Critics’ Picks

Max Streicher, Ashwamedh, 2010, nylon, lights, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Max Streicher, Ashwamedh, 2010, nylon, lights, dimensions variable. Installation view.


Max Streicher

Gallery Maskara
6/7 3rd Pasta Lane, Colaba
November 25, 2010–January 30, 2011

In Ashwamedh, 2010, an installation by Canadian artist Max Streicher, two ice-white inflatable horses jostle for space. Floating just below the ceiling, they hover as if apparitions from a Nordic fairy tale, emerging from whorls of mist and snow. The horses’ translucent nylon hides are bathed in a warm incandescent light so that they glow like fragile paper lanterns that have unaccountably turned frightening: The air currents drifting through the gallery animate the humongous creatures, making them seem to kick and plunge.

Ashwa means “horse” and medh means “white” in Sanskrit; visitors may remember that in Vedic mythology the white stallion is used by kings to demarcate the thresholds of their domains. Viewers might also experience the same sort of tingly foreboding that suffuses Henry Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare, 1781, where a steed looms over a voluptuous, comatose maiden. Prancing within a Mumbai gallery, Streicher’s horses evoke city-specific meanings, too, perhaps referencing the dashing stallions of the contentious modernist painter M. F. Husain or the Hindu right’s predilection for statues of Chhatrapati Shivaji: Does the identical nature of the two animals deride the replicas of the seventeenth-century Maratha leader (as well as the numerous architectural monuments currently dedicated to him) that are being planned throughout Maharashtra to forcibly remind residents of their Marathi heritage?

Gallerist Abhay Maskara dubs the installations “antimonuments.” Indeed, the sculptures—made mostly of air—may be ironic allusions to the puffed-up egos of those who seek lasting glory. After all, the stallions are literally ephemeral: They will be deflated at the end of the exhibition. Perhaps contradictorily, the breathtaking scale of Ashwamedh also emphasizes the propensity of symbols to sway us—however temporarily. Ultimately, it is the perplexing physicality of the buoyant beasts that captivates ducking, dwarfed viewers. Their massive dimensions, coupled with their white weightlessness, leave us enchanted but nonplussed about their actual significance.