When Sonia Amma Came...

(first published in Feb 2009 for Art Concerns e-Mag)

I'm sure she needs her privacy. Can you imagine how the difficult it is for her to have some peace and quiet, hounded as she is like a rockstar? A silent walkabout in a gallery, which is what most of us do around art, can be unthinkable for the most powerful woman in the country. So I can well understand why we were all shut out of the NGMA as UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi enjoyed (or did she?) walking about the art works in a newly opened wing. This project, incidentally, was in the pipeline for 26 years which is about five more years than it took to build the Taj Mahal (in Agra!!). My desire to know what she felt about the new wing of the National Gallery of Modern Art will probably remain unfulfilled, unless I switch to political reporting and ask her off the record. Or a much better idea would be to ask my boss Rajdeep Sardesai to do me that favour.

As for what I thought about the new wing… I just wish there weren’t so many fluorescent tubes throwing light (literally) on the works. Am afraid that’s how far I am willing to go in my eloquent critique of the new wing. Because for me the element of lighting is crucial to the experience of appreciating art. There’s of course, no doubt that the NGMA’s collection of art is beyond compare but as it is only its exteriors that make it seem like a deserving repository of the country’s contemporary art. I would personally recommend Devi Art Foundation which is run by Anupam Poddar, who is our very own Charles Saatchi.

It has been an eventful month in art or rather an eventful opening to the year. The big jolt was the case of the Raza fakes. The great man has so much to say on India, her soul, her simplicity, her philosophy but never anything on the art market here. He’s consciously stayed away from that topic. The recent disaster at Dhoomimal forced him to admit that his fakes are floating around only because his works now fetch an astronomical price. Dhoomimal may not directly be at fault but it’s about time both our artists and our gallerists grew up and smelled the (different flavours of) coffee.

The same can also be said about how we do TV. A television studio can be a very harsh place. While taking a soundbyte, you can just about fit 20 seconds of what the person is saying.... I remember having twice interviewed S.H. Raza for two different stories that had to be chopped from the final edit because his audio in a crowded place was either too low or too long to be carried in a report that cannot go beyond a minute and 40 seconds. It’s interesting how some TV producers apply the same logic for art and feature stories, forgetting that artists unlike politicians don’t speak through their hat, especially so when they’re talking about their work. I remember former Prime Minister Vajpayee stretching a 20 seconds sentence to 2 minutes… some people are just more equal! It was nice to see the same producers speechless when I told them I had Raza on record saying that his works at the Dhoomimal show were fakes. The sound-byte lasted well over 25 seconds but this was hard news that no one could deny.

The beginning of the year is also about shooting art calendars that viewers can buy. One doesn’t have hot models pouting and posing for an art calendar a la Kingfisher or Pirelli... these are simple art calendars with prints of beautiful paintings. But shooting a story around calendars can be challenging. Shooting them by flipping through the pages is very boring. So in one of my calendar shoots, I took the calendars outdoor, in real locations. Paresh Maity’s Kerala calendar was shot in a boat in a pond. Sudip Roy’s naked women celebrating natural beauty were shot among flowers. And that extra work worked wonders for the story. While still on the subject I highly recommend this year’s calendar by Red Earth.


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