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New India marches into London's Saatchi Gallery

S Kalyana Ramanathan  |  London 

Works of 26 Indian artists are on display as part of Charles Saatchi’s private collection

January 28 turned out to be a red-letter day for contemporary Indian artists. On that day the works of 26 Indian artists from India and other parts of the world went on display at the famous Saatchi Gallery as part of the private collection of one of the world’s foremost collectors, Charles Saatchi.

Charles Saatchi, 67, was the co-founder of the ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi. He and his brother Maurice were forced out of this agency in 1995 and went on to form their new agency M&C Saatchi.

Saatchi Gallery proudly threw open to the public select works of Indian artists under the title “The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today”. Over 60 pieces of work including paintings and installations have been put on display at the gallery.

The works of Indian artists based in India such as Atul Dodiya, Probir Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Mansoor Ali and those of Indian artists based abroad such as New York-based Schandra Singh and Jaishri Abichandani, and San Francisco-based Ajit Chauhan are part of Charles Saatchi’s private collection. These pieces of contemporary art have been collected over 2007 and 2008.

“The rapid flourishing of this (India’s) art scene on the one hand and the recent economic downturn on the other have prompted critical questions on Indian culture and globalisation in a country torn between a proudly independent mindset and a dependence on global consumption,” said the formal introduction to the new collection at Saatchi Gallery.

Experts believe that the attention received by Indian artists from connoisseurs like Saatchi can only be helpful. Economic recession over the last two years had taken a toll on valuation of arts both globally and in India. Of course, before the bubble burst in 2008, the prices had already climbed to unnaturally high levels, said Peter Nagy, New Delhi-based art expert and director of Nature Morte gallery in New Delhi.

“Of course, Charles Saatchi is probably the most serious collector of contemporary art in the world today. So certainly whatever he does gets a lot of attention from people both within and outside of the art world,” said Nagy.

The price paid for the new collection of Indian artists at the Saatchi Gallery is, however, not known. But experts in the field estimate that they have been valued at 50,000-100,000 euros with Subodh Gupta’s UFO estimated to have fetched 300,000 euros. This installation is a work made up of hundreds of brass water-utensils that are soldered together to resemble a flying saucer. The gallery opens with its biggest installation of Jitish Kallat — an installation of 4,479 fibre glass sculptures titled Public Notice 2 which recalls the historic speech delivered by Mahatma Gandhi on the eve of the epic Salt March to Dandi.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Saatchi discovered many artists who went on to become international stars, selling works for millions. These include Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Chapman Brothers, Sarah Lucas and Marc Quinn. Introducing Britain to many of the world’s most exciting artists, Saatchi also gave first shows in the UK to Philip Guston, Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, Sigmar Polke, Andreas Gursky, Robert Gober, Richard Prince, John Currin and Elizabeth Peyton, said the gallery’s media managers. “His exhibitions have always focused on contemporary artists and Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition of Young British Artists in 1997 at the Royal Academy, London and at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York sparked an explosion of controversy about new British art,” said a gallery spokesperson.

First Published: Fri, February 05 2010. 00:12 IST