For all the hoopla about China, there are signs that the true new wave in contemporary art is coming from India. Look no further than the debut American solo show of Bharti Kher, just opened at Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea.
Kher’s main esthetic tool is the bindi, the dot-shaped third eye worn both decoratively and spiritually by Indian men and women. While the mirrors that are covered with colorful bindi seemed just average to me, the sculptures in this show are fantastic. A giant whale heart loaded with pink-and-green splattered ventricles pulsates on the gallery floor. A hyena on a plinth gesticulates like the mother wolf who succored Romulus and Remus.
Kher’s sculptures are active symbols of transformation, wobbling back and forth betwixt death and life. A female elephant, titled The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own, lies in soft agony on the floors. Its skin has the soft touch of a tennis ball and the patina of fine ashes fallen from a cigarette. The elephant’s majestic agony evoked Douglas Gordon’s justly famous video of a circus elephant. Kher has taken the elephant theme and moved beyond Gordon into a realm of her own, so different from derivative Chinese painters mimicking Red Grooms.
How many tree sculptures have you seen in recent years? Boring, right? Bharti Kher tops them all, with resin branches dripping tiny heads and gargoyles. You will stand transfixed for hours peering into their tiny eyes! So much art these days is nihilistically about death, but Kher postulates that death is not the end but the jumping off point of magic and creation.
On our way out for drinks with Kher and her friends after the opening, Indian collector Ranbir Singh and I ran into Chinese art czar Larry Warsh, rumored to be seeking a foothold in the Indian market. Sorry, Larry, too good for you! And a tip of the cap to Bharti Kher for bringing joy back into an old critic’s heart.
Bharti Kher, "An Absence of Assignable Cause," Nov. 15-Dec. 22, 2007, at Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).