The 50th anniversary of the NGMA opened with the first part of an exhibition entitled ‘Signposts of the Times’ curated by the director of the gallery, Dr Rajiv Lochan. The opening saw a remarkable clash of views in the speeches of minister of culture Jaipal Reddy and President APJ Abdul Kalam. While the minister quoted the fascist aesthetician of Mussolim’s Italy, Croce, that works of art were beyond history, the President pointed out the close relation of a work of art and history, giving the example of a sculpture of Amarnath Sehgal that is at Nelson Mandela’s former island prison in South Africa. Needless to say, the President’s speech made far more sense than that of the minister of culture.
Quoting a “backbone phrase” from a fascist theorist does not augur well for our cultural future, especially in the present circumstances when the ‘detoxification’ of state institutions being eaten up by cultural white ants is a must.
Here, I am not concerned so much with the political importance of this process as with its economic necessity for the art market. Time and again, we have been pointing out in this column that the best investment in art all over the world is in contemporary art that evolved in different centres at the same time. This contemporary art was against imperial diktats and certainly against fascist aesthetics which branded everyone from Paul Klee to Picasso as “degenerate art.”
If we begin to ape this aesthetic, then we will lose our growingly important position among the trends in the global contemporary art market today. And we have every chance of doing so, as in our past too, there is considerable confusion among our most sincere patriots regarding the basically anti-people and objectively slavish features of fascism. That is why a patriot like Subhas Bose found himself seeking help from Hitler and Tojo during World War II. Here nothing is black and white. And we have only greys to choose from. This makes it difficult to tell the flowers from the weeds.
In art, unlike politics, once a work is painted one cannot go back on it. It enters the time continuum as an independent entity. So we have to be that much more careful of its validity. Ravi Varma’s work is a good example of this problem. Theoretically, it is well within the stylistic framework of Colonial art, a number of British governors having exhorted