There is a new bartan-walla (utensil seller) from the backyards of Patna who is 'wow'-ing international art curators and collectors from Paris to Singapore. With his amazingly imaginative sculptural forms of human skulls and UFOs- made of kitchen utensils- being snapped up by serious European collectors like Pierre Huber (the visionary Geneva gallerist and collector), Francois Pinault (who owns Gucci, Balenciaga and the Christie’s besides other brands) and Bernard Arnauld (of LVMH, the group that owns Luis Vuitton among other businesses), Subodh Gupta, 43, is making making a niche for himself and for Indian Art in spaces where few Indian artists have made a dent in the past.
“He is quite fantastic and hugely desirable. As Husain was the ambassador of Indian art abroad in the 1960s and ’70s, today it is Subodh who is the new face of Indian art globally,” says Sharmishtha Ray, manager of the Bodhi Art gallery in Mumbai, where Gupta’s latest offerings are on view till the end of the month. More significantly, Gupta is appealing not to the expected crowd of Indophiles and orientalists (they are in fact a bit bewildered by his sudden success) in the west but mainstream museums, galleries and art fairs where few Indians, including Husain, have tread before.
Gupta’s work these days is all about surprise and scale: Huge monumental works that inspire awe while evoking amazement. His current show in Mumbai, for example, has only four objects- the UFO (uran khatola) made of brass lotas (common Indian water vessel) some four metres across in diameter, a simple “door-to-nowhere” cast in brass, a corner piece collage of steel utensils and his piece de resistance, the ‘tiffin-box sushi belt’. “I love food and I cook it too… in a manner of speaking I use utensils as a metaphor for food and the way it has travelled across cultures and countries in my work,” says Gupta. Interestingly, the fundamental concept of rasa (essence, juice, mood) in Indian aesthetics is food-inspired too. His earlier works have been made of milk cans and buckets, some of them GIANT milk cans and towers of buckets rising high into the sky.
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