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Indian Art Scene

Krishna Chaitanya

By Geeta Kapur
Vikas, New Delhi, 1978, 225 and 72 black and white plates, 75.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 6 November-December 1977

When, during the first half of this century, art surrendered to a revivalist ethos because a subject people had to cling to memories of past greatness to forget their current humiliation, art criticism mostly amounted to singing the greatness of the legend, poetry or epoch of which the paintings were illustrations. Later, when the windows of the country were flung open to the winds from every­where—as Gandhi wanted, but forget­ting his caution that we should not be swept off our feet—art criticism be­came polarized, some defending a mis­understood traditionalism with all their might, others upholding an equally mis­understood cosmopolitanism. The dust seems to be settling now. And in this book by Geeta Kapur, cri­ticism has become professionally mature, a serious enterprise to which the critic comes equipped with thorough ground­ing in aesthetics and art history and with patient research on the personal data and the inner evolution of the artists. But sophistication, occasionally amounting to unconscious sophistry, can be found in all professional advocacy; words mean a lot, perhaps much more than the image, in modern art as Tom Wolfe showed in his devastating expose in Harp’s; therefore occasionally we have to be as wary of what Geeta Kapur says as she herself generally is with res­pect to the masks and pontifications of the artists themselves. What could have been a major error in perspective, in focusing the sights on the Indian art scene—but has not, luckily, led to much misreading because Geeta Kapur's essential sanity asserts itself—is her belief that vanguardism is not likely to make sound progress in India because ‘an aggressive conquista­dor attitude is by and large alien to Indians.’ One may agree that vanguar­dism of authentic quality may make a very shaky progress here. But the rea­son seems to be the exact reverse of what she believes it to be. It is utterly naive not to recognize that the art front has become fully politicalized now; the Establishment here has become the arena of fierce battles between pressure groups; no Triennale has been free of serious trouble. And when India has the dubious distinction of being the only country where Commissioners who select works for national and international competitions have fought for and won the right to compete for prizes, our artists cannot be said to be lacking in aggres­...

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