On 20 April 2012, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art unveiled its most recent acquisition, blue-chip Indian artist Subodh Gupta’s Line of Control. The colossal sculpture, the artist’s largest to date, displays a mushroom cloud made of pieces of steel kitchenware.

Subodh Gupta, 'Line of Control', 2008, steel kitchenware. Image courtesy Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Considered one of India’s most important collectors, Kiran Nadar purchased Line of Control from Hauser & Wirth after seeing it on display at the 2009 Tate Triennial, where it debuted. Line of Control is now located in the central foyer of the DLF South Court Mall in Saket, Delhi, which also houses the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

While Nadar refused to disclose the price of the work, she assured the press it was no small sum. She did not want discussion of the price to overshadow the importance of the acquisition. Nadar has repeatedly affirmed her commitment to raising local awareness of Indian contemporary art, and she has said that she hopes that the eye-catching installation will be a large step towards generating an interest in art among the general public.

Installation was a unique challenge for the fledgling museum. The piece, which measures eleven by eleven metres, weighs 26 tones and is made up of over a thousand kitchenware items, was shipped from the United Kingdom in four containers. Once it arrived in India, Nadar hired the original London installation crew to recreate it the mall over seven days. Just getting the structure into the museum space necessitated several cranes and the destruction of a wall. The sculpture has no load-bearing column for support, but instead relies upon welding between the objects over a skeletal armature.

Kiran Nadar standing in front of the sculpture at the DLF South Court Mall in Saket, Delhi. Image courtesy of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

The title of the work refers to a militarily-enforced administrative boundary within a disputed territory, specifically the de facto border between India and Pakistan in the Jammu and Kashmir region. His first notion of the project came in 1999, when India-Pakistan relations had degenerated to dangerous levels. Many commentators were weighing the geo-political implications of military conflict between the two nuclear powers, and Gupta was shocked by their cold-blooded calculations.

In 1999, I made the first drawing of a mushroom cloud when India and Pakistan were on the brink of nuclear war. They were having conversations like how many people were going to die if India used its nuclear power. It chilled my heart.

The coincidental timing of the work’s Indian début was not lost on the artist. Line of Control opened in the wake of India’s successful Agni-V missile test, which was seen as an open demonstration of military might to check the influence of other regional powers like China. “Today, after the Agni-V missile launch, my mushroom cloud has a clear message: we do not want another Hiroshima,” Gupta said.

In its debut at the Tate Triennial, Line of Control received mixed reviews from critics. Some were awed by the monumental piece and lauded its clever and humanistic treatment of nuclear disaster, while others criticised Gupta’s choice of materials. In a favorable review, Richard Dorment of The Telegraph called Gupta the star of the show, saying,

By making his atomic blast out of harmless implements that virtually every person both in Pakistan and India uses in everyday life, Gupta subverts (and therefore neutralises) the meaning of the mushroom shape – a sign for death as universally understood as the skull and crossbones.

However, Ben Lewis of the London Evening Standard saw the piece as merely a formulaic rehashing of Gupta’s signature style. Matthew Collings of Modern Painters thought the piece was dull. Though he called it “genuinely creative”, he also lashed out at Gupta and other artists who take up lofty political projects with subjects whose intricacies they may not fully appreciate.


Related Topics: Subodh Gupta, Kiran Nadar, war in art, installation art, large art

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more on Indian installation art

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *