The Rise Of Abstract

An exhibition that gives details of how Rockefeller grant ushered in a huge change among Indian artists during 1960s and 70s, all curated by DAG as An Indo-US Cultural Saga in its Mumbai gallery in Kala Ghoda. The exhibition showcases iconic works of the Indian painters and sculptors who travelled to the US on grants enabled by John D. Rockefeller III’s philanthropic vision, first through the JDR 3rd Fund (1963–1979) and then through the Asian Cultural Council.

As Kishore Singh, Vice-president at DAG explains how 60s and 70s brought impressions of American abstract into Indian art as artists like Krishen Khanna, Bhupen Khakhar, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar, Bal Chhabda, VS Gaitonde traveled to the US through Rockefeller grants and found a new destination to their journey. “Ram Kumar got impressed by the abstract even as he was practicing figurative for of art. On the other hand Tyeb Mehta came back and became much more figurative. Avinash Chandra who was painting abstract of landscape in London those days, got into the abstract oh humanscape. Let’s say they were all on their journey and this whole movement helped them arrive to their destination in terms of ideas, style and approach they embraced to express their work,” he explains.

Paintings and journey of KS Kulkarni is also on display – a lone artist who traveled to New York during 1950s much before the inception of the grant from Rockefeller Foundation.

The late 1970s and 80s post Vietnam war saw a major slowdown in grants due to rising anti-American sentiments. Moreover US interest in Pakistan saw a shift in grants for Indian artists.

The show examines why and how these artists were selected; their relationships with each other and the American art milieu; the impact of the experience on their body of work; and the creation of a community of Rockefeller artists.

The grant benefitted some of India’s most important artists, among them VS Gaitonde, whose work formed the subject of a retrospective at the Guggenheim, New York, in 2013; Tyeb Mehta, one of the most widely collected artists in private and public collections whose seminal work Gesture will be on display; Bhupen Khakhar, who was the subject of a retrospective at Tate Modern in 2016; Natvar Bhavsar, whose works proved to be a major draw at Art Shanghai 2018; Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar, Bal Chhabda and Krishen Khanna, all associates of the then Bombay-based Progressive Artists’ Group. Jyoti Bhatt, KG Subramanyan, AM Davierwala, Avinash Chandra, Arun Bose, Paritosh Sen, KS Kulkarni, Vinod Dave, Bhupen Khakhar and Rekha Rodwittiya were some of the others whose contribution to Indian art practice in the twentieth century has been noteworthy.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 500-page publication. A product of extensive research from the Rockefeller and artists’ archives tells the stories of India’s Rockefeller artists and their art as a testimony to JDR III’s impact on the Indian art landscape.