Art is in the eye of the beholder. Proving this is an ongoing exhibition, titled Opaque Emblems, where international and Indian artists, such as, Subodh Gupta, took pre-existing objects and images and recycled them.
In 1917, an artist purchased a ceramic urinal from a hardware store, and placed it upside down on a pedestal while declaring it a work of art. The gentleman was American-French painter-sculptor Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who introduced ‘Readymade’ to the world of art with this act.
Cut to 2018, this act has inspired an ongoing group show in the city, titled Opaque Emblems. On display are works of international and Indian artists such as Subodh Gupta, Dayanita Singh, Isamu Noguchi, Louise Lawler, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. The artists take pre-existing objects and images and recycle them. Take, for instance, the work Cabinet #1 by Atul Dodiya. This wooden cabinet installation is a combination of photographs, sculptures, paintings, and found objects. His ‘cabinets of curiosities’ are part of a larger series titled 7000 museums.
“Unfortunately we don’t have too many museums in India, and the way the works are displayed in the existing museums… the overall scenario is quite pathetic. That’s why I created museums in imaginary places like Jhumri Telaiya,” says Dodiya, while questioning the system of museum categories and how value is ascribed to objects.
Artist Subodh Gupta blurs the lines between sculptures and paintings. He casts mangoes in bronze and then paints them in oils, thus removing any distinction between abstraction and realism. Meanwhile, Dayanita Singh uses photography to show how documenting is done in government offices. Her works ‘Time Measures’ are photographs of bundles of official papers, bound in red cloths that have faded with time. “The technique of ‘recycling’ objects and images to create new artworks has been prominent in Indian art for the past 20 years,” says Peter Nagy, curator of the show.
The commonality in the works of the international artists is the same as that of the Indian artists. Nagy explains, “Louise Lawler has actually used her own most well-known photographs as the source to make these new drawings on vinyls. The works by Isamu Noguchi are his investigations of found objects on his travels to Asia, which subsequently influenced his own sculpture. The photograph of Hiroshi Sugimoto is of a found mechanical object, but directly inspired by the works of Marcel Duchamp.”
So, the next time you see an artwork and find it impossible to gauge what’s so artsy about it, spare a thought for Marcel Duchamp and that urinal!