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  Absolutely nothing

Absolutely nothing

Published : Mar 20, 2013, 10:28 pm IST
Updated : Mar 20, 2013, 10:28 pm IST

For those looking for a coherent lesson on abstract art, Nothing Is Absolute, at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, Mumbai, is an eye-opener. The exhibition, which has been curated by artist Mehlli Gobhai and poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, proposes an unorthodox account of the diverse strands that form the history of abstract art. The collection of artworks has evolved from an ongoing conversation, over two decades, between Mehlli and Ranjit.

For those looking for a coherent lesson on abstract art, Nothing Is Absolute, at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, Mumbai, is an eye-opener. The exhibition, which has been curated by artist Mehlli Gobhai and poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, proposes an unorthodox account of the diverse strands that form the history of abstract art. The collection of artworks has evolved from an ongoing conversation, over two decades, between Mehlli and Ranjit. Ranjit says, “Abstraction is a radical strategy. It is not something that can be expressed in words. In fact, it refuses to follow a naturalistic set up. It’s a rejection of language. The aim of abstraction is to rest an image out of its worldly context. Through this exhibition, we plan to get a universe of artworks together and let people experience and find out its meaning.” Nothing Is Absolute does not offer a simple textbook history of abstract art. Instead, it juxtaposes the multiple histories of the idiom. The references go back to the early 20th century expressions of Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian, as well as the post-World War II works of the American abstract expressionists Rothko, Newman, Pollock and Still, and the post-colonial flowering of abstraction in various Indian centres. At the core of the exhibition are 28 paintings drawn from the Jehangir Nicholson collection, which represent India’s most celebrated practitioners of abstraction such as VS Gaitonde, SH Raza, Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee, Laxman Shreshtha, Prabhakar Kolte, J Swaminathan, Laxman Pai, and Mehlli Gobhai. Mehlli says, “I believe this is the right time for Indian art enthusiasts to be exposed to the world of abstraction. These are turbulent times we are living in. We need tranquillity in all the political turmoil we are caught up in. To understand abstraction, one does not need to read books or refer to anything. All you need is the feeling of it being just right. A tree trunk can be made meaningful with human touch. When vermilion is applied, it becomes a symbol of God.” The exhibition pushes back the chronological horizons of abstraction by linking together ancient sources of inspiration, medieval objects and modern art-works. It speaks simultaneously to several audiences, since it presents a constellation of diverse artifacts. Among these are everyday objects from Mehlli’s collection, 17th century Islamic tiles from the CSMVS collection, Vidya Kamat’s photographic research documentation of wayside shrines in Mumbai, and yantras drawn from private collections.