"Husain, Padamsee and Raza spread Indian art around the world"
Four years after finishing her PhD in Indian art in Mumbai, American curator Beth Citron was in the city to present a special lecture on Modernism in Indian art at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum. In a chat with Hassan M Kamal, Citron speaks about India's modernist masters. Excerpts from the interview
When did Modernism enter the Indian art scape?
It is difficult to ascertain exactly when “modernism” started in India, but I can certainly point to examples of modern trends and ideas from the early 20th century. One can look at works by Nandalal Bose from that period, and see his experimentation with multiple styles and mediums as evidence of modernism’s roots taking shape in India; also, Jamini Roy’s early creation of a workshop that produced works bearing his name is something that would be later associated with modernism when Andy Warhol attempted the same in New York. After Independence, there was a sustained discourse among artists and critics that led to a flourishing modern movement.
As a curator, what aspects fascinate you most about Indian modernist art?
I am particularly interested in the ways in which artists experimented with abstraction in painting and other mediums (including film), with instances of Pop art in the late 1960s-early 70s through Bhupen Khakhar and Vivan Sundaram’s work, and with the proliferation of landscape by many artists as they travelled throughout India.
Post Independence, how much would you credit Indian artists like MF Husain, SH Raza and Akbar Padamsee, among others, in taking Indian art around the world?
Husain, Padamsee, and Raza are great examples of artists who spread Indian art around the world at early stages. Husain participated in the Sao Paolo Biennale pretty early on, Padamsee lived in Paris and then in the US, and Raza spent most of his career in Paris. So, there are very direct ways in which these artists — among others — had an impact on international art worlds.
Speaking of Modernism in India, what was the role of foreign galleries, curators and artists in popularising Modern masters? Do you see this influence active today?
There’s been an important interplay between foreign players and the Indian art community from early on. Great gallerist late Kekoo Gandhy would often talk about European expatriates who were critical to his formation of Chemould, and Chester and Davida Herwitz from Worcester Massachusetts came to India every year. They were among the biggest supporters of Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Bhupen Khakhar and others. Today, there is a lot of global exchange between local and foreign artists, curators, galleries and institutions.