DAG’s next exhibition promises to be the most ambitious yet

The sculptures of the great Indian mathematician Rabindranath Tagore have always taken due account of the details of his wise demeanor. They have always been respectful of his monumental intellect. But, perhaps, the most fascinating portrait of Tagore was made in 1938 by Ramkinkar Baij, India’s first modernist sculptor. In The Poet (Head of Rabindranath Tagore), Baij carved Tagore with his face askew, hollow and almost emaciated. This was probably Tagore’s first psychological profile as a struggling man.

Baij’s pupil, Shankho Chowdhury, was so in love with the cement sculpture that he cast a similar one in bronze. The poet, in bronze, is now part of the collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi. “The NGMA does not have the original sculpture; we have it, ”says Kishore Singh, renowned art critic and senior vice president of exhibitions and publications at DAG, one of the largest and perhaps richest private art companies in the world. India.

But why wouldn’t the NGMA, the country’s premier headquarters for modern and contemporary Indian art under the Ministry of Culture, present the poet’s original in cement? “They have to have the budget for it. Such works should be acquired by a museum so that they are accessible to the general public, ”Singh explains.

DAG will soon be opening two new galleries at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai. The galleries follow the decommissioning of their Kala Ghoda outpost in 2020. The inaugural exhibition, Iconic Masterpieces of Indian Modern Art, promises to be the most ambitious exhibition ever staged by DAG since its inception in 1993 .

Most of the 50 works, selected for their quality, historicity and rarity over a period of 200 years, will be presented for the first time in India. For example, the original Banner of Peace by Nicholas Roerich. The painting was part of the Roerich Peace Pact signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 to protect monuments, buildings, institutions and cultural objects from acts of desecration in times of war or peace.

There is a work by Tagore himself that would not be familiar to Indian audiences – a dark, abstract portrait of an unknown woman that was painted in London and remained there until its recent acquisition by DAG. The oldest work in the exhibition is a painting “Company” by an anonymous artist from Agra; it captures a riverside view of Agra Fort.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 758-page book which gives a long history of Indian art with contributions from 44 scholars – a kind of documentation which has rarely been undertaken by DAG, supposed to have one of the largest inventories of art and archival material in India. “In terms of the size, scope, stories and scale of the exhibition, we’ve never achieved anything like this before. We create a museum for you, ”Singh says. In this 75th year of Independence, with an exhibition of unprecedented scale, DAG is also carving out a place in the league of icons. “There is no other art company in the country that has the art dissemination that we have,” says Singh.

The final work in the exhibition catalog was cast last year by a prominent 21st-century painter who never made a sculpture in his life. Jogen chowdhuryThe elephant (man) in ‘s – a curious and puzzling exercise in “elephant-human hybridity” – was cast in clay and then sculpted from bronze in Indonesia.

“I find fun playing with shapes,” Chowdhury says, when asked about the extra pair of eyes on Elephant Man’s head. “This sculpture is not to be compared to my previous work.” The sculpture was overseen by Chowdhury, 82, via video conference during the pandemic, reflecting a time when viewing and collecting art moved online.

An excerpt on the sculpture from the catalog:

The elephant (man) in the room

Jogen Chowdhury’s magnum opus, a must-see at just over five feet, is a sculpture that exists at the crossroads of tradition and artistic independence. This is a rare sculpture in the Bengali artist’s career, which spans six decades, and seems to come straight out of the two-dimensional pages of his drawings.

Elephant Man is designed to create the illusion of a flat design when viewed from the front. From this point of view, the viewer sees two eyes, which reinforces this belief. But going around the sculpture, we discover two additional eyes on the back of the character’s head. Asked about this quirk, Chowdhury laughs and talks about the pleasure he found playing with shapes. Like many of his contemporaries, he refrains from revealing much about his work and instead leaves the public to draw their own conclusions.

The figure is seated with the feet bent in the padmasana posture (lotus posture). The legs appear relatively small and frail compared to the four arms, while the torso is intentionally elongated. Elephant-human hybridity is not limited to the head with a proboscis alone. The protruding chest can cause conflict over the character’s gender, but the artist insists on calling him “him” a “man.”

While the four hands are plump and the torso wrinkled and aged, the elephant’s head is abnormally elongated and appears muscular. The four eyes are set back in the head, with strong eyebrows and prominent crow’s feet. Two tusks with blunt ends protrude from the character’s small, almost human-sized mouth. Distorted physicality has long been a hallmark of Chowdhury’s art, which is often projected as satire or social commentary. However, this perception could rather be posed as a critique of preconceived notions of beauty in our society.

[Extracted from The Elephant (Man) in the Room by Shatadeep Maitra, Iconic Masterpieces of Indian Modern Art. The sculpture is part of the inaugural exhibition at DAG, The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai, opening soon.]

James C. Tibbs