Critics’ Picks

View of “Critical Mass,” 2012.

View of “Critical Mass,” 2012.

Tel Aviv

“Critical Mass”

Tel Aviv Museum of Art
27 Shaul Hamelech Blvd, POB 33288 The Golda Meir Cultural and Art Center
June 1–December 8, 2012

While the debut exhibition at this museum’s new Herta and Paul Amir Building looked to Europe, with monumental oil paintings by Anselm Kiefer, the second turns toward South Asia, with a group show of seventeen emerging and established Indian artists working in video, photography, installation, painting, and sculpture. “Critical Mass” is an ambitious sprawl that tries, in the curators’ words, to capture India’s “material density”—shorthand for the dissonant textures, cultures, and living conditions in this country’s expanding economy.

The desire to synthesize the salient features of “Indian art” while showcasing how, as stated in the catalogue essay, “Indian artists perceive their own culture” results in a rich if sometimes problematic narrative, in which it is often difficult to parse out the universal from the particular. The most significant point at which these two visions, or subjective positions, intersect is in the vexed relationship between seriality and singularity. This can be seen in, for example, Jitish Kallat’s The Cry of the Gland, 2009, a wall-based installation composed of 108 cropped photographs of commuters’ shirt pockets, each one containing similar types of personal belongings, such as pens and glasses; in Rashmi Kaleka’s A Place for Hawkers, 2006–10, a sound piece in which the cries of twenty Delhi street vendors are transformed into an indistinguishable chorus; and in Lochan Upadhyay’s Power of Cloth, 2009, a variation on two wedding chairs from Rajasthan made from hundreds of swatches of recycled fabric. In these operations, the artists represent problems symptomatic to globalization in the artistic lingua franca of the international art circuit while treating issues endemic to Indian society in gestures and materials that emerge from its midst.

Following in the footsteps of the Serpentine Gallery’s similarly framed exhibition “Indian Highway,” this show raises important questions about art’s potential to communicate local phenomena while meeting the demands of a global art market that produces commonalities. Methodologically, we might also demand to discuss whether in such diverse material conditions, curatorial efforts should strive to develop new models of cultural translation rather than relying on national identity.