I’m on another flight. This one is a short haul and following an intensely packed schedule in New York — in perfect keeping with the pace of the Big Apple, I’m flying further south along the coast. The museum tours, staring at the urban architecture, walking in Central Park, dining at Momofuku Ko, and other delights of the city apart, the one absolute highlight from this trip is the exhibition that is on view at the Asia Society, titled ‘The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India’.
This is the second time I’m visiting it in two months (and would gladly fly back solely to view some of the works yet again). In fact, I visited the show twice over the past week. It is one of those extremely rare events where a body of such groundbreaking order has come together and such powerful works have been displayed alongside each other. There have been some stellar exhibitions focused on the progressives over the past two decades in India as well as overseas, though this is by far my personal pick for the finest.
To offer some context, the exhibition presents significant early works by members of the ‘Progressive Artists Group’, a group of young artists who banded together in 1947, shortly after India’s independence. The showcase includes works by the group’s six founder-members — KH Ara, FN Souza, MF Husain, SK Bakre, and SH Raza, as well as those who came on board later, including Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, VS Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta and Mohan Samant. Despite each artist representing an individualistic practice and hailing from diverse backgrounds, they were united in their pursuit of understanding, unraveling and presenting a visual representation of our newly birthed nation. Nearly every work here is a masterpiece and each contributes in a rich manner to the viewer’s perspective of the time and milieu these works were created in.
Time spent at the exhibition reveals, in particular, precious much about the socio-political tenor in India during those early years, which is fascinating, especially more so when read in context to the times we live in. “Are we progressing as a people?” — a question that I tend to ask myself ever so often found a clarified response in very many ways via the works on show. I’m keen on discussing some of my favourite works here, but I’d be rather tight on space in even attempting a single painting’s premise.
In this direction, please visit the exhibition’s page online to view these masterworks. I do hope this exhibition travels and is presented and widely viewed by an audience within India. It would be genuinely wonderful to have students of art, as well as society at large, attend such a showcase. It is an essential requisite for our cultural sensitisation as a nation to have access to works of such significance and for the common citizen to feel a certain degree of connectedness and, going forward, pride for such creations.
The works are on loan from a wide set of collectors and the curators, Boon Hui Tan and Dr Zehra Jumabhoy, have rendered an impeccable achievement. Everyone involved in this effort requires a heavily deserved applause and our deepest appreciation.
The person I visited the exhibition on the second occasion with asked me if this would qualify as the “perfect collection”. It is an absolutely delightful show, and one that, as you can probably tell, I thoroughly hold to be exceptional. If I were tasked with listing the finest representations created by the progressives, there would obviously be a few revisions in terms of selection of some of the works, but by and large, it would hold much of the same order.
This is an academically brilliant show — particularly for its perspective into a young nation’s heterogeneous society. I would, however, not consider or recommend the exhibition as the template for “the perfect private collection”. In that light, this body of work would be far too by-the-textbook. It would be an outstanding achievement for an individual to assemble a collection of this quality, but when viewed beyond the bounds of a museum’s walls, a collection of this nature resting in an individual’s hands would be far too scholastic, lacking somewhat on the grounds of it being personal. A private collection should be far more attuned to an individual’s sensibilities and it should be a window into her/his world.
Having said that, I’d be more than glad to have the ownership of every and any of the masterworks from this exhibition. If this were a text message, I would’ve inserted a Smiley emoji at this point.
I should be touching down in Miami shortly, where I’m set to view a few thousand works over the following few days. Bracing myself now.
(Arvind Vijaymohan is the CEO of Artery India, a financial datacenter focused on Indian art sales globally)
First Published: Dec 07, 2018 14:48 IST