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Hidden Gems By Ed Lake
- 11/20/2009            

Valay Shende’s sculpture of a cyclist made entirely of gleaming copper wristwatches is similarly eye-catching, though less rich once you start to decipher it. The bike is laden with lunch boxes in the shape of internal organs; the rider is a delivery man on whose punctuality the stuff of life depends. Only his pose, somehow expressive of momentary confusion or forgetfulness, transcends the too-mechanical symbolism to retain a residue of mystery.

Elsewhere, the show suggests that figurative painting may still be the dominant strand in Indian contemporary art. A few pieces from the sometime Dubai resident MF Husain set the parameters for much of the work here. Folkloric or mythological figures, expressionistic brushwork and a warm palette – the scene changes but the style is reassuringly antique throughout. Still, within this tendency, certain works stand out. Husain’s contributions look, as ever, as if they’re about to elbow their way off the canvas; his Lady on Horse might be Lady Godiva formed out of the flames of a mine explosion. Meanwhile, the Karnatakan painter KK Hebbar’s visions of rural life have a sort of archaic roughness and luminosity that split the difference between Paul Gauguin and Paul Klee – which is to say they are very beautiful indeed.

Also worthy of note, both because it is attractive and because it seems something of a throwback, is Dhruva Mistry’s ALoC: The Object, a skeletal sculpture of a church-like building in stainless steel sheet and wire. It’s graceful in a quaintly constructivist style, the sort of thing Vladimir Tatlin might have dreamed up in 1913. And Jogen Chowdhury’s drawing Man With Flute combines the sensibilities of Egon Schiele and Tove Jansson to wonderfully queasy effect. Its faintly smiling subject, instrument pushed modestly away, belongs on the cover of a study of Freud on introversion.

Despite the preponderance of traditional work, there is much that is unmistakably of the 21st century. Bharti Kher offers Mimic I, a huge mandala-like pattern constructed from bindi spots stuck onto a gold-tinted mirror. Its sleekness and laconicism give it a curiously British flavour, Damien Hirst by way of Anish Kapoor. It’s an island of cold perfection amid the warmth and muddle of much of the exhibition.

Meanwhile, the novelist-turned-artist Sanjeev Khandekar is represented by a piece called Triumph of Market, four marble tiles on which share indexes are picked out in stone marquetry. The images bubble and warp as if seen through some distorting lens, the price fluctuations of this once-exclusive, now vulgarised material imagined as swirls in masonry. Welcome to the present, it seems to say, where old marks of distinction melt away. One way or another that might be the motto for this show, where the styles of more than a century run together.

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