It is as sure a sign of the monsoon’s wane as the dark clouds of June are of its arrival: Galleries in the Capital are gearing up for a new season of shows after a quiet summer. Delhi’s Nature Morte gallery begins the season with a show of new works by three artists, on till 27 September. The exhibition is an oddly disjointed start for the gallery—it lacks a central curatorial concept and, as a result, the juxtaposition of the artists feels incoherent—but the show manages to overcome its slightly awkward assembly with an ambitious set of installations and photos by Samit Das, an enigmatic piece by Susanto Mandal, both based in New Delhi, and paintings by Kolkata-based artist Jayanta Roy.
Das has consistently used his photography, paintings and installations to engage with architecture, urbanism, historical change and memory. His New Bengal Hotel debuts at Nature Morte with three sculptural installations accompanied by a small number of digital photographs. The inspiration for the project comes from a slightly seedy but much-loved hotel in Mumbai, whose appeal to Das undoubtedly derives from its soul: the formalism of its arrangements of smudged plastic water jugs on a metal shelf, its slumping ziggurats of folded linens, the kitschy replica of the Howrah Bridge that spans its dining room. But he finds humanity there, too.
Tilted: A work by Susanto Mandal
If there is a running thread through Das’ long artistic engagement with the Indian city, it is his avoidance of an easy cynicism. Here, the peculiarly Indian style of the New Bengal Hotel’s shabby but orderly operation has inspired the artist to recreate three of its interior spaces as sculptural ensembles of objects that evoke the layered experience of India’s urbanism, its accommodation of difference, its makeshift breathing spaces and careful hospitality.
Mandal’s piece for the show is a frothing, bubbling shadow play he calls Bite 2. Mandal is an inspired tinkerer, with an emerging body of installations that rely on unsettling juxtapositions of high and low technology, soft and sharp materials, shadows and light, movement and stasis. Here, the artist uses an air pump and blower to churn bubbles from the absinthe-green liquid in an illuminated glass carboy. On the wall above, a complex little motor apparatus operates a pair of old-fashioned scissors. Hot halogen lamps catch the scissors from two sides, throwing out monstrous shadows.
A video camera and LCD screen mounted nearby capture the resulting moment of evanescent contact: a shadow shearing through a bubble. He is trying, he says, “to make us see impossibility”. There is something Gothic about the piece as well, with its frightening sharp edges and tenebrous mists of froth.
Roy’s paintings strike a different tone. Roy, whose work will be seen in Delhi for just the second time, uses acrylic paints and large canvases to create works with a pop bent. The artist has a sensibility that draws from graphic design, and he uses flat, sparse surfaces and snatches of photorealism and op art to deliver riffs on politics, the art scene and the postmodern visual landscape. At its best, this works like an unexpected insight, a quirky mot juste that changes the shape of a conversation. At its worst, this style of painting feels superficial and forgettable, like a one-liner you’ve heard before.
Samit Das, Jayanta Roy, Susanto Mandal New Works at Nature Morte gallery, A-1 Neeti Bagh, New Delhi, till 27 September.
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