The National Gallery of Modern Art inaugurated a retrospective of the Bijar-born, Delhi- based Subodh Gupta with a glamorous opening on January 16, 1914. Gupta is internationally shown and collected and has made a career which has stretched the limits of imagination in his use of ordinary ready-made objects as both the subject and the medium of his art. He is a painter, photographer and sculptor and his most frequently used subjects are steel cooking utensils, pots and tiffins. He creates dense compositions with a profusion of these shiny objects or more carefully composed still lives which brilliantly express their intrinsic shapes and surfaces often presented on a monumental scale.
The monumentality is differently expressed in the sculpture by using vast quantities of these same items arranged in diverse manners - spread out flat, on moving conveyor belts, piled up to create towering forms or apparently sprouting from huge gnarly steel trees. There is a startling piece in the form of a gigantic skull lying on it’s side. In a nod to Duchamp he presents two life size toilets, one made of bronze and one of porcelain. There are a number of pieces which put these same objects in their normal context - loaded on rickshaws, motorbikes or bicycles ready to be delivered. The twist being that they are cast life size in bronze or steel.
The show is generously housed in several separate galleries as well as scattered outside on grassy areas linking the galleries. It is both beautiful and whimsical and equally moving and powerful. The representation of these humble household articles cannot help but bring ones focus to the masses of humanity for which these items represent a way of life or, in many cases, a livelihood. They can therefore serve as stand-ins for that segment of the population which is so marginalized and often ignored. Maybe this is a way for them to be acknowledged and yet still not given a human face. Maybe it is easier to see the evidence of their existance than the reality of it. This segment of the population which is nowhere presented and which is completely removed from the world of galleries, collectors and museums is nonetheless, very present. The show is on view until March 16, 2014.
Text and photos by Belle McIntyre