"The Empire Strikes Back – Indian art Today" at Saatchi Gallery: critics' review roundup

INDIAN CONTEMPORARY ART

“The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today” opened on 28 January 2010 at Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London. It has received attention from critics interested in both the cultural implications of contemporary Indian art in British society and the exhibition’s impact on the art market.

Intensity and violence are found in some stand out works but the consensus suggests an uneven show.

According to the Business Standard, over 100 works of 26 Indian artists are being displayed. Price estimates are included for some works.

Also concerned with the art market, Colin Gleadell of The Daily Telegraph contemplates the impact of “The Empire Strikes Back” on the value of Saatchi’s investment in Indian contemporary art. He also summarises the fluctuations in the Indian contemporary art market.

Generally, critics’ reviews have been mixed: though they support the concept of showing contemporary Indian artists, many claim that there are only a few standouts.

The Financial Times‘s Peter Aspden is intrigued by “contrast between the work’s wholesome message and the gruesome imagery used to deliver it” in Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice 2, the first work in the show.

Jitish Kallat, Public Notice 2

Jitish Kallat, Public Notice 2

He then interviews Rebecca Wilson, the associate director of Saatchi Gallery. She explains Saatchi Gallery’s reasons for organising the show, focusing on global trends regarding Indian and Pakistani contemporary art and the sheer volume of new artists from the region.

The Guardian’s Adrian Searle begins with “One might expect Charles Saatchi to show just the sorts of things that are presented,” listing works like Huma Mulji’s Arabian Delight and Atul Dodiya’s Fool’s House as expected works. He concludes “A lot of the work looks exoticised for the gallery, the artists playing their post-colonial otherness as a gimmick, rather than making art of substance.”

JJ Charlesworth of Time Out London also concedes that there are works of “bog-obviousness,” but especially praises Chitra Ganesh’s Tales of Amnesia, consisting of 21 comic-inspired prints that question the role of femininity in society.

Husband-and-wife Subdoh Gupta and Bharti Kher impress Ben Luke of London’s Evening Standard, though he mentions the “collection’s unevenness.”

Bharti Kher, An Absence of Assignable Cause

Bharti Kher, An Absence of Assignable Cause

Luke is especially interested in Bharti Kher’s An Absence of Assignable Cause, which is her conception of a sperm whale’s heart covered in bindis.

The Times’ Joanna Pitman is fascinated by the artists who “push their media into almost illegible territories, as if to say that art could not possibly be adequate to record what really matters.”

Probir Gupta’s painting Anxiety of the Unfamiliar and Tallur L.N.’s Untitled both depict what she describes as “bleary fragments, the chance events, and barely registered perceptions of this imbalanced, disturbed country.”

However, Pitman also comments on the unevenness of the show: “Many works resemble the outpourings of pained and confused undergraduate minds.”

Mark Sheerin of Culture 24 is also struck by the intensity present throughout the works. He  claims that, “At best, such high impact work can astound and violently re-orient you” and cites Tushar Joag’s The Enlightening Army of the Empire’s “skeletal, spectral band of robotic figures” as a prime example.

Tushar Joag, The Enlightening Army of the Empire

Tushar Joag, The Enlightening Army of the Empire

He encourages the reader to “come and let the works do violence to you. They should be resisted, if at all.”

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