Exhibition at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Offers Rare Show
Of Paintings from Renowned Chaudhri Collection
Sixteen paintings by luminaries of modern Indian art will be featured in Bharat Ratna! Jewels of Modern Indian Art, on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), from November 14, 2009–August 22, 2010. These vibrant Bharat Ratna—literally “Jewels of India”—are drawn from the renowned collection of Mr. and Mrs. Rajiv Jahangir Chaudhri, who have assembled some of the finest examples of post-Independence Indian art. The exhibition represents the first time that a significant number of works from this collection will be displayed publicly. It is also the first exhibition of modern Indian art at the MFA. Hotel sponsorship provided by Taj Boston.
“The Chaudhris have collected some of the most outstanding examples of modernist and contemporary Indian art, which document the evolution of a vibrant and influential artistic period in India,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “The MFA is grateful for the opportunity to display such exquisite treasures.”
Rajiv Chaudhri says, “I am a firm believer in the idea that the art of all ages and regions is the common heritage of mankind. Since Egyptian, Greek, and Chinese art are part of my heritage, it follows that I also believe that Indian art is, or should be, part of the heritage of America, Europe and other regions of the world. Bravo to the MFA for taking the leadership role in this area.”
Bharat Ratna! offers a visually exciting dialogue between the evolving modernism of western art and the deeply rooted traditions of India and the multiple different approaches that Indian artists took, in the aftermath of Independence, to define their own and “Indian” art. On view in the MFA’s Indian Paintings and Decorative Arts Gallery, the exhibition includes works by several of the leading members of the Progressive Artists’ Group of Bombay: Krishnaji Howlaji Ara (1914–85), Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915), Sayed Haider Raza (b. 1922), and Francis Newton Souza (1924–2002). Their paintings—often created with vivid hues and abstract imagery—reflect the unsettled period of artistic creation that occurred as India struggled to achieve independence from British colonial rule, the bloody Partition and the heady, idealistic period that followed, of fashioning a new India and new Indian art.
Reacting against the nationalist and conservative precepts of the Bengal School, the Progressives wove principles of western modernism into the rich fabric of Indian art, creating a unique avant-garde identity as seen in the golden-toned Ganesh Darwaza (1964) by M.F. Husain, also known as the “Picasso of India,” who captured the humanity, myths, legends, gods and goddesses of his distinctly Indian subjects. Equally vibrant is S.H. Raza’s Untitled (from the Rajasthan Series) (1975), which evokes the brilliant colors of Jain and Rajasthani miniatures in its spirited depiction of the Indian countryside. In contrast, F.N. Souza’s more contemplative painting, Man and Woman (1954), draws from his strict Catholic upbringing in the Portuguese colony of Goa. This haunting work offers a portrait of two saint-like figures pierced by the arrows of martyrdom. Meanwhile Ara’s painting, Bharata Natya shows the famous Indian temple dancer Ram Gopal in classical dance pose with a meticulous eye for the natural fluidity of the body, reminiscent of ancient Indian sculpture.
Although the Progressives flourished as a group only briefly, from 1947–56, other artists who joined later and became part of the circle are also represented in Bharat Ratna! by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924–2001), Krishen Khanna, (b. 1925), Ram Kumar (b. 1924), Tyeb Mehta (1925–2009), and Akbar Padamsee (b. 1928). V.S. Gaitonde’s lush tonal landscape Untitled (c. 1970) shows the artist’s attention to the nuances of light, color, and space. His manipulation of multiple thin layers of paint creates a luminous depth of hue. As with many of his contemporaries, Gaitonde was influenced by western art and the works of such leading figures as Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. Ram Kumar abandoned the stylized figure painting characteristic of his early years abroad (studying in Paris) and developed, upon returning home, a spiritual tie to his native landscape. This is evidenced in Untitled (c. 1970), featuring a sweeping array of blues, oranges, greens, and grays. Its drama contrasts with the poignancy of Mehta’s Falling Figure with Bird (c. 1988), which reflects the violence and social upheaval of 1947 witnessed by the artist during his country’s rebirth. In this painting, the bird and human body are frozen in horror as they spiral down from the sky above to the depths below.
The exhibition also includes Untitled (1960) by Avinash Chandra (1931–91), known for his boldly colored, sensually, abstract works reminiscent of mosaics or stained glass. Chandra was a member of the Delhi Silpi Chakra, another progressive collaborative formed by artists in the aftermath of independence and partition who hoped to create a new national culture. In addition, Bharat Ratna! features the painting Munna Appa’s Kitchen (1994) by Arpita Singh (b. 1937), one of her dream-like, densely colored works capturing a magical world where familiar objects assume a life unto themselves around a middle-aged woman. Also showcased is The Tree, the Bird, the Shadow (1981) by Jagdish Swaminathan (1928–94), one of his most famous works, which is part of a visionary series that explores space and landscape. Swaminathan was a founder of Group 1890, which was formed in 1962 to find a contemporary visual vocabulary for Indian art that would offer an alternative to, as he saw it, the east-meets-west hybrid art of the Progressives.
Paintings by Jehangir Sabavala (b. 1922), Kattingeri Krishna Hebbar (1911–1996), Gulam Rasool Santosh (b. 1929), and Ganesh Pyne (b. 1937) are also on view in the exhibition. All 16 works will be featured in a 32-page color publication, which includes essays by Rajiv Chaudhri and Edward Saywell, Chair of Contemporary Art and MFA Programs, and curator of Bharat Ratna!
Rajiv and Payal Chaudhri have generously lent several of their works to the MFA in recent years and have enhanced the Museum’s displays of contemporary art from South Asia. They are Patrons of the MFA, and members of its Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa Visiting Committee. Chaudhri is President of Digital Century, a financial services firm that he founded in 1997. Previously, he was vice president in the investment research department at Goldman, Sachs, where he led its global semiconductor research effort and was a member of the investment strategy committee. Chaudhri started collecting posters of Indian artists when he was 13, later graduating to collecting original art in the early 1990s. He was the founding Chairman of the Indocenter of Art and Culture in New York, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the presentation and support of modern and contemporary art and culture of South Asia, which ran from 2000-2002. Chaudhri received a BA in economics from St. Stephens College, Delhi, followed by an MBA degree from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Payal Chaudhri is a marketing strategy consultant and has been an art patron in New York for more than a decade. She serves on the boards of the Guggenheim International Directors Council, the Asia Society's Chairman's Circle, and the Tate Modern's International Council. Mrs. Chaudhri is also a patron of Art Dubai. She received a BA from Wellesley College in Wellesley, and a MS from New York University.
About Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its encyclopedic collection, which includes an estimated 450,000 objects. The Museum’s collection is made up of: Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 9:45 p.m. General admission (which includes two visits in a 10-day period) is $17 for adults and $15 for seniors and students age 18 and older. Admission for students who are University Members is free, as is admission for children 17 years of age and younger during non-school hours. No general admission fee is required (after 4 p.m.) on Wednesday evenings, although voluntary donations are welcome. Gund Gallery exhibitions, such as Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, are ticketed events that require an additional fee. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For general visitor information, visit the MFA website at mfa.org or call 617.267.9300.