Gurgaon is now home to the most innovative space for art in India.
Images of a woman giving birth, a video instructing one how to slice a goat’s neck, a man’s bare chest being vigorously rubbed—the new Devi Art Foundation, in its stunning new warehouse-like space in Sector 44, Gurgaon, does not spare its audience in the least bit. Rather its inaugural show, Still/Moving Image, challenges, disturbs, mystifies and moves its viewers with graphic installation pieces.
Man With Cockerel II, 2004, by Ranbir Kaleka (This is one of Kaleka’s most famous video installations of a man catching and losing a cockerel. The artist says the piece revolves around “the one bit of us that we keep losing and fighting to recapture. It has quite a fulfilling meaning—anything that makes us complete, anything that we want to possess”. ) Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The brick and rusted metal building provides a perfect frame for the works. The 35,000 sq. ft space, designed by Aniket Bhagwat, hosts art in the basement and the first two floors. Third-floor offices, for visiting curators and students, will be complete in another month. The finished space still has a rough, unfinished edge to it, allowing the works on display to dominate it.
Most of the rooms have few windows or small slits, purposely darkened to accentuate the light emanating from many of the new media and video installation pieces that will often fill the museum. Artist Ranbir Kaleka says that Devi Art Foundation founder Anupam Poddar had many of the pieces in his home for some time and was, therefore, able to conceive a building that perfectly suits the requirements for housing contemporary art.
Though the new not-for-profit contemporary art museum is far away from the heart of the city, the beauty and impact of the works on display more than make up for the long drive to Gurgaon. The inaugural show will run until November and is available for viewing by appointment every day of the week, except Monday. From November through January, the museum will exhibit pieces of the foundation’s permanent collection. And from February to April, Pakistani artist Rashid Rana will curate a show on the contemporary art of his country.
While the exhibits inside will rotate, a series of permanent pieces will be displayed on the grounds, one of them being Subodh Gupta’s aluminium cast of an Ambassador car, and Sudarshan Shetty’s multimedia wall of 1,000 replicas of the Taj Mahal. We pick four stand-out pieces from the inaugural show.
Remembering Toba Tek Singh, 1998, by Nalini Malani Malani’s new media installation featuring 15 video screens displays images of atom bomb clouds, women tying saris, women giving birth, and blue skies. It’s a conversation and warning, from a woman’s perspective, about the widening gap wrought by the nuclear stand-off between Pakistan and India.
Untitled, 2007, by Shilpa Gupta The most whimsical piece in the show requires viewers to walk into a large room with a white screen against one wall. Their shadows, reflected on the white wall, are soon bogged down by a puppeteer’s string and accrued junk. The playfulness of the piece belies the serious questions inherent in the project about consumerism, the baggage we swamp ourselves with, and the inability to detach ourselves from worldly goods.
The Mermaids Mirror, 2002, by Sheba Chhachhi A haunting meditation on femininity, the trap of success and the quality of time, Chhachhi’s Mermaids Mirror shows one second of a perfect image of screen legend Meena Kumari before distorting and blurring it on a row of glowing television screens (in reality, they’re modified cardboard boxes). Chhachhi says the project stems from the story of a mermaid’s mirror that never shows the true image, but always an obscured one, meant to be “insight through distortion”.