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Indian art 2.0: Rise of the Young Turks

Thursday September 08, 2011 03:03:56 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

A rare figurative canvas by spiritual abstraction artist Sohan Qadri on display in the capital.

New Delhi: The order is shifting in the firmament of contemporary Indian art. The depleting tribe of senior artists -- following the demise of Jehangir Sabavala, M.F. Husain and Sohan Qadri this year -- is prompting the slow ascent of a second generation of talented young contemporary artists.

Unlike Indian performing arts, where the top the talent chain dominates the viewers' imagination, visual arts over the years have thrown up a formidable line of young talented artists who have carved a niche for themselves with their unique style.

"Most of the surviving pioneers are too old and infirm to contribute prolifically to meet the demand for quality art both at home and outside the country," an industry insider, who was unwilling to divulge his name, told IANS.

"Artists like S.H. Raza, Suhas Roy, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar and Satish Gujral are in their late 70s and 80s. The volume of their work has decreased with age. A group of talented younger artists - who are commanding respect among collectors and fetching record prices at auctions - is gradually grabbing the limelight with signatures (craft) of their own," he added.

They may never be able to substitute the pioneers of the genre, but experts said the younger lot could be a viable alternative for collectors.

With affordability being the bottom-line in a market ruled by extreme swings in the last three years, works by the top 20 names in Indian contemporary art, especially those who are no longer alive, defy the purse-strings of an average collector.

The past two decade has been marked by the passing away of pioneering pillars like J. Swaminathan, Tyeb Mehta and Manjit Bawa.

According to art historian, writer, curator and critic Ina Puri, "History has to prove whether the second generation of talented artists like Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Sudarshan Shetty were worthy of filling the void created by the demise of the masters".

"A few months ago I was in London when M.F. Husain passed away and I had to write an obituary. Last week I paid my tribute to Jehangir Sabavala, who breathed his last in Mumbai. One after the other, the early pioneers of contemporary Indian art are falling to the vicissitudes of time and years," Puri told IANS.

In a creative space, it is the name which counts, said Narendra Jain, director of the Art Mall, one of the biggest gallery spaces in the capital.

"Those who have generated a name over the years have commanded value for their works because they have been around for long. Consequently, the new talented artists have not been able to break through the price brackets and name created by the top artists. The big names may never be substituted, but the younger artists will create their own name and space in the arena," Jain told IANS.

"If a collector is not able to afford a M.F. Husain or find one in the market, he might as well think, 'let me buy an Atul Dodiya' very soon," he said.

Since the mid-1990s, an entire generation of new artists like T.V. Santosh, Riyas Komu, N. Harsha, Chintan Updhayay, Jitish Kallat, Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Mithu Sen, Praneet Soi and several others, all between 30 to 45 years, have made their mark on the contemporary art scene with their new age digital art, mixed media compositions, installations and art photography.

Their works explore new territories that speak a universal language -- transcending geography and sometimes traditional icons because of their exposure to the West. Their ethos however remained grounded in India.

Perhaps understandably, the veterans still remain the collector's gems and the market's top-grossing heroes.

"The Indian art collector's fascination for pioneering names makes the prospect for younger artists difficult," a senior official of the Lalit Kala Akademi told IANS.

"Husain cannot be replaced. There will be only one Husain. We all can follow him, use him as a role model on our roads to maturity," young artist Laxma Gaud told IANS.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at



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