New York

“Contemporary Indian Art”

Grey Art Gallery and Study Center

This exhibition, curated by Thomas W. Sokolowski, presented a small selection from the Chester and Davida Herwitz Family Collection, which, although there are still regrettable omissions in it (such as the absence of works by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh and Paramjit Singh), is the world’s premier collection of contemporary Indian art.

The works exhibited ranged over what is becoming a canonical view of the history of contemporary art in India. The older generation was represented by the vernacular scrolls of jamini Roy, the quasi-tantric abstractions of Syed Haider Raza, and the photographed billboards and billboard- . influenced paintings of Magbool Fida Husain. Far more interesting, however, were the works by a younger generation of artists; for the most part figurative paintings, they exhibited a social and esthetic conscience rare in any contemporary art. Sudhir Patwardhan’s Town, 1984, a perspectival tour de force in which background details rush to the surface with astonishing clarity while foreground figures mysteriously recede; BikashBhattacharjees ironic British academic realism; Jogen Chowdhury’s bizarre humanism; and Gieve Patel’s reveries on Indian street scenes offer variation after variation on the theme of the Westernization of India, or of the confrontation of Indian artists with the difficult art of the modem West.

Asalways, one could quibble with the curator’s selection—where, for example, were works by Ganesh Pyne, Nalini Malani, and Arpita Singh, all of whom are amply represented in the Herwitz collection? Still, the show was superb, and it was of historical importance. As the writers in the catalogue have noted, contemporary Indian painting is acquiring a serious audience in India and is beginning to be known in Europe. But this exhibition was virtually the first opportunity for Americans to consult, and to gain insights from, an important arena of contemporary artistic exploration.

Thomas McEvilley