New York

Artist unknown, Astrological birth chart used to name a baby, ca. late 19th century, gouache and ink on paper, 4 1/4 x 8 1/4".

Artist unknown, Astrological birth chart used to name a baby, ca. late 19th century, gouache and ink on paper, 4 1/4 x 8 1/4".

“Indian Drawings”

33 Orchard

Artist unknown, Astrological birth chart used to name a baby, ca. late 19th century, gouache and ink on paper, 4 1/4 x 8 1/4".

Ritual acts—personal and parochial alike—are meant to free the practitioner’s mind from worldly concerns. The meditational Tantric scripts and yantras (mystical geometric diagrams) assembled for this jewel box of a show had the additional effect of producing a hushed calm that engulfed its viewers. “Indian Drawings,” curated by artist/collector Alexander Gorlizki with 33 Orchard’s Jane Kim, closely followed New York’s Outsider Art Fair (where Gorlizki had a booth), but it quietly sidestepped the burrs that tend to adhere to the term outsider (and to the dealers who position their wares as such). Along with the devotion of their makers, these drawings evidenced the passion of a collector driven not by novelty or cult of personality but by a genuine care for and investment in Indian religious art. Gorlizki chose these thirty-six pieces, made over the span of more than two centuries, from his greater collection of devotional works on paper accrued over the past twenty-three years, during which the British-born painter has split his time between New York and Jaipur, Rajasthan, where he collaborates on pieces with the master miniaturist Riyaz Uddin. The through line connecting his selections is less the result of their shared provenance than of the supreme, seemingly effortless delicacy of their execution—all the more striking when one considers that many of the works are anonymous.

The earliest set of works on view date from the nineteenth century (these were shown alongside a compatibility chart comparing the facial features of one would-be couple, ascribed to the 1700s); they were notable for their elegant entwining of Sanskritand symbolic iconography, the latter ranging from a simple snake form encircling the gridded script of Astrological birth chart used to name a baby (late nineteenth century) to Hanumān with mantras and magic squares (ca. mid-nineteenth century), which features the Hindu deity sprouting animals from the crown of his head, surrounded by and covered in text and magic squares (grids in which all rows and columns add up to the same integer). These works were, per the show’s press release, its historical contingent. The “modern” was primarily represented by gouache representations of shaligrams—fossilized shells regarded in some Hindu traditions as talismans for the god Vishnu—all executed ca. 1970 by Badrinath Pandith, a Hindu priest and astrologer. Circular forms that spread to the edges of their four-and-a-half-by-five-and-a-half-inch paper supports, they bear various icons ranging from a string of beads to a blossom and a spiral. (Divisions between time periods were necessarily arbitrary, given the uncertainty regarding dates and attribution. A diverse array of additional midcentury pieces, including Hanumān, Vāstu, possible map of palace grounds, and several gouache depictions of Tantric copulation also dated from this period.) The show’s newest works were six painted Brahmanda (loosely translated as “cosmic/world-creating egg”) pieces by Kalu Ram, all ca. 1990, as well as two of his snakelike abstractions and a shaligram chart.

This exhibition of timeless drawings is perhaps not an obvious choice for a review in a publication dedicated to coverage of contemporary art. And yet there was something both timely and generous about the show, a reminder of grace in a city and nation seemingly moving ever farther away from it. The motivations behind the works were sometimes open to suggestion and sometimes explained by their captions: an entreaty to divine forces to assure a happy marriage or to determine the most auspicious name for a child, a celebration of erotic coupling, a meditation on the hand of the cosmos in the creation of humble organic forms. What was absent, however, was evidence of cynicism. It was not missed.

Cat Kron