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Emerging Contemporary Indian Art
and
the Kumar Gallery



I find the present occasion, the exhibition of Kumar Gallery's Collection: Modern Indian Paintings, One Hundred Years, as very appropriate to write about the 'Spirit of the 1950s', which struck many creative minds and spread in several parts of the country, a phenomenon which from the vantage point of more than four decades as on today undoubtedly cries to be recognized as a most significant turning point in the development of Modern Indian Art. It was consciously the starting point of a new introspection after the Bengal school 'Revival Movement'. The Independence in 1947 was a 'moment' of continued nationalistic fervour combined with a fresh nation-wide excitement and optimism inspite of the heavy sufferings as a result of the partition of the subcontinent.

Often the Progressive Artists' Group, set up in Mumbai during the late 1940s, has been singled out as a demarcating line, but it is significant that even some of the painters of this group began doing the justifiable noteworthy work only during the early 1950s like, Souza, Husain, Raza, Ara and Bakre (the latter in Sculpture).
Today we can look with an eye on parallel manifestations and it is very striking to note that with N.S. Bendre, Sankho Chaudhuri and the then young K.G. Subramanyan moving to Baroda by 1950-51, an active scene began emerging there due to what I call the winds of change blowing from Bombay so that soon the Baroda Group of Artists could be formed in 1956, with such youngsters as Shanti Dave, Santosh, Jyoti Bhatt, Ratan Parimoo and others. With the setting up of the Delhi Shilpi Chakra Group during early 1950s by the migrating artists arriving from Lahore and other resident artists including Sailoz Mookherjea, B.C. Sanyal, Dhanraj Bhagat, Dinkar Kowshik, K.S. Kulkarni followed by Satish Gujaral's return from Mexico, the dormant situation suddenly picked up dynamism in Delhi.

Calcutta, during the late forties, had witnessed artists responding to the Bengal famine as well as the setting up of the Calcutta Group who, among other aspects, had the example of Jamini Roy's new works before them. These artists continued working seriously into the 1950s such as Somnath Hore, Paritosh Sen, Gopal Ghosh, Prodosh Das Gupta, Gobardhan Ash. Indeed it can be claimed that it is the formation of Calcutta Group and the exhibition of Jamini Roy's works in Bombay during the late 1940s (with the records of press reviews) which were among the sources of inspiration to the artists in Western India. Activities in Madras are recorded with D. P. Roy Chaudhury's later sculptures and the rise of K.C.S. Paniker and Dhanapal as teachers of painting and sculpture respectively, subsequently to formalise in the formation of the Chola Mandal, as a South Indian answer to Modern Art Movement in the rest of the country.

The 'spirit' of the 'zeitgeist' of a time or era in the life of a culture that I have been talking about (we may call it also the 'moment') is a Hegelian concept as the circumstances at the beginning of the Post-Independence period of India, considering the tremendous fervor and optimism in so many spheres-political, social, economic and cultural forms (literature, theater, film, dance, music, architecture) -appropriately justify bringing in this notion here.

Amidst the developments mentioned above, we have also to note, of course, the beginning of the Government patronage (i.e. the commitment of 'state' patronage) through setting up of the Lalit Kala Akademi as well as the National Gallery of Modern Art, including prizes and purchases, both at national and regional level.

But the private patronage which was forthcoming at that juncture through the Kumar Gallery (since 1950s) whose moving spirit was Virendra Kumar Jain, a young but a bold enterprising person whose gamble in supporting many of the emerging artists now proves him to have been so perceptive and so full of insight. Combining business acumen with eye for the significant art works and through these the artists who created them, his place is as much a part of this National 'Zeitgeist' of the 1950s, as much as the actual artists themselves, as one fired by the same 'spirit'.

The next generation of artists who followed on the heels of the previous generation was also spotted by the sharp eyes of Virendra Kumar, like Biren De, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Shanti Dave, G. R. Santosh, A. Ramachandran and others. Of course, especially history will remember him for his dramatic intervention in the rise of Tantric Art. Its discovery in the 'Indian tradition' by his 'putsch' to Ajit Mookerjee's research on Tantra Art, besides consistent support for many years to Gulam Rasool Santosh (one of the most characteristic of Tantra artists).

Virendra Kumar's involvement with the creative careers of the struggling artists from 1950s onwards should be regarded as much a part of the historical growth of contemporary Indian Art. The way he, along with his brothers, promoted the artistic development of some of them like Kulkarni, Husain, Souza, Santosh and Ramachandran, shows his faith in their creative intuitions. Shall we see in his venture as art promoter, an enterprise for making money, or for gaining prestige on the cost of artist, or as much to take risk as the artist was taking, but also his own realization that he loves to be in the world of art and its creation. His venture has given good results. The present vibrant situation in contemporary Indian art has vindicated his resolve and calculated risk.

Virendra Kumar simultaneously has the boldness of vision to attempt to explore international market for the emerging modern art in India. First such exhibition he helped to arrange was in Germany in 1959. He is thus the initiator of the art market for contemporary art in our country as well as having an eye on its global possibility, himself also extensively traveling in Europe and USA over the years. Indeed there are definite indications that besides the Western art collectors, collectors in other parts of the world are also motivated towards acquiring contemporary Indian art. Thus bringing it into the mainstream of the global art market.

The role of Virendra Kumar is the first instance of an art dealer and private collector in India for the emerging contemporary art. This evokes comparison with such legendary collectors and dealers of Modern Western art in France; Ambroise Vollard who began with making the world realize the significance of Cezanne with a posthumous retrospective exhibition in 1907 and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who committed himself (around 1910) to the path breaking Cubists, while consistently supporting Picasso-who was later to be recognized as the towering artist of the 20th century.

In his personal life, as he grew in age, Virendra Kumar has discovered some mystical traits which lead him to spend many years in this direction under Mystics and Saints. Although, in his approach, he has been open-minded towards various types of art styles, at least this gives a clue for his personal predilection for the Neo-Tantric art. Virendra Kumar's journey of life is as much a journey within the art world as it has been of any major creative artist, with combinations of passion, tension, doubts, agony, disillusionment, and yet at the same time feel the aesthetic thrill while handling the works.

Now, as a veteran of the contemporary Indian art scene, he looks back with pride and satisfaction. Not only he has exerted his cultivated eyes for choosing what is significant and passing it on to other buyers and collectors, what eventually he has retained for himself is a remarkable phenomenon. The idea of setting up of his own museum of contemporary Indian art not only as a treasure of its own kind, but representative of the vigour of post-Independence phenomenon of artists expressing in diverse languages and genres, which is not at all effected by the one-sidedness that one might expect in a personal collection. Amazingly and incredibly, most of the artists whose names I mentioned while putting forward my suggestion of the 'Spirit of the 1950s' or 'The Post-Independence Zeitgeist' are very adequately represented in this collection.

 

Ratan Parimoo
Painter, Art Historian

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Time and the Connoisseur



It is time Indian art historians made frequent forays into personal collections of art works. The collected items may provide materials for weaving out a colourful fabric of 'art chronicles', which will lend itself to historical interpretation of art ideologies and movements, techniques, styles and materials.
On the part of the historian this will be recognition and extrapolation of a 'reality' from the imbroglio of contradictory phenomena. The 'fabric', made of collected items, is necessarily open-ended, because historical time is not linear. It has a structure of bewildering complexity. Because "history is not a river carrying events and the debris of events always at the same pace and in the same direction", as Henri Foncillon said.

"History, particularly art history", is normally a conflict between the advanced, the contemporary and the retarded." Foncillon observed again in his Vie des Forms: "The history of art shows us survivals and anticipations juxtaposed in a single moment of time, slow-moving, belated forms alongside bold and rapid forms".
A personal collection of art objects brings out not only the complex structure of historical time but also the informed connoisseur's point of view which, I think, is itself a significant historical material. The connoisseur's point of view or his choice is more like the photographer's choice of 'frame' in taking a snap-shot. The 'framing' indicates the hierarchy of elements within the scene recorded by the camera. In the history of photography we have seen how 'framings' of objects and events reveal the changing concerns and aesthetic sensibilities of the photographers.

Virendra Kumar Jain of the Kumar Gallery is such a collector of modern Indian art, and for the last more than four decades his 'frames' have covered important watersheds of modernist movements in Indian art. But that is besides his other fabulous collections of rare specimens of Indian primitive art (tribal), Tibetan paintings, Tantra art and miniatures. These will enrich any museum or public art gallery.

While the roles played by early art institutions in India have been recorded by our annalists of art, the roles played by the pioneering art galleries in India are sadly overlooked by them. After the colonial period of patronage of foreign elites and native royal houses, it was the private art galleries that presented the struggling modern Indian artists to the public, informing and educating the public patronage, helping the artists survive the initial apathy and continue their creative search for new visual language to express new sensibilities of their times.

Established in October 1955, Kumar Gallery stood as a lonely landmark in the Capital's nascent 'art world'. It stood at the beginning of beginning, witnessing and participating in an unprecedented upsurge of artistic creativity that encountered a new socio-economic situation within a decade of Independence. It is almost impossible to mention any early Indian modernist or any important artist of generations that followed-from the 'fifties to the late 'nineties-whom Kumar Gallery has not promoted. And in the process, Virendra Kumar and his brothers got immersed in the amazingly colourful 'happenings' in modern Indian art.

It is this experience, direct and, in a way, spiritual, that shaped Virendra Kumar's 'framings' of the hectic art scenes in post-Independence India. If we care to go through the long list of prestigious publications of Kumar Gallery, we will discover the origin and growth of a kind of philosophical approach to modern Indian art, which took in what was past and extinct, what was traditional but is still extant, along with what has been iconoclastic, vigorous and contemporary. The profound observation of Henri Foncillon-"survivals and anticipations ... slow-moving belated forms existing alongside bold and rapid forms"- is also echoed by the sequence of titles. From Tantra Art and Miniature Paintings, through more than 20 titles on art and culture of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, and Chakra, a Journal of Yoga and Philosophy, to Modern Indian Paintings. All these besides two films produced by Kumar Gallery on classical Indian music Dhrupad and Sacred Lama Dances of Tibet.

Virendra Kumar's initial 'framing' of modern Indian art takes in Ravi Varma alongside Rabindranath Tagore. In the former, the legacy of colonial art practices became instrumental in creating "contemporary way of seeing" and "the urge to see differently", as Ashok Mitra pointed out. Mitra also remarked that modern age of Indian painting should begin with Ravi Varma. Even when Mitra's view is not wholly acceptable, "we must concede", says Krishna Chaitanya, (the late K. K. Nair), ". . . that in a relatively early phase of the modern epoch, Ravi Varma practiced naturalistic drawing, perspective, some rational construction of the imagistic components in the pictorial space" (A History of Indian Painting: The Modern Period). Ravi Varma's were Foncillon's "survival" and "slow-moving, belated forms", framed in along with Rabindranath Tagore's modernist "anticipations" which came long before the Indian modernists of middle and late 'forties.

But the first 'frame' is wide enough to take in Abanindranath Tagore also, who led the Neo-Bengal School (The Revivalists of Krishna Chaitanya) which, in ideology and practice, was antithetical to Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore. Then appear the 'venerables' of the proto-history of Indian modernism like Jamini Roy, Binode Behari, Ramkinkar, Sailoz, Bendre and Gopal Ghose and many others. Intriguingly, Virendra Kumar did not miss out on Hemendranath Mazumdar, perhaps for the piquant relationship between Mazumdar, as "the retarded" of Foncillon, and the path-breaking 'venerables'.

The next 'frame' takes in the tumultuous post-Independence 'fifties and 'sixties: Souza, Husain, Kulkarni, Sanyal, Mohan Samant, Biren De, Gujral, Gaitonde, Santosh, Paniker, Santhanaraj, Ara, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta and Krishen Khanna. After this, his 'framings' discreetly overlap - 'sixties, 'seventies, 'eighties and 'nineties in succession, unraveling a sprawling, open-ended pattern of hectic art activities, focusing on 'breakthroughs', storing and evaluating paintings of Swaminathan, Shanti Dave, Ramachandran, Sohan Qadri, S. R. Bhusan, Shobha Broota, Anil Karanjai, Jatin Das, Arpana Caur and those of still younger generations.

Here is the complex structure of historical time, encapsulated with abiding passion and profoundly informed connoisseurship of the tireless promoter, collector and lover of art, Virendra Kumar.

Santo Datta
Art Historian & Art Critic

 
SOME ESTEEMED CLIENTS / COLLECTORS
Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru Mr. John D. Rockefeller Mr. Malcolm McDonald
Mr. Ramsey MacDonald Mr. Arthur Von Bohlen Sir Henschell
Sir Arthur Koestler Sir Kingsley Martin Lord Harwood
Sir Hugh Gatskill
(P. M, England)
Sir Aldous Huxley Dr. Homi J. Bhabha
Dr. B. K. Birla Lady Jamshetjee Jeejihoy Sir Cowsjee Jehangir
Mr. Nawal Wadia Mr. Rudy Von Lyden Mr. Adi Marfatia
Mr. Bapa Sola Mr. Chester Bowles
(U. S. Ambassador)
Mr. Kenneth Galbraith
(U. S. Ambassador)
Sir John Reed
(U. K. High Commissioner/P.M)
Mr. Andre Malraux
(Cultural Minister of France)
Mr. B. Choudhary
Mr. Shantilal Somaya Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
(P. M. Pakistan)
Mr. Pilloo Moody
Raja Surinder Singh
Nalagarh
Maharaja Karni Singh
(Bikaner)
Dr. Karan Singh
(Maharaja Kashmir)
Maharaja Sarela
Mr. Dubash Sir Suydem Cutting
Mr. P.R.S Oberoi
Mr. H. C. Mahendra
(Mahindra & Mahindra)
Ms. Lalita Talukdar
(Martin & Burns)
Mr. K. Aselmanm Sir Suydem Cutting Mr. Christian Bell
(French Ambassador)
Mr. T. Borden
Prof. Hunthousen Mr. Von Layden
(Ambassador of Germany)
Mr. Nordon Simon Mr. Lee Block Ben and Abbey
Grey Foundation
Mr. Geoffery FairBurn
Karl Krup
(New York Public Library)
National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
Lalit Kala Akadami
New Delhi
Patiala University Chandigarh Museum
Dr. Col. H.Zaidi
(Aligarh Muslim University)
Birla Academy Dr. Robert McNamara World Bank
Mr. Anthony Quinn Mr. James Coburn Ms. Shakun Jaiswal
Mrs. Mary Robeling Mr. Norman Rockwell Mr. Shammi Kapoor
I. T. D. C. Mrs. Henna Becker Von Rath Mr. Ellsworth Bunker
(U. S. Ambassador)
Ministry of External Affairs Dr. E. Houstan
(U. S. Chief)
Mr. Norman De Haan
(Chicago Art Institute)
Dr. Otto Wenger

Dr. Karl Pfauter Mr. Kin Bonythan
(Bonythan Gallery, Adelaide)
Mr. Masanori Fukuoka
Japan
Mr. Arthur Eiselburg Mr. Bartel
(Danish Ambassador)
Mr. Tom Slick
Houston
Dr. Pechnick
Philadelphia, U.S.A

Mr. Campbel Wyly
Mrs. Richard Berry Rainwater
(Partner Coca-Cola)
Count Allan De Rothschild Olivia Dassault
Mr. John Mellor
Mr. Ved Mehta Ms. Krishna MulGaonkar
Ms. Elizabeth Zutt Mr. Harry Abrahms Dr. Jane Watson
Mr. Claude Journot Mr. Chester Herwitz His Highness Jaipur Swai Man Singh
Mr. Thomas G. Allen Mr. Meril Miller Mr. Jehangir Nicholson
Lady Ranu Mukerjee Shri Satyajit Ray Dr. William Smith
Mr. Karl Appel Mr. Christian Matta Dr. Robert Thurman
Mr. Richard Gere Ms. Marilyn Lubetkin Mr. Buckminister Fuller
Monsieur Le Corbusier Mr. Edward Stone Mr. Gudu & Christine Patnaik
Mr. Naveen Patnaik Ms. Shirley Macllaine Mrs. Krishna Riboud
Dr. Octavio Paz Mr. Rene Hartman Mr. Kito De Boer
Mr. Doug Henning Ms. Georgia O'Keeffe Dr. Stella Kramriche
Ms. Vidya Dahejia Dr. Pratapaditya Pal Mr. John Gilmore Ford
Mr. Saurabh Mehta Mr. Rajiv Choudhari Ms. Jan Tina Uneken
Monsieur Pierre Cardin Begam Abida Ahmed Mr. Werner Erhard
Dr. Uma Lele Shelly and Donald Rubin Subrakant and Shefalika Panda
Ashok Alexander Arjun and Mila Oberoi Dr. Cyrus M. Shroff
Nanak and Helga Sheth Urmila Sahay Jindal Steel Limited
Rahul and Jyotika Mehta Amit Rai and Nanki Sood Arun Sarin
Dr. Richard M. Krause Ravi and Virginia Akhoury Tinku Jain
Dr. Harsha and Sri Reddy Nayna and Sunil Bharti Mittal Ritu Kumar