An ode to pioneers of modern art

A water-colour painting depicting the infamous man-made famine of 1943 in Bengal adorns a wall at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) while a bronze sculpture head of Hindustani classical vocalist Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan gets an appreciative gaze from visitors. Art couldn’t be more diverse under one roof.

A sculpture depicting a woman’s head by Sarbari Roy Choudhury

Over the next one month, art aficionados can admire paintings by Gopal Ghose, one of the pioneers of modern Indian art, as well as ruminate over the sculptures of famed sculptors Prodosh Das Gupta and Sarbari Roy Choudhury at the NGMA in Kala Ghoda. As part of two shows -- A Jubiliant Quest for the Chromatic and Contours and Volumes organised by the Ministry of Culture, Akar Prakar art gallery and Piramal Foundation for the Arts, viewers can see as many as 150 paintings and 85 sculptures which have been sourced from collectors across the country.

Gopal Ghose’s untitled work on mixed media

To commemorate the centenary year of sculptor Prodosh Das Gupta and the 80th year of Sarbari Roy Choudhury in 2012, Contours and Volumes -- a landmark exhibition featuring over 100 specimens of their works -- was showcased for the first time at the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi. This show now travels to NGMA.

“As a gallery, we feel the urgency to bring into focus the hard work and efforts of artists such as Gopal Ghose. We want to make the younger generation aware of these artistes who have shaped modern Indian art. We wanted to showcase the best works of all the three artistes from each decade.

We sought the help of the artistes’ families to get a perspective about their works. It took us three years to curate these exhibitions,” says Reena Lath, the show’s principal coordinator and one of the directors of Akar Prakar.

Ghose was associated with Calcutta Group of artists that is touted as the first artists’ collective in the country. The members of the group did not subscribe to a common stylistic conformity but felt the need to depict the current affairs of that time through diverse mediums and myriad hues.

“Ghose was an avant-garde artist who mastered the unpredictable medium of watercolour, apart from being proficient in diverse media such as tempera, pen and ink and pastel. Ghose continues to dominate the pioneering spirit in modern Indian art,” says Pheroza Godrej, chairperson, advisory committee for NGMA.

The bronze sculptures range across a variety of dimensions from classical human-figure sculptures as in Das Gupta’s Surya Mukhi to that of table-sized formats in the works of Roy Choudhury. The duo examines the tenets of academic realism, cubism and abstraction, are examined through sculptural creations.

While the human body form is representative of humane values and love in the works of Das Gupta, in the musically- inspired works of Roy Choudhury, such as the bronze head of Ustad BadeGulam Ali Khan, one can discern a sculptural ability of depicting music visually.

On the relatively smaller format of the majority of the works, Lath says, “These works, though visually small, reveal a great profundity. They are intimate works with great monumentality Also, we chose Das Gupta and Roy Choudhury as the former is the mentor of the latter. By showcasing their creations, we wanted to give viewers a perspective about how art and sculpture has evolved in the country over the years.”

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