Contemporary Indian Art
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).
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.
Time and the Connoisseur
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".
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.
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.