China may be doubling the value of its art market every year, but the superpower is not sending as much Chinese art to this neck of the woods as the other future superpower, India. It may be post-colonial guilt, or better connections, but Indian art in some form seems to make a grand exhibition every few months in London.
The Garden and the Cosmos in the British Museum last year was one of my absolute favourite exhibitions of the last couple of years (along with, I think, Antony Gormley and Annette Messager, both at the Hayward). Then the Serpentine threw in an awe inspiring, spectacular show of contemporary art from the subcontinent, Indian Highway, stunningly powerful, it thrilled me to the bone, ah…
The V&A’s recent show on the Maharaja’s treasures was not quite as fun as Waldemar Januszczak’s damning review of it in The Sunday Times, but the riches still had you holding your breath at the craft, the beauty and the retro appeal.
Now it’s the National Gallery’s turn, and it is flamboyantly promoting its Indian Portrait special exhibition:
The show, roughly chronological – and thus more informative, is worth a visit, though it lacks the inspirational scenes of awkward perspective and magic encounters that Indian landscapes offer. The paintings here can be almost photographic, and the cross-fertilisation with Western art is most amusing.
However, the jewel in the crown has been kept well hidden, and not advertised anywhere that I have seen. Down in the basement galleries there is a superb and scousestastic exhibition by The Singh Twins.
The identical sisters collaborate arm-in-arm, literally, to create exhilarating satires of politicians, fast food joints and family life, with the vibrancy of fresh jalebis and the immaculate technique of Persian miniatures. How I never came across their work all those times I went to Birkenhead to see family (and Tate liverpool…), baffles me. They should be everywhere!
Some months ago I visited the Shazia Sikander (apologies to anyone who is offended by my comparison of a Pakistani-American with British-Indians – it’s the Persian tradition poking through) show in Pilar Corrias gallery, hoping to find what the Singh Twins are doing: a multicultural cocktail of modern afflictions with traditional know-how. Not quite, this time.While Sikander’s recent work tends to the conceptual, and plays with the formal qualities of calligraphy, the Singh Twins are banging their drums riotously, and having a ball of a party. I utterly recommend it. Oh, and the animation is a must! No pictures, sorry, but here is a link to a video.