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NEW DELHI IN THE OLD WORLD
by Alice Savorelli
 
On Milan’s art scene, art dealer Primo Marella is what you could call a mover and a shaker. Director of Marella galleries in Milan and Beijing, he has now opened a second Milan gallery called Primo Marella Gallery, a venue devoted to contemporary art sited just a few blocks away from his older Marella Gallery, which is situated in the nearby Via Lepontina. Both spaces are tactically located in an animated, commercial area of northeastern Milan, a multicultural milieu that perfectly matches the multicultural ambitions of the galleries themselves.

The new 500-square-meter Marella Gallery is designed by London-based Italian architect Claudio Silvestrin, a minimalist designer whose projects include the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin and White Cube and Victoria Miro galleries in London. Airy and elegant, almost solemn, Silvestrin’s design has certainly resulted in a great place to show art. Even the empty gallery itself would be worth a visit.

As for Marella, after exploring China through a series of successful and much-praised exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art, he has now turned his attention to India. "New Delhi, New Wave," Nov. 22, 2007-Jan. 19, 2008, highlights work by members of the new Indian avant-garde: Baba Anand, Kriti Arora, Krishnaraj Chonat, Anita Dube, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Sonia Khurana, N. Pushpamala, Ravinder Reddy, Tejal Shah, Barat Sikka, Bala Subramaniam and Tukral & Tagra. The show is organized by Jerome Neutres, an independent curator who heads the visual and performing arts department of the French Embassy in New York.

Though many of the works in the show are clearly rooted in the culture of India, they also challenge typical views of Indian society, and tend to suggest some kind of Indian identity crisis in the new international world.

For instance, Tejal Shah’s You Too Can is a lovely scene of a sumptuously dressed woman pointing out a full moon to a young boy, who holds a trumpet with beads. In India this image is well known -- it’s based on a work by Raja Ravi Varma, a 19th-century painter who illustrated scenes from Hindu epics. A transgendered artist and filmmaker who has shown his photographs in New York at Thomas Erben Gallery, Tejah Shah populates his classic Indian scenes with transgendered models, bestowing a certain irresistible dignity on an outcast class.

Also engaging classical Indian art, N. Pushpamala constructs striking performative photo-narratives with posed studio photographs involving elaborate sets and costumes. His Yogini shows a woman wearing a precious sari and beautiful jewelry and bearing a bird, an image that epitomizes the artist’s interest in found images that incorporate archetypes of South Asian women.

In South Indian One (2005), the New York-based artist Baba Anand adds glitter and jewels to old Bollywood movie posters in a Pop celebration of the retro allure and kitsch glamour of the actors and actresses who were popular in India during the 1970s. A veteran of a popular Delhi exhibition in 2000 titled "Kitsch Kitsch Hota Hai," Anand works with the Opera Gallery, which has several international branches.

Bharat Sikka’s photographs are situated halfway between art and photojournalism. A careful composition in green and cream, his Tram Station, Kolkata (2006) manages to capture a sense of timelessness and deliver an impressive sense of emotional complexity.

More abstract and apparently modern is Karbalas II (2007) by the New Delhi-based Anita Dube. A low-relief decorative screen covered with small black-and-white photographs attached with dripping black paint, the work suggests the fragmentary quality of both personal memory and social history. A veteran of "How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age" at the Walker Art Center in 2003, Dube uses a range of found objects, from industrial materials (rubber hose) to craft objects (glass eyes) and commercial products (animal masks).

Perhaps most savvy in terms of the global spectacle, the New Delhi artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra work in a variety of media including computer graphics, painting, music, video, interiors and product design. Their surreal-seeming representations are a reflection of India greeting the 21st century, in which reality is composed of carefully constructed and artificially colored ingredients. One thing is certain: Thukra’s and Tagra’s installations sensuously bring together Indian cultural heritage and an array of recurrent issues attached to globalization and its effects on the Asian cultural realm.


ALICE SAVORELLI writes on art from Italy.