The range of Indian art in this period is suggested by two paintings at the gallery entrance, “Man” by M.F. Husain from 1951 and “The Bombay Buccaneer” by Atul Dodiya from 1994.
The former sets Rodin’s famous “Thinker,” who is a black man in this version, in a setting crowded with human and divine Indian figures.
While Husain’s thinker holds an example of Indian art, in the form of an ancient bas-relief, the painting draws its use of color and composition from modern art.
“It works as a kind of tale about what it’s like to be a creative artist in the new India,” Bean said, “with this swirl of chaotic, conflicting East and West, ancient and modern, divine and mortal, all of these kinds of conflicts and challenges Husain had to work with.”
Dodiya’s work, by contrast, borrows from commercial sources, depicting the artist as a gangster in a movie poster for an Indian action film.
He wears mirror sunglasses with a different figure reflected in each lens: the modern Western artist David Hockney, smoking a cigar, in one and modern Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar in the other.
“They also, each of them in their own way, dealt with this divide between high art and low art,” Bean said. “They were looking to make the ordinary extraordinary in their work.”
In his mixture of commercial and fine art, East and West, Dodiya is like Husain in deploying a wide range references, from across time and cultures, to define the role of a modern Indian artist.
Such “cosmopolitan dialogues” between cultural and historical sources are a central feature of most of the works in the show, Bean said.
To make such dialogues explicit, the exhibit features six “juxtapositions” between an Indian artist and a painter who inspired him or her.