March 28, 2020
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Free Art

A weighty, coffee-table tome

Free Art
Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence
By Vadehra Art Gallery (Ed.)
Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi Rs 3600; Pages: 312
IN a land that thrives on diversity, can art be any different? A bewildering melange of influences—from the classical to the post-modern, the traditional to the experimental, the stolidly academic to the brilliantly whimsical—colours the work of India's contemporary painters and sculptors. But though the stimuli are varied, each Indian artist, be it Maqbool Fida Husain or Akbar Padamsee, Jogen Chowdhury or Ganesh Pyne, manages to find his own individualistic idiom, his own response to the milieu that inspires and sustains him. He remains firmly rooted in his essentially Indian moorings even when he ventures afield in search of inspiration from alien sources and techniques.

Profiles of 80 major and not-so-major artists, both painters and sculptors who have shaped contemporary Indian art, constitute the kernel of this coffee table tome whose utility as a reference volume cannot be overestimated. Five introductory essays trace the genesis and subsequent growth of various important schools and movements of Indian art in five major centres—Mumbai, Bengal, Baroda, New Delhi and the South. In their succinct, illuminating essays, the respective authors—Yashodhara Dalmia, Ella Datta, Chaitanya Sambrani, Martha Jakimowicz-Karle and Santo Datta—present a vivid overview of the different directions artistic expression in post-Independence India has taken, placing each movement against a specific cultural backdrop.

However, some of the profiles are far too brief, more like teasers. And then, there is nothing about the lesser-known figures of Indian contemporary art, artists who do not normally seek or get much play in the media. But it is easy to overlook this minor irritant because there is so much else to this book. Studded with 250 colour plates reproduced with stunning clarity and buttressed by informed analysis, it should find a place on the bookshelves of art students and connoisseurs alike. Not the least for the delightfully flashy cover design by Husain.

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