whitehot | June 2011: Subodh Gupta @ Hauser & Wirth
A glass of water, Subodh Gupta’s first solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth New York, exhibits an unexpected tepid conservatism from the artist who previously has constructed a hut out of bovine fecal matter for the 1997 installation My Mother and Me. After his successful career purportedly centered around iconic composite sculpture and Duchampian ideology, Gupta strains to mimic minimalistic form and, in turn, fails to render a pathos. However Gupta’s glass is not empty, the show finally attracts viewers to Gupta’s mastery of trompe l’oeil oil on canvas paintings that truly save the show. Moreover, A glass of water demonstrates Gupta’s artistic mantra deeming critique upon his art’s audience, not his art.
Born in Khagaul, Patna (1964), and based out of New Dehli, Gupta combated problems that arose from his diaspora. In the end, his culture and his reaction to modernity coalesced into a creative force. Materialism manifested into coveted objects, any object. Ordeal ignited. Gupta’s structures accrued additional indigenous icons, and collectors began to prey. Ergo early on Gupta gained success as an optimistic Duchamp; he realized the beauty of a found object rather than displaced a urinal to question art’s authenticity. His oeuvre expanded adding gallery-sized installations and towering repetitive patterns.
Notably, the art world falsely accuses Gupta, who incorporates found object into art, as a carbon-copy Duchamp; rather, Gupta draws first-world viewers into performing the notion of “indigence” that has grown from nomadic peoples who continue roam the Indian landscape. Gupta juxtaposes vital Indian material with first-world garbage and exposes the blurring definition between the two ideas. For instance, Gupta's dung hut from 1997, in so far as physically bull’s shit, acts as a portrayal of legitimate Indian housing architecture, under which much of the world still dwells. Gupta’s art draws from a reality deeply holistic to those whom participate. In contrast, the very real structure totally shocks and imbalances world views of those who find shelter in “First World” territory.
Accordingly, the context of A glass of water teeters between global desire and necessary restraint. Gupta’s choices of medium and subject matter remain akin to his previous work: Indian metals with a focus on culinary furnishing; portrayal of his bifurcated view of the world. Yet as Gupta matures, he releases his grasps on materials.
Two binary installations revolve around each other. Gupta literally pours a tall drink of water, places the stainless steal bumper on a lifeless wooden table to complete his work A glass of water (2011). The alter ego liners across the empty gallery space; Atta (2011) features a lump of painted-bronze dough sprinkled with flour on a similar table. Both stay still in place.
Gupta connotes disconnection between viewer and object, but the artist cannot execute necessary artistic detachment. Flaccid sculptural shapes comprise Otterness-like over-exaggerated and simplified metallic sculptures. The free-standing works appear rather pathetic separated, as if they were meant for an amusement park.
Considering the strength of New York’s spring art market, Gupta’s stylistic departure remains a bit of mystery. One may recall that he is referred to as the “The Damien Hirst of Delhi” due to a quote from The Guardian (20 February 2007). After Hirst’s 2008 auction fiasco, Gupta may be shifting from ostentatious monumental sculpture to less conspicuous and visually-stimulating canvases. Full Moon (2011), which exhibits Gupta’s skill along with conceptual index, is a safe contemporary-art investment in a Bull Market—relative to a perishable full gallery installation.
Gupta creates visual hyperboles with words of recycled Indian material and First World trash. First World throws trash on other soils; Third World citizens reuse and incorporate said trash; and Gupta reuses and sells art for high price, in turn problematizing the viewer’s notions of dung, forks, water. Gupta points out numerous locations where trash ends up, figuratively and physically. Gupta demands that an object is viewed at every angle and is considered for every purpose such as brick for shelter, icon for worship or utensil for feeding.
Clearly, Gupta is up to something. His contextual discourse is pervasive because Gupta never strays from the topic. Although Gupta attempts to lobby an extraordinary social theory, he is obliged to formally back up his idea as an artist. Unfortunately, A glass of water lacks conceptual depth and the works wade in shallow context. At least, there isn’t enough water to drown.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief