it fetched €502,330 ($785,243), more than triple its €140,000-180,000 estimate, under the gavel on April 3 2008.

Though he must have recounted the story behind this series many times before, Gupta’s explanation was engaging and articulate. “I had not travelled outside India until 1993. After that I often flew between Europe and India and because I bought cheap tickets, there was usually a stopover in Dubai or Kuwait. I noticed that on the return journey to India the plane was often empty for the first leg of the journey and then in the Middle East stopover the plane was filled with Indians, my people, migrant workers from India.”

He noticed that they had a particular and unique way of wrapping up their belongings for the journey. He became more and more intrigued by these packages and pieces of luggage which were so tightly and securely wrapped. ” I began to get talking to the passengers who were tailors and taxi drivers and construction labourers … I asked them what was inside. It turned out that the contents were quite ordinary, their everyday belongings plus a few clothes for their children, perhaps a little jewellery for their wives. But these parcels seemed to me to be themselves like jewellery and so I started working on them”.

Wrappings as a source of inspiration and of value in their own right is a motif which recurs in his work. In his ‘Jeff the Koons’ installation, Gupta has cast in aluminum copies of the cardboard boxes that Koons’ mailorder ‘Puppy’ sculptures come in.

Subodh Gupta, Jeff The Koons, installation Hauser and Wirth

Subodh Gupta, Jeff The Koons, installation Hauser and Wirth

In this work, Gupta shows us his playful side. Packaging materials rather than the contents become the focus of attention, the new and greater source of interest. And Gupta is not afraid to have a little fun, be a little cheeky: he distracts us and leads our attention away from the art (even though this art is made by world-famous artist Jeff Koons) and towards the packaging of it as if it were just as or more important. But Gupta’s irony is only employed with permission. “I first saw the boxes in Saint Tropez. When I was told that they were the boxes in which Koons’ sculptures had travelled there I was inspired. I wanted to cast them. I was told that maybe Jeff Koons would sue me unless I asked permission. So I waited 3 years until mutual friends finally introduced us and Koons gave me permission.”

“Jeff the Koons” is a work reminiscent of Warhol’s pivotal 1964 work Brillo Boxes too. These days Gupta likes to riff on iconic Western artworks. This has earned him well-worn monikers such as the “Damien Hirst of Delhi” and “Marcel Duchamp of the Subcontinent”.  What does he think of these tags wondered Pym. “These titles seem to follow you from one press article to another. How do you feel about that?” “Well I find that it is usually the journalists who know the least about art who like to use them. I like Damien Hirst as an artist but I don’t see myself as him. Anyway what is written about me is not in my control. I just make art”

The son of a railway guard who arrived penniless in Delhi in 1988, Gupta who produced conventional canvases for many years before making sculpture,  has clearly come a long way. Now Gupta’s everyday, his immediate sphere, his source of inspiration is no longer a rural world of steel buckets and tiffin boxes. Instead his environment is one of international travel, world-class art and well-deserved prominence.

Yet despite all this, Subodh Gupta is a man who remembers and honours the “common man”. Pym recounted how Gupta’s bronze sculpture of hand-painted mangos Aam Aadmi was his mother’s favourite work in the show. Gupta laughed. “I am glad about that because it is my favourite work too. I named the show after this work. Aam is a reference to mango fruit and to the common man. It is the King of Fruit in India. It is grown everywhere unlike other fruit so everyone can eat mango.”

Subodh Gupta Aam Aadmi

Subodh Gupta, Aam Aadmi, 2009

Although he can be disconcertingly direct, sometimes to the point of being dismissive, it is hard not to like Subodh Gupta for his integrity, his humility and his fearlessness. Gupta may not be happy with Christie’s but the audience was thrilled by their up-close encounter with this complex engaging artist which Christie’s helped to host and promote.

Related external links:

Related Art Radar posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar Asia for more interviews with prominent and emerging artists from Asia

KCE


Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

Posted in China, Collaborative, Conceptual, Hong Kong, Indian, Interviews, Journey art, Large art, Migration, Participatory, Subodh Gupta | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Picasso of China or voice of dissent: Who is Ai Wei Wei? Profile

Posted by artradar on September 22, 2009


Ai Weiwei's middle finger at Tiananmen.

CHINESE ARTIST PROFILE

Ai Wei Wei is vying with Cai Guo Qiang to become the most famous contemporary Chinese artist in the world claims Artinfo in its must-read quote-dense 4 page profile produced on the occasion of  Ai Wei Wei’s first large-scale solo show world-wide (Ai Wei Wei: According to What? at Mori Art Museum July to November 2009).

Obedient or defiant? Contemporary Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei who was raised in China and has lived in the U.S for 12 years, integrates his social beliefs into his artwork with audacity and temerity.  Behind the title of design consultant for the Beijing Olympics “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, Ai Wei Wei remains a mystery figure who flaunts multifarious identities:

According to Chinese authorities, he is a dissident to be watched, one whose inflammatory blog needed to be silenced. But to others, the Chinese conceptual artist, architect, photographer, and curator — loathed and loved for his human rights activism — is the courageous voice needed in today’s repressive China.

He’s been called a headline grabber, a master of borrowing from other artists, and a “scholar clown,” and he’s been denounced for criticizing symbols of elitism and authority ranging from New York’s Museum of Modern Art to the Chinese government to the Eiffel Tower.

Ai’s philosophies about society and his willingness to expose and explore the issues are evident in his artwork:

Chandelier by Ai Weiwei. 236 by 165 by 165, crystal, scaffolding, 2002

Chandelier by Ai Weiwei. 236'' by 165'' by 165'', crystal, scaffolding, 2002

Chandelier, a satire of the bizarre Chinese state aesthetic in the shape of half a chandelier that hangs in the museum’s entrance lobby.

Snake Ceiling is a serpentine installation formed from hundreds of new black-and-white backpacks sized for elementary and junior high school students. The coiled snake, suspended from the museum’s ceiling, alludes to an aesthetic form, the snake as ancient monster, and the tragedy and systematic cover-up at the heart of the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, a focus for Ai’s guerrilla investigative activism.

Map of China by Ai Weiwei. Tieli wood from destroyed Qing Dynasty temples, 20 X 70 X 63 in., 2004.

Map of China by Ai Weiwei. Tieli wood from destroyed Qing Dynasty temples, 20 X 70 X 63 in., 2004.

Map of China (2006) is a 3D object made with intricately-assembled old wood pieces and traditional joinery that poses subtle questions and a critique about China’s perceived domination of Taiwan and regions such as Tibet.

Fairytale, premiering at the exhibition, is a 150-minute film consisting of video and images from Ai’s historic 28-day journey with 1,001 Chinese citizens to the 2007 Documenta 12 exhibition in Kassel, Germany.

Not only does Ai unify art and society in his artwork, he is also an activist blogger on the net.

…the high number of school fatalities was due to local officials siphoning money from school building costs. Grieving families said the structures were badly built and collapsed easily during the quake. But officials refused to list the names of the dead students, which could be used to unveil a possible cover-up, so Ai formed the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project with researchers and volunteers who discovered the names of 5,190 students.

Is it a coincident that he’s also the son of Ai Qing, an enemy of the state?

One of China’s most esteemed poets, he was sent to labor camps in northern Heilongjiang Province and western Xinjiang Province for 20 years for criticizing the Communist regime.

A fighter for freedom of choice, Ai also expresses challenging views about the Olympics last held in China and cultural censorship.

The Olympics became a very superficial activity that didn’t lift China into another possible condition but rather created great difficulties for [Chinese] society today.

China is still culturally under strong censorship, so a state museum would certainly never invite me,” he says. “If I have a show, I don’t want to be censored. … That’s not my principle. I don’t care if I ever have a show in China.

Read full article on ARTINFO for more about Ai Wei Wei: his personality, his canon and his views which have led Artinfo to make a bold statement about the importance of Ai Wei Wei.  After this MAM exhibition and

a larger one opening at Munich’s Haus der Kunst in October, Ai may overtake Cai Guo-Qiang as China’s most famous contemporary artist. Although Cai is a skilled, popular showman famed for his spectacular fireworks display at the Beijing Olympics, his work lacks the depth that is so integral to Ai’s many projects.

-Contributed by Wendy Ma

Related Links:

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar Asia for more profiles on contemporary Chinese artists

Bookmark and Share

Posted in Ai Weiwei, Chinese, Collaborative, Identity art, Installation, Japan, Land art, Large art, Museums, New Media, Overviews, Participatory, Profiles, Shows, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »