Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ARTICLE 1369 - How to View Art: Be Dead Serious, But Expect Not Too Much

Photos by Vinod Dave
Article by Philip Kennicott  for The Washington Post

Photographs in this post document confused reactions of a museum audience in front of art works that are not of a representative nature.  People visit museums regardless of their interest/non-interest in art as it is a symbol of cultivated taste.  Visitors to a museum of representational art could pass their pretense for real interest, but concealing bewilderment in a modern art museum is not easy. A sizable number of people do not have a clue of what they are looking at when it comes to modern/contemporary art. Their body language proves that.  And for a really amusing pastime, try to overhear their comments on art.

These images explore this long observed phenomenon.  In order not to plainly document this, a deliberate imagery was created with black & white slow exposures to simplify and center the idea by blurring the moving subjects - the blur symbolizing the perplexity.  The Museum of Modern Art in New York is an obvious and effective venue for this - though not the building. Ironically, the MoMA architecture is not symbolic of the art collection it houses. So the most recognizable works that can stand for the museum were incorporated.


1. Take time
The biggest challenge when visiting an art museum is to disengage from our distracted selves. The pervasive, relentless, all-consuming power of time is the enemy. If you are thinking about where you have to be next, what you have left undone, what you could be doing instead of standing in front of art, there is no hope that anything significant will happen. But to disengage from time has become extraordinarily complicated. We are addicted to devices that remind us of the presence of time, cellphones and watches among them, but cameras too, because the camera has become a crutch to memory, and memory is our only defense against the loss of time.
The raging debate today about whether to allow the taking of pictures inside the museum usually hinges on whether the act of photographing is intrusive or disruptive to other visitors; more important, the act is fundamentally disruptive to the photographer’s experience of art, which is always fleeting. So leave all your devices behind. And never, ever make plans for what to do later in a museum; if you overhear people making plans for supper, drinks or when to relieve the baby sitter, give them a sharp, baleful look.
Some practical advice: If you go an hour before closing time, you won’t have to worry about what time it is. Just wait until the guards kick you out. Also: If you have only an hour, visit only one room. Anything that makes you feel rushed, or compelled to move quickly, will reengage you with the sense of busy-ness that defines ordinary life. This is another reason that entrance fees are so pernicious: They make visitors mentally “meter” the experience, straining to get the most out of it, and thus re-inscribe it in the workaday world where time is money, and money is everything.

2. Seek silence
Always avoid noise, because noise isn’t just distracting, it makes us hate other people. If you’re thinking about the mind-numbing banality of the person next to you, there’s little hope that you will be receptive to art. In a museum, imagine that you have a magnetic repulsion to everyone else. Move toward empty space. Indulge your misanthropy.
That’s not always easy. Too many museums have become exceptionally noisy, and in some cases that’s by design. When it comes to science and history museums, noise is often equated with visitor engagement, a sign that people are enjoying the experience. In art museums, noise isn’t just a question of bad manners but a result of the celebrity status of certain artworks, such as the Mona Lisa, which attracts vast and inevitably tumultuous throngs of visitors to the Louvre. But any picture that attracts hordes of people has long since died, a victim of its own renown, its aura dissipated, its meaning lost in heaps of platitudes and cant. Say a prayer for its soul and move on.
Seek, rather, some quiet corner of the museum full of things no one else seems to care about. Art that is generally regarded as insipid (19th-century American genre paintings) or hermetic (religious icons from the Byzantine world) is likely to feel very lonely, and its loneliness will make it generous. It may be poor, but it will offer you everything it has.

3. Study up
One of the most deceptive promises made by our stewards of culture over the past half century is: You don’t need to know anything to enjoy art. This is true only in the most limited sense. Yes, art can speak to us even in our ignorance. But there’s a far more powerful truth: Our response to art is directly proportional to our knowledge of it. In this sense, art is the opposite of popular entertainment, which becomes more insipid with greater familiarity.
So study up. Even 10 minutes on Wikipedia can help orient you and fundamentally transform the experience. Better yet, read the old cranks of art history, especially the ones who knew how to write and have now become unfashionable (Kenneth Clark, Ernst Gombrich). When visiting special exhibitions, always read the catalogue, or at least the main catalogue essay. If you can’t afford the catalogue, read it in the gift shop.
Rules for the gift shop: Never buy anything that isn’t a book; never “save time” for the gift shop because this will make you think about time; never take children, because they will associate art with commerce.

Many museums have public education programs, including tours through the galleries with trained docents. Always shadow a docent tour before joining one. If the guide spends all his or her time asking questions rather than explaining art and imparting knowledge, do not waste your time. These faux-Socratic dialogues are premised on the fallacy that all opinions about art are equally valid and that learning from authority is somehow oppressive. You wouldn’t learn to ski from someone who professed indifference to form and technique, so don’t waste your time with educators who indulge the time-wasting sham of endless questions about what you are feeling and thinking.

4. Engage memory
The experience of art is ephemeral, and on one level we have to accept that. But beyond the subjective experience, art is also something to be studied and debated. Unfortunately, unlike most things we study and debate, art is difficult to summarize and describe. Without a verbal description of what you have seen, you may feel as if nothing happened during your visit. You may even feel you can’t remember anything about it, as if it was just a wash of images with nothing to hold on to.
But even if the actual experience of art is difficult to retain and remember, the names of the artists, the countries in which they worked, the years they lived and were active, and a host of other things are easily committed to memory. Some museum educators, who know these things, will tell you this kind of detail doesn’t matter; they are lying. Always try to remember the name of and at least one work by an artist whom you didn’t know before walking into the museum.
When trying to remember individual art works, make an effort to give yourself a verbal description of them. Perhaps write it in a notebook. The process of giving a verbal description will make details of the work more tangible, and will force you to look more deeply and confront your own entrenched blindness toward art. If your description feels cliched, then go back again and again until you have said something that seems more substantial. If all else fails, simply commit the visual details of the work to memory, its subject matter, or general color scheme, or surface texture. Turn away from the work and try to remember it; turn back and check your mental image against the work itself. This isn’t fun. In fact, it can be exhausting. That means you’re making progress in the fight against oblivion.

5. Accept contradiction
Art must have some utopian ambition, must seek to make the world better, must engage with injustice and misery; art has no other mission than to express visual ideas in its own self-sufficient language. As one art lover supposedly said to another: Monet, Manet, both are correct.
Susan Sontag once argued “against interpretation” and in favor of a more immediate, more sensual, more purely subjective response to art; but others argue, just as validly, that art is part of culture and embodies a wide range of cultural meanings and that our job is to ferret them out. Again, both are correct.
The experience of art always enmires us in contradictions. I loathe figurative contemporary art except when I don’t; ditto on abstraction. When looking at a painting, it’s often useful to try believing two wildly contradictory things: That it is just an object, and an everyday sort of object; and that it is a phenomenally radical expression of human subjectivity. Both are correct.
Art is inspiring and depressing, it excites and enervates us, it makes us more generous and more selfish. A love-hate relationship with an artist, or a great work of art, is often the most intense and lasting of all relationships. After years of spending time in art museums, I’ve come to accept that I believe wildly contradictory and incompatible things about art. The usual cliche about this realization would be that by forcing us to confront contradiction, art makes us more human. But never trust anyone who says that last part: “art makes us more human.” That’s meaningless.
Rather, by forcing us to confront contradiction, art makes us ridiculous, exposes our pathetic attempts to make sense of experience, reveals the fault lines of our incredibly faulty knowledge of ourselves and the world. It is nasty, dangerous stuff, and not to be trifled with.
Some practical advice: If you feel better about yourself when you leave a museum, you’re probably doing it all wrong.
Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.                                                                

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

ARTICLE 1368 - Ranikot - in the Middle of Nowhere, Defending Nothing

Ranikot Fort also known as ‘The Great wall of Sindh’ is thought to be the world’s largest fort. But who built it and for what purpose? These unanswered questions baffle us all.

“The size of Ranikot defies all reasons. It stands in the middle of nowhere, defending nothing,” writes Isobel Shaw. Ranikot, with a circumference of about 26 km, is the largest fort in the world. However, this has not been enough to convince the authorities to develop it as a major tourist attraction.

This fort is easily accessible from Karachi through the National Highway. After departing from Karachi and passing, head to Dadu through on the Indus Highway. The road is in excellent condition. It's an hour-long journey to San, the home of Sindhi nationalist, GM Syed. A little further from the town there comes a diversion. A rusty board announces that Ranikot is some thirty km away. Even though the road is in pathetic condition, the distance can be covered in 30 to 40 minutes.

You will reach the eastern side of the fort through this road and the passage is known as “Sann Gate”. The walls here are in better condition. Climb up on both sides as it offers a panoramic view of the landscape. The metal road twists and turns and takes you to “Meeri”, a small fortress within the fort housing the royal quarters. From there, one can see “Shergarh”, another fortress, up in the mountain. Visiting Mohan Gate is a must. You have to drive first from the diversion leading to Meeri and after couple of kilometers, abandon the car and take a walk on a treacherous path.

The passage takes one through canyons and you can take a dip here and there in the rain-stream which also is a life line to the gabol villagers residing inside the fort. After a three or four km walk, you will reach ‘paryun jo talao’, ‘the pond of fairies’. The pond is quite deep in few places and the stones surrounding it are quite slippery so watch your step. Take a dip in the pond and head to Mohan Gate. Stick to the route used by resident pedestrian. After couple of kilometers, you will reach the gate. The rain stream disappears here. It is connected with other reservoirs through tunnels. Villagers say that the flow of waters has increased after some seismic activity in the region. Scattered animal skeletons and prehistoric fossils are rumored be found here and there. The local guide Sadiq Gabol can show you one or two in his office.
And now the million dollar question. Is it safe for a Karachi Walla to visit the fort? Are there bandits in the area? The answer is quite complex. We saw families, Karachites and goras. Locals insist that its safe. But there are no guarantees. Police is nowhere to be seen. But on the positive side, you can visit it and come back in a single day (you can’t cover Shergarh though). Go there early morning, spend the noon there and get back to Hyderabad before sunset. Hope it will be safe and promising.
-Farooq Soomro for Dawn

Sunday, October 05, 2014

ARTICLE 1367 - A Museum's Battle for Survival

SPS Museum is housed in a 18th century heritage building, built on the left bank of river Jhelum at Lal Mandi in Srinagar city, exhibits a fine collection of objects of historical importance. There is a rich collection of ancient coins, terracottas, paintings, textiles, old arms and armoury, stuffed birds and animals, manuscripts and decorative art items. The museum also houses beautiful stone sculptures and silver images of deities recovered from different sites in Kashmir. Most of the images belong to Hindu religion but those belonging to Buddhist faith are also good in number. The collection goes back to 2nd century AD to the 15th century AD and depicts different cultural developments of the state. A good collection of the jade as well as copper and brass handicrafts of Leh, Skardu and Tibet are worth seeing in the museum and add to its glory.
The history of the museum goes back to 18th century when on 3rd March, 1889 AD , the 2nd assistant to Rident captian S.H. Godfray and Raja Amar Singh submitted a proposal to Maharaja Pratap Singh regarding establishment of a museum in Srinagar to collect, preserve, conserve and exhibit antiquities of Jammu and Kashmir. The proposal was accepted with utmost esteem by Maharaja. He temporarily selected his summer resort building, built in 1872 AD on the left bank of river Jhelum, for the museum. The building still stands there and houses SPS museum. Initially, a small collection of objects were received by the museum through donations and by transfer from the state Toshkhana in Jammu and Srinagar. The museum was then opened in the year 1898 AD under the title ‘Sir Pratap Singh Museum Srinagar.’ It is also known as ‘Ajaib Ghar.’
The museum was very poor in collection till 1913 AD, but soon received a fillip due to efforts of archaeologist Daya Ram Sahni, who carried excavation at the ancient sites of Pandrenthan, Parihaspora and Avantipora and recovered some stone sculptures which form the prestigious collection of the museum. Mr. Roa Bahadur and Pt. Ram Chandra Kak, superintendent state archaeology department in 1921, also contributed much to the museum. The museum houses rich, rare and priceless collections but battles for protecting its antiquities due to various reasons. The single-storey museum building lacks space for displaying maximum objects. About 65% of objects had been stored due to inadequate space for their display where only 35% collections find place in the museum. With no electricity, the galleries of the museum are nothing but dark rooms. Apart from this problem, lack of proper maintenance could be easily seen as maximum objects of museum collection are in dilapidated conditions and bear dust. The museum lost completely one of its important gallery ‘children’s corner’ where ‘mineral gallery’ has been closed, painting section is locked and some other galleries are gradually fading.
Looking at the condition of the museum, the then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad took an initiative to preserve this important treasure from decaying and started construction of new museum complex on modern lines in 2007. He had set a precondition that he would only lay foundation stone on completion of the building structure. The multi storey building came up in a record six months just adjacent to the site where the present museum stands now. Finally, Azad laid its foundation stone on March 20, 2008 and set one year deadline for its completion. However, the building is yet to made functional despite missing deadlines during past four years. This delay in completion has not only hampered the shifting of museum from old building to new one but also has made the museum’s betterment a pipe dream.
There are presently ten galleries in the SPS Museum which includes archaeology, painting, natural history, numismatic, manuscript, anthropology, textile, arms and armoury, decorative art and an open air archaeology gallery. The museum is not merely a showplace but also a centre of education. Scholars visit here to conduct research on living standards, culture, tradition and religion of various ruling dynasties. The museum is a vital link between the past and the present and a great source of inspiration for every visitor. However, the condition of the objects in the museum creates an impression on everyone’s mind regarding survival of this historical treasure. The precious collections of the museum are losing sheen due to dilapidated conditions of the galleries, lack of concern and proper maintenance.
Archaeology gallery
The archaeology section of the museum houses the most prestigious collection of our culture heritage. The objects kept in this section are complete and fragmentary stone sculptures, pottery and metallic objects, silver and clay images, terracotta tiles and bronzes.The section represents the collection recovered during excavation from sites like Hionar Ladoora(Phalgham), Hutmurah(Mattan), Bijbehara, Verinaga, Harwan, Pandrenthan, Gopkar, Soura, Ushkar, Parihaspora, Avantipora, Shopian and Khurhama. The collection is datable from 2nd century to 14th century.
The gallery displays rare collection of sculptures among which stone image of three headed Shiva seated cross legged where Ganga in swimming pose over his head, stone image of single headed- four armed Vishnu riding on Garuda with goddess Lakshami in his lap, standing stone image of goddess Indrani holding rosary lotus and weapon vajera in her hands, images of standing two armed Parvati and four armed Ganga in tribhanghe pose, stone image of Buddha in Dhyan-mudra, bronze image of Buddhisttava seated on lotus throne, brass image of seated Durga holding sun, moon, trident and vessel in her four arms, one brass frame with twenty three incarnations of Vishnu(one missing) and stone image of six armed Kartikeya with a peacock are worth seeing.
There are some other fascinating objects displayed in the gallery which includes stone images of goddess Indrani, Brama, Yaksha, Surya, Avalokitesvera, Shiva lingam,Ardeveshvare, Lakshmi-Narayan, goddess Kankali, Buddha, Bhairava, Chamunda, miniature temple of 9th century , fossil of elephant head more than 10,000 year old and earthen-ware. The terracotta tiles bearing Arabic script regarding digging of well at Shakergarh in 1965AD, Persian script regarding reconstruction of bridge at Banihal by King Jehangir, Sharda script about repairing of spring at Kuthair by Sultan Shab-ud-Din, votive stupa terracotta, tiles bearing hunting scenes and depicting fauna and flora of Kashmir, clay images and few tools are some note worthy collections in this gallery.
However, delay in completion of the new building has hampered their shifting. Sources said the invaluable artifacts are presently kept in a haphazard manner due to lack of proper space in Old Museum Building.
Natural history gallery
This gallery exhibits showcase of Indian wildlife. The section is found in total darkness without electricity and complete disarray. There are glass cases of stuffed birds and animals, eggs and insects. Bear, baby snow leopard, snow leopard, tiger ,tigress, marmot, Tibetan marmot, grey cat, ring tail, snow cat, king fox, golden fox, weasel, chimpanzee etc. are some animals on display. The gallery also exhibits different kinds of birds which included blue headed rock thrush, white throated laughing thrush, black & yellow gross beak, blue pigeon, golden oriole, Himalayan barbet, jungle crow, raven crow, rock crow, hawks, brown headed falcon, partridge, gadwall, mallard, jack snipe, wood owl, peacock, kingfisher, European roller, ram chakoor, four legged chicken, rat snake and pit viper. The bones and tusks of wholly mammoth dating back 10,000 years besides models of stag and shark are also found in this section.
Painting gallery
The painting section exhibits some beautiful paintings are presently kept in haphazard manner due to lack of proper space. The gallery which remains locked most of the time for no reason displays a unique set of exquisite paintings made in Rajasthani, Kangra , Basohli , Jammu, Kashmiri and Pehari styles. The section exhibits grand and simple portraits of Maharaja Ranbir Singh and his sons-Raja Sir Ram Singh and Raja Amar Singh besides General Boj Singh. The paintings displayed in this section depicting some scenes of the story of Krishna and Sudhama, Krishna and Radha, the marriage of Krishna, the Krishna cult, some Nayakas ladies at toilet etc. Another set of paintings show some Nayaka, Nayikas, Hindu goddess and Rasmanjiri series based on ‘ Bano Datta’s Rasmanjari of 14th century AD, a treatise on “Rasa” on the flavour of love and deals with Nayaka-Nayika bheda, the poetic themes of Ramayana and Bhagwat Gita etc. The portrait of Shah Hamdan Mosque of 19th century AD is also on display.
Works of art are often very fragile and have to be looked after carefully.curators need to monitor levels of humidity and light to ensure they do not damage the paintings.
Numismatic and manuscript gallery
The numismatics and manuscripts gallery together is housed in a small tedious room which hardly gets sunlight. A thick layer of dust settles on the display cases contains manuscript of many ancient books. The entire manuscript is in risk in case proper attention is not being paid to protect it. The gallery displayed a rarest document in Sharda and Persian script inscribed on brich bark (Burza) dated 1576AD. This is wasiqa-nama pertaining to the Zirat of Hazrat Mukhdoom Sahib. Persian script of Reshi Nama, Arabic script of 17th century holy Quaran, Persian script of kulyat Molvi Roomi, two volumes of Tafseer-E-Kabeer, in Arabic script of mughal period, Vidya Jeevan, 1538 Samvat in Sharda, Sharda script of 17 century Bhagwat Gita, Agni Stoot and Bal-Boodhni are some key manuscripts on display in the gallery. The section also houses a number of manuscripts donated by Raj Lakshmi Handoo which included a translated version of 18th century AD Bhagwat Gita by Syed Hassan Kashmiri. Besides it, a rarest document of mughal period is also on display wherein Shahjahan granting a land to widow in Kashmir. This section also forms the collection of silver and copper coins pertaining to Hindu, Moghul, Afghan, Sikh and Dogra period.
Anthropology gallery
This section is one of the most affected parts of the museum with majority of the collection in shambles. The gallery which is just like a dark cell displays material evidence to understand other societies in terms of their own cultural symbols and values. The section houses a beautiful white colour life size dummy of Raja Amar Singh besides busts of some mughal kings and queens which included Akbar, Shahjehan, Jehangeer, Mumtaz and Noor Jehan. There are dummies depicting life style of many communities. A dummy of a man showing smoking and another dummy of a kashmiri lady is shown churning milk. Yet another lady is husking paddy. There are models of men and women depicting traditional dress style of various communities. A Muslim bride and bridegroom, Kashmiri pandit woman, rajuput man of Jammu, yarkandi man and woman, tibetean man and woman etc are few charming models presently on display in the gallery. The section particularly helps to study of humans, past and present.
Textile gallery
The gallery contains specimen of cloth of various designs. There is a rich variety of shawls belonged to Afghan, Sikh and Dogra period. These are made of high quality fine and refined Pashmina wool. Shah Pasand Kani Shawls of Afghan and Sikh period, Rumal embroidery of Dogra period, Shah Pasand Doshala of 19th century AD, Shahtoosh shawl, Jamwar shawl of 18th century AD , antique carpets and embroidered cloth in fabulous combinations, designs and patterns have been preserved in this gallery. There are some shawls made so fine that these can pass through a ring. Amli Shawl with embroidered design of 1819-1856 AD map of Srinagar is one of the best collections in textile section of the museum. The collection actually belonged to a famous Kashmiri weaver Ghulam Ahmad Kaloo, commonly known as Ama Kaloo. It is really an artistic piece of work. .The gallery also exhibits some fine china silk cloth.
Arms and Armoury gallery
This gallery is housed in a very small room exhibiting armaments mostly belonged to the Dogra period. These arms have been kept in many wooden glass cases. Visitors can see different types of arms in the gallery like pistols, guns, rifles and cannons. Some rifles are very big about six feet in length. There are swords, shields and body protectors used by various kings in past.

-Rubon Saproo for Daily Excelsior 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

ARTICLE 1366 - Mughal Splendor in a Bedroom

Press have been calling the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and the Honolulu Museum of Art for months eager for information about the highly anticipated opening of Shangri La’s Mughal Suite. Starting Oct. 11, the center for Islamic arts and cultures will include this showcase of Doris Duke’s Indian collections in its tours.
Previously off-limits to the public, this cornerstone bedroom-and-bathroom suite was Doris Duke’s personal quarters, which over her lifetime had evolved into a busy mélange of items from her collection. An extensive renovation, based on historical photographs of the room as it appeared in 1939, has returned it to the sleek Indian Art Deco retreat it once was.
It all goes back to Doris Duke’s life-changing, globe-trotting 1937 honeymoon with James Cromwell (best remembered by most local residents as the name of the surf/swim spot near the Black Point estate). While on their almost yearlong sojourn, Duke fell in love with India. During the couple’s two months there, spent visiting Mughal landmarks such as the Taj Mahal in Agra and Red Fort in Delhi, Duke commissioned Delhi-based British architect Francis Blomfield to design a Mughal-inspired marble man cave—bathroom, dressing room and garage—for her new husband. It was to be part of his house on Duke’s mother’s Palm Beach estate. But the last leg of their trip changed that—they were so taken with Hawai‘i that a two-week stay turned into four months and plans to build a home. 
“Precisely at the time I fell in love with Hawai‘i and I decided I could never live anywhere else, a Mughal-inspired bedroom and bathroom planned for another house was being completed for me in India so there was nothing to do but have it shipped to Hawai‘i and build a house around it,” wrote Duke. 
There are many ways to approach a renovation—to what era does one remain true? 
“We laid out all the historical images of the bedroom suite in chronological order, carefully reviewed how they changed over time and then asked ourselves a few questions. What is the story in these rooms? Which era in the life of these rooms is most artistically significant?” explains Shangri La director Deborah Pope, who worked closely with curator Sharon Littlefield on the project, on how they made their choices. “It was pretty clear that the big story is that defining moment in India when Doris falls in love with Mughal architecture and commissions the suite from an architect in Delhi and craftsmen in Agra. The appearance of the suite in the 1930s is fresh, elegant, unencumbered—it has all the vibrancy of the young, newly inspired Doris Duke and the creative energy that made Shangri La.”
Yesterday, a first group of Shangri La docents had a training session with Pope and Littlefield on how to incorporate the Mughal Suite into the existing tour. The group first stopped at the long, narrow Mughal Garden, based on classic Indian royal gardens, and Pope coached them on connecting the dots and making the Indian art and elements of Shangri La part of the Islamic art story. Then we moved on to the Mughal Suite—there was a chorus of “ohhhs” as we filed into the one-time bedroom, a shadowy space with glints of blue and emerald peeking through the carved marble jali, or perforated screens, of each floor-to-ceiling window. Where Duke’s bed headboard once stood is now a glass case filled with dazzling Indian jewelry studded with rubies and emeralds. Reproductions of miniatures Duke purchased on her honeymoon hang on the walls. 
From the bedroom you move into the dressing room—a kaleidoscopic space topped by a vaulted ceiling and covered in plasterwork inset with small mirrors, which was inspired by mirrored ceilings Duke saw in India and Iran. Each mirror was individually cut and set to fit within the starburst design by Hawai‘i craftsmen. It’s a disco-ball contrast after the seraglio serenity of the bedroom. Half of the dressing room now houses information about the retreat’s owner—you can watch footage of Duke touring the construction of Shangri La in 1937, her elegant head ringed by a haku lei, and see her in the 1950s, in a casual sundress, as she descends the stairs to the pool accompanied by one of her beloved German shepherds. Visitors can leaf through a re-created scrapbook of newspaper articles, receipts, tickets, and invitations chronicling the Cromwells’ honeymoon.

Then finally you reach Duke’s bathroom—a sanctuary of carved and inlaid marble panels made by craftsmen of the Indian Marble Works in Agra. Embedded in marble are pieces of lapis lazuli, jade, carnelian and other semi-precious stones forming 26 floral studies. They echo the historic marble work of 17th-century India while simultaneously reflecting the 1930s International Style’s sensuous lines and simple form. On a sultry Honolulu day, which feels increasingly the humid norm, the perpetually cool marble floor beckons you to get horizontal on it, and lay your sweaty cheek on the tiles. Try to resist.


To celebrate the opening of the Mughal Suite, Shangri La is offering free one-hour “Spotlight Tours” of this intimate heart of Duke’s home for Hawai‘i residents on Oct. 18 and 25, Nov. 8 and 15, and Dec. 21 and 27. You need to fill in a tour request form, which will be available one week before each tour date. Check back on this page for a link to the request form.


Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday, with tours beginning at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., unless otherwise specified. As of Oct. 11, the Mughal Suite will be included on the regularly scheduled guided tours of Shangri La. These tours are approximately one and a-half hours onsite. Tickets are $25, which includes van transportation as well as admission to the Honolulu Museum of Art’s permanent exhibitions. Discounted tickets are available for $20 to Hawai‘i residents with proof of local residency. 
 Just a reminder that Shangri La is owned and supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. The Honolulu Museum of Art administers the tours, which start at the museum. You’ll get to ride on the museum’s shuttle bus, which was just wrapped in a stunning design by our art director Jared Stone yesterday. Anyone who attempts to drive directly to Shangri La will be turned away.
Read more about the Mughal Suite’s conservation on the Shangri La blog
-by Lesa Griffith for Honolulu Magazine
Lesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Paintings by Indian artist Gaitonde are seen on display at the Bonhams auction house in New York on September 15, 2014. Paintings by Gaitonde, one of the most important modern artists, go under the hammer in New York on Wednesday, highlights in a booming market of Asian art Sales week. (AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad)

NEW YORK: Paintings by one of India’s most important modern artists go under the hammer in New York on Wednesday, highlights in a booming market for Asian art featured this week.

Three oils on canvas by pioneering Indian abstract artist Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde, who in 1964 based himself in New York, are being offered for auction by Christie’s and Bonham’s.

Bonham’s canvases, signed and dated 1961 and 1963, come from the artist’s “non-objective” series and were acquired by US artist Morris Graves, who described him as “fine — or superb — as Mark Rothko at his best.”

The auction house values the oil paintings, which have spent 45 years with a San Francisco collector, at $300-500,000 and $600-800,000 respectively.

Christie’s is offering a 1971 publicly known painting “Untitled” in moss green for $750,000 to $900,000, which it says showcases the “painter, philosopher and alchemist at the zenith of his career.”

Gaitonde’s prices don’t yet compare to the stratospheric ones fetched for Western art, but experts say he is poised to join the international modern art canon, and that there is a robust, emerging market in modern Indian art.

The Guggenheim in New York on October 24 opens the first museum exhibition dedicated to the famously reclusive artist, and Gaitonde work has recently set records in the Asian art world.

In 2012 Christie’s set a world record for a modern Indian painting by selling a canvas for $3.79 million. In March, Sotheby’s sold another Gaitonde for $2.5 million.

Bonham’s three-year-old department of Indian, Himalayan and South Asian art, a minnow compared to powerhouses Christie’s and Sotheby’s, has billed Wednesday’s sale as a real coup.

“It couldn’t be a better time to offer these,” Mark Rasmussen, Bonham’s junior specialist, told AFP.
He regards Gaitonde as the most sought-after modern Indian painter, and said he expected bids from collectors as well as international institutions.

Born in Nagpur, India in 1924, Gaitonde was inspired early on by Swiss artist Paul Klee, then turned toward abstraction and cultivated a lifelong interest in Zen Buddhism.

He studied in Bombay and in 1964 lived at New York’s Chelsea Hotel, then a cultural hub that housed Bob Dylan, Arthur Miller and Leonard Cohen.

Deepanjana Klein, head of South Asian modern and contemporary art at Christie’s, called Gaitonde’s work “poetry on canvas.”

“There is only a finite body of great work and collectors know that. When they see something great they will come and get it,” she told AFP

The last decade has seen an astonishing explosion in the global market for Asian art, fueled by new, cash-rich wealth in China but in which European and US collectors have kept pace.

Jonathan Stone, head of Asian art at Christie’s and based in Hong Kong, told AFP that the growth was so fast that Asian art prices are starting to catch up with Western art.

“Chinese art has taken a lot of the headlines, but the interest in Southeast Asian art has grown considerably, and I know there has been a significant growth in the Indian contemporary and modern market,” he said.

Christie’s had an inaugural sale in Mumbai last year and is setting up in Shanghai to capitalize on new clients, but Stone says none of that detracts from Asian sales week in New York.

“New York remains almost unique in the way we’re able to offer such a range of Asian art across all cultures and all epochs,” he said.

Christie’s hopes to make $26 million from Asian art this week, and Sotheby’s a whopping $42.5 to $58 million, bolstered by Chinese ceramics and classical painting and calligraphy.

Bonhams’ upper estimate for its Chinese, Indian and Japanese art sales is $10 million.

Bruce MacLaren, a Chinese art specialist at Bonhams, said some artists are selling for at least 10 times what they were selling for 10 years ago.

Monday, September 08, 2014

ARTICLE 1364 - What is Wrong With the Art World?

Art in the modern times has rarely been looked at for pure enjoyment of art. It is used as a commodity, an instrument of investment for future profit and a tool for fame and power. All the art that is famous is not necessarily good art and all good art is not always famous. But no one cares. Museums, art dealers, collectors, artists, auction houses and media - they all corruptly conspire for fame, profit and power. And those with a public face are those who are part and parcel of that corporately interlocked conspiracy celebrating that corruption as culture. Those who do not fit are banished, Whitney museum has topped in this arena. Vinod Dave recently went to witness the success of the cacophonous hype this particular museum has been doing for this particular artist since the beginning this artist rose to fame. All fiends have their own porn. This is the art world's porn. The current retrospective is the nauseating pinnacle of this. Vinod felt like scratching every work. But for the beefed up security after a recent vandalism act, he decided to channel his daemon to creative direction instead & concentrated on making the photographs his own work. That, unfortunately, makes Koons' work look better!

Two Big Things Wrong With the Art World 

Article by Jerry Saltz
Photographs by Vinod Dave

Every September, I conduct a semi-sick ritual upon returning to the high school with money that we call the art world. I manically study the thick September issue of Artforum to see what the new season of shows and openings holds. With my social reflexes shot and anxieties running high, the September Artforum provides an abstract preview for the faithful, the frightened, and the shy.
What did I find this time? I’m pleasantly surprised to see a Jeff Koons on the September cover. Not because we need more Koons, but for the last decade or so, with notable exceptions,Artforum has been so theory-prone, it hasn’t paid much attention to this freak of artistic nature. Of course, Artforum being Artforum, it sends a coded message about Koons in a pitch so high that only we art-world dogs will pick it up. The picture is of a 1988 work. “Ah, yes,” we surmise, “the early work is okay, but stay away from anything too large and shiny.” A good Koons essay and a batch of great artist-commentaries on Koons run alongside the usual abstruse articles telling us that cinema and performance and photography are now very, very, important to art, eight pages on Richard Serra’s latest man-of-steel slabs in the Qatar desert, the requisite review of a big international biennial, pages and pages about a silent film from 1930, and reviews where convoluted jargon makes it hard to know what the critic thinks of the work. (Note to critics: Can you at least get to the subject within the first four or five paragraphs?!)
But, in a sense, more important than the articles are the advertisements — the porn of the art world. This is where the art world does its peacocking, more out in the open than anywhere else. Inside the glossy 410 pages (shininess is fine for magazines), there are the ads. Lots of them. By my count, there are 287 full pages of ads in all. That’s 70 percent of the magazine. A whopping 73 of these are from New York galleries — a greater percentage than in previous recent seasons. The rates for these pages vary, are based on different things, and presumably slide for different galleries. (The person long in charge of all this isArtforum co-publisher Knight Landesman, one of the smartest, most nimble, and stylish people in the art world. Landesman mystically seats this fancy dinner party within every issue — cliques, hierarchies, and pecking orders on full view.) Full-page, four-color ads run around $5,000 or $6,000. If the ad falls within the first 20 percent of the mag, the rate can go up to $7,000 or $8,000. I love that a magazine is doing well. But with advertising costing so much, it must be hell these days for small and midsize gallerists to pay as much or more than my annual salary for a year’s worth of art ads. And this is only for one issue of one magazine.

I know that trying to ascertain anything from these ads is doomed to be skewed by the galleries who advertise here. The same exercise with the Brooklyn Rail would yield a totally different view. But as Artforum is still the art world’s unofficial official magazine, I peruse the New York ads with butterflies of anticipation and anxiety. And studying the New York ads, I notice two trends — one vexing, the other awful.
First, of the more than 70 pages of New York ads, well over half are for older, well-established, famous, or dead artists. Now, I love 30-year careers and don’t just want 30-month ones. I love art dealers; almost every one of them is an idealist and dreamer. (Even the annoying ones who can’t stop doing their sales pitches on you while you’re trying to look at art in their gallery — stop it!) But I get a queasy feeling from this glut of well-known artists — the suspicion that while New York is still the main trading floor for the art world, what’s being traded here is more and more guided by trade itself. Good or bad, these shows are so safe. A half-dozen September shows are of artists who’ve represented their countries in the Venice Biennale. Many more have had museum retrospectives around the world. Indicative shows at Gagosian and Mnuchin of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis are obvious ploys to capitalize on these excellent, deceased artists as progenitors for much of the look-alike crapstraction that now dominates the market. It doesn’t hurt that the prices for these artists suggest that there’s room for much growth.

Drilling down deeper into these 73 New York ads, however, reveals something far more disturbing. And familiar. (And it’s worse in other cities.) Only 11 of these 73 ads are for solo shows by women, about 15 percent. This isn’t an anomaly. In last September’s Artforum, only 13 percent of the 81 New York ads were for solo shows by women. Again, it’s important to remember that these full-page ads are not representative of the entire art world. A quick perusal of nearly 100 Lower East Side galleries reveals that more than 25 percent of the shows are solos by women. That’s not great, but it’s still twice as good as the image of the art-world Establishment we see in Artforum. The magazine is telling us that the top two-thirds of the art world are mired in self-perpetuating, self-replicating sexism: More art by men is shown and sold in large galleries because more art by men has been shown and sold in large galleries. And the result is not just about what gets shown, but what that teaches us about what is worth showing: the art world as seen in these ads is much more comfortable digesting strange, weird, surprising, and even insane work from men, but gets squeamish whenever women try to show at all. They’re not even allowed to fail in the boringly generic ways so many men are these days. Nearly a half-century on from feminism, simply being a woman artist is still a revolutionary act. And getting one’s work shown continues to be met by enormous inbuilt resistance. Like I said, this ritual is “semi-sick.”

Article courtesy: New York magazine

Friday, September 05, 2014

ARTICLE 1363 - New Aga Khan Musem

 Plenty of museums around the world collect Islamic art—from ornate Persian carpets to Mughal miniature paintings—but there's never been a museum in North America focused solely on exhibiting these pieces, until now.
On Sept. 18, Toronto's Aga Khan Museum will open in a 31,500 square-foot space designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, giving visitors a permanent spot to see one of the top private collections of Islamic art anywhere.
Standing near an elevated highway in a middle-class neighborhood, the museum appears futuristic, its milky granite walls crenelated in a few places to make room for angled skylights. Inside, the galleries are airy but the lights are kept low to protect fragile textiles and works on paper. A huge garden surrounds the museum, speckled with reflecting pools and rows of serviceberry trees and sage.
Mr. Maki is known for designing skyscrapers like New York's 4 World Trade Center, and the museum fits into the Japanese architect's sleek style. But the main draw for art lovers will likely be what's on display inside.

Collectors and curators have long coveted the ancient astrolabes and Mongolian robes amassed by the museum's namesake, Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini. The 77-year-old British billionaire goes by the honorary title of Aga Khan because he serves as spiritual leader for least 12 million members of the second-largest branch of Shia Islam, the Nizari Ismaili sect. (His Turkish-Persian title means "lord and commander.")
Half a century before the sovereign families of the Arabian Peninsula started buying art, the Aga Khan's forebears were known for frequenting London auction houses in search of art from across the Islamic world, a civilization that during its Renaissance-era height swept from Spain to the western border of China. He and his family have since lent pieces to major museums, but they haven't displayed the full sweep of their holdings before.
The Aga Khan, in a telephone interview from his home in Chantilly, north of Paris, joined by his younger brother Prince Amyn, said the genesis of the family's collection starts with their grandfather and uncle, both of whom were voracious collectors. Growing up in Kenya and, later, Switzerland, the Aga Khan and his brother said they were surrounded by art at home. Not all of it was Islamic: Their father, Prince Aly Khan, also loved the French Impressionists. But the Aga Khan said Harvard art historian Stuart Cary Welch encouraged the family to focus on Islamic art during the 1950s and 1960s. Their uncle eventually filled his Geneva château, called Belle Rive, with Islamic ceramics. (The museum has imported some of Prince Sadruddin's red display cabinets and plans to recreate one of his Belle Rive rooms.)

All of this explains why the Aga Khan said he was "shocked" when he started college at Harvard in the mid-1950s and found out that his classmates didn't know much about Islamic art or culture. His peers could rattle off the names of a few European Old Masters and pinpoint ancient styles from China—but none of them recognized a single artist from the Muslim world, he said.
"The inspiration for art isn't all that different, frankly, across civilizations and time," he said. "The goal should be to understand the art and those civilizations better, not to criticize or ignore them."
He began slowly, buying a few artworks after his grandfather died in 1957 and named him the next spiritual leader, or imam, of his sect at the age of 20. His personal collection was eclectic and included Islamic ceramics as well as European sculptors Alberto Giacometti and Auguste Rodin. "Believe it or not, I collected Bruegel," he said, referring to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Dutch Old Master. "I liked his sense of humor."
But by the 1990s, he had narrowed his collecting focus to Islamic art, particularly Indian miniature paintings that highlighted the architecture and gardens of the Mughal era.
Plans took another turn in 2003 when his uncle died, and the Aga Khan and his relatives had to figure out what to do with his uncle's estate. They decided to pool the Aga Khan's Mughal collection with his uncle's broader holdings and create a museum "in a great Western city with no major Islamic collections," he said.

Those parameters ruled out Paris and London, which have encyclopedic museums containing prized Islamic collections. But why choose Toronto? Turns out, Canada played a key role in accepting thousands of Nizari Ismailis who were living in Uganda but applied for asylum in 1972 when President Idi Amin notoriously expelled Asian people. Today, the Aga Khan said Canada is home to 100,000 Ismailis, and his museum is meant to be an extension of his support for them. (He's also commissioned a community center and prayer hall for them next to the museum, bringing the total bill for the project to $300 million.)
Museum director Henry Kim, a Greek coin expert who formerly oversaw the reinstallation of Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, said curators are also arranging displays and planning shows to appeal to broader audiences as well. During its debut, around 300 objects will go on view, with nearly three times as many additional artworks waiting in storage.
The top floor of the museum will be anchored by a show of contemporary art from Pakistan, led by a new series of site-specific drawings by Imran Qureshi, who last year covered the roof of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in his red, abstract drawings.
Overall, the gem of the museum's permanent collection is its group of illustrated pages from the poem, "Shahtamasp Shah-Nameh." The poem is a King Arthur-like Persian tale of kings and heroes from the 10th century. The museum has 150 illustrated pages from the Shah-Nameh; one important painting in the set, "The Court of Keyomars," shows a scene of a king and his retinue dressed in turbans and animal-print robes sitting amid a golden-indigo paradise of flowers and trees.
"So much of the artistic output of Islamic art is wild fantasy, not religion," said Mr. Kim during a recent visit to the museum. "That's one of the misconceptions I'd love for the museum to explore."
A few weeks ago, he and the staff were still wearing hard hats. A mosaic Egyptian fountain was being assembled in the main gallery, but the row of nearby display cases remained empty. The action was happening downstairs in storage, where curators and registrars were busy unpacking some of the 85 crates that had recently arrived, each one brimming with art.
Nearby, sitting in a custom Styrofoam case, sat an elephant tusk whose entire surfaces had been carved with intricate floral patterns in the 12th century. Five hundred years after that, a silversmith added silver detailing and a resting stand in the form of a pheasant's foot so the horn could be given as a wedding present to an English nobleman's daughter.
The Aga Khan said his goal for the museum is to chart the far-flung journeys these objects take through time and various cultures and faiths. One of his favorite pieces, now being installed in one of the cases on the main floor, is a Spanish star-mapping instrument called an astrolabe. Its brass surface contains inscriptions in Latin, Arabic and Hebrew—a reminder of the instrument's pluralistic usefulness among 14th-century merchant traders. "I like art that contains symbols," he said, "but this object is a symbol. It says it all."

Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal