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Untitled No. 34
Sidin Sunny Vadukut

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November 06, 2007

Most people who visit Mumbai for a long period of time or, indeed, move residence to Mumbai full time because they are fed up of large homes, fresh air and painless lifestyles, are bound to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art at some point or the other.

Not so much because they know what to expect inside, but more because the NGMA has the most powerful air conditioning system known to man. Just walk through those wide doors, and suddenly one is transported into a world of refreshing coolness. After roaming around most of Kala Ghoda and other parts of South Bombay the NGMA is like an oasis in the dessert. Designed and manufactured by Carrier. One step inside and the sweat on your brow instantly freezes. Trrrink!

The only problem with partaking of their excellent climate control is the expectation by the NGMA people that you walk around and look at things. Perhaps even nod occasionally in a sombre, "How Profound Indeed!" manner before noticing that it is ACTUALLY a BEST ka metre and not an installation piece.

Now before you go ballistic about my insensitivity towards the arts and the rights of any individual to indulge in the varieties of art let me remind you of one thing: Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag.

You may retire in peace now.

No, my thing is I really want to appreciate art, especially modern art, in all its forms and functions. In fact over the last one year or so, thanks to business and press trips, I have been patiently totting up several experiences of "modern art". And I am frankly a little puzzled.

For instance in the NGMA, some months ago, I spotted a sculpture of a man erupting out of a bronze sphere of some kind. Actually I did not notice it as much as it gently caught my attention by the unmentionables.

The sphere was placed in front of a painting on the wall and I naturally assumed you sit on it and do as the firangs tend to do: stare at the work on wall for several minutes before smiling in a knowing fashion, saying something aloud like "What an expression of existential angst!" and walking off. I had spotted everyone doing it at the famed Tate Modern Gallery in London [Images].

And so I leaned back onto the sphere to give the painting my full once over. Which is when I felt a bronze finger gently preventing my complete descent in an insightful manner. I got up with a muffled shout and noticed that there was a man erupting out of the ball in a grotesque fashion.

Next to the ball on the floor was a card with the name of the sculpture.

Now the thing with modern art is not just that it can be almost impossible to decipher to the layman. What compounds the problem is the fact that modern artists tend to put in special effort to name their works in the most mind-boggling way.

I think they spend all of a week in making their painting or sculpture and then spend months coming up with the perfect name for it.

Artist:  "I am thinking of calling it Kuala Lumpur Explosion Jung Aloft!"
Artist's friend: "But it's only a tennis ball on an encyclopedia!"
Artist: "EXACTLY!"

For instance I once paid big bucks to see a special exhibition of installation art. This is where the artist creates works of art out of several objects that are arranged around a room or a space. The spectator walks around and through these objects really soaking in the atmosphere and depth of the art and then leave deeply impacted. I, for instance, came out a completely short-changed man.

One of the pieces I saw was a huge sliver of rusted metal some 18 feet tall rested along one wall with a few logs of wood in front of it. The work was called "Goat Droppings".

I have no idea why.

But back to my man in the metal sphere.

In normal cases you would expect him to be called something simple like "Dude in Ball", or with a little imagination: "Birth", or even "Liberation from Life". Something that could be connected to a man clearly struggling to free himself from the clutches of a bronze ball.

Instead there lay a card on the side of the ball with the words: "Dandruff Monster".

I must however remind everyone that there is also the trend amongst modern artists of not naming their paintings anything. So you see this interesting work on the wall of a gallery with a note nearby which says: "Untitled, 1979".

Artist's friend: "Is this your younger one? He is in seventh standard no?"
Artist (pointing at son): "Yes. His name in Untitled, 1994!"
Friend: "Oh he is named after his elder brother?!"
Artist: "Correct!"

But does this mean that all this modern art is a waste of time? A frivolous escapade for the trust fund endowed?

Anything but. The art market in India is booming. Millions of rupees are being doled out for the work of established artists by art lovers and even by investors. These investors then hope to someday sell off these pieces to collectors when the artist becomes famous through his art, crime or quirky mode of death.

Investor: "This is an original work by Sidin Sunny Vadukut, the master artist."
Japanese collector: "But to me, from a purely existential perspective untinged by context, it looks like a lungi draped over  an old bicycle?"
Inventor: "Perhaps. But he died due to unforeseen landing of plane on self!"
Japanese collector: "One million dollars. Not a penny more."

So much so that there is currently a thriving market for fakes.

Take the recent case of an exhibition of the works of the artist (late) Somnath Hore at the Gallery Espace in Delhi. Experts called it an unprecedented event in the history of the art world as it was the largest exhibition of Hore's works ever.

A week after the exhibition opened Hore's family claimed that most, if not all, of the pieces were fakes or reproductions. His wife and daughter insist that Hore would have never made such pieces and not told them.

Now things appear to say that the poor Gallery Espace were screwed over by one Sugato Majumdar who is a distant relative of Hore's (uncle's brother-in-law's father's nephew's confidence trickster once separated).

Now suddenly all eyes are on the Delhi art scene and everyone waits for a final resolution of what must be a massive fraud attempt.

But in the meantime I think I will go for a walk to South Bombay now and then pop in to the NGMA after for a looksee at the latest exhibit: "A Display of Post-Modern-Conservative-Neo-Colonialist Sculpture in rooms which are at a relaxing 18 degrees C".

Earlier columns:

More adventures of the Vadakuts, mister and missus, can be found at Domain Maximus.

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