For Krishen Khanna, a new gallery, a new show
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A year after throwing open the 10,000 sq ft basement of its Mumbai headquarters to art shows and auctions, online auctioneer SaffronArt has opened its Delhi outpost, earlier located in the Oberoi hotel, to a new location.
The newest art gallery to open in the capital city, SaffronArt now has a 3000-sq ft space inside the five-star Claridges Hotel, complete with its own separate entrance. Its first show, an exhibition of recent works by modern artist Krishen Khanna, began on 3 November and is on till Sunday. The next exhibition will begin on 14 November, and is a four-day showing of the works that form part of the upcoming South Asian modern and contemporary art auction to be held on 30 November and 1 December.
“It’s a nod to the modernists who created the Indian art movement,” said Minal Vazirani, co-founder of SaffronArt, explaining their choice to open with Khanna’s works.
The centerpiece of the show is undoubtedly Benediction on a Battlefield, a 3.6x2.4m diptych that was too large to hang inside the gallery, and has been displayed on a large wall inside the hotel, instead. The painting derives from the Mahabharat and shows Bhishma Pitamah, the warrior teacher of the Pandavas and Kauravas—step-brothers and opposing factions in the great mythological war—dying on the battlefield. The acrylic and charcoal on canvas depicts the teacher propped up against the wheel of a chariot, surrounded by the Pandavas. Like several other works in this show, Benediction follows a monochromatic register, which according to the artist is “because if there is something I want to say, it is best to avoid the dynamics of colour”.
Other pieces in a similar register include Khanna’s works inspired by the journeys people undertook during the Partition (the artist made a similar one himself, from Lahore to Shimla in 1947; he was 22 at the time), and his haunting portraits of a falconer with his bird of prey. In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, curator Gayatri Sinha writes, “..This state of movement as a reference to Partition must inevitably be seen as a secular diaspora which emphasizes not the carrying of emblems and fetishes, not even the promise of land, but rather the journey itself, as an act of making meaning of life.” The pastoral in these works is invaded by danger—the stealth with which the men cross the marshes with their cattle alludes to this—but other canvases with depictions of feral encounters between wild animals, a tusker and a tiger in one, a tusker and a crocodile in the other, also possess a similar sense of starkness. The artist has eschewed colour in these frames as well.
Khanna also turns playful in some of the graphite on canvas works. His I’m not dotty And this ain’t Bindu, a 48x36” piece is a tongue-in-cheek reference to contemporary S.H. Raza, most renowned for his color Bindu works. The work features a man in uniform in side profile looking into distance, surrounded by the eponymous ever-widening dot.
Raza and Khanna belong to the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group formed in 1947 to encourage an Indian avant-garde. Other modern artists who were part of this group included M.F. Husain, Ram Kumar and F.N. Souza. The Indian modernists, especially the Progressives dominate the art market, both primary and secondary, at present. At the SaffronArt’s Summer Online Auction in June 2016, an acrylic and charcoal on canvas sold for Rs 39.9 lakh. In their Evening Sale in September, an oil on canvas went for Rs 1.14 crore. SaffronArt is already one of the leading names in the secondary art market, in India, and although the works in this exhibition are on sale, Minal Vazirani contends that they will not “bring fresh paint into the art market”. “Our area of speciality is the secondary art market. We are not entering the primary art market,” she said.
The exhibition will be held till 13 November at SaffronArt, The Claridges, 12 Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam Road New Delhi 110011, 11 AM to 7 PM. The pieces range from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 2.2crore.