Since the turn of the decade, there has been a surge in the commemorative exhibitions of works of Bengal’s master artists. From exhibitions of works of Rabindranath Tagore, Ramkinker Baij and Benodebehari Mukherjee to that of Gobardhan Ash, Pradosh Dasgupta and Nandalal Bose, among others, a range of well-curated shows on Bengal’s art world’s stalwarts have been held in Kolkata and outside – especially at NGMA in New Delhi.
The latest treats for art lovers in Kolkata have been Jamini Roy’s works’ show at Gaganendra Shilpa Pradarshashala, Gopal Ghose: A Jubilant Quest for the Chromatic at Akar Prakar and Manifestations of the Mystique at Aakriti Art Gallery. A Ramkinker retrospective is also being showcased at Akar Prakar at present.
The most immediate reason, pegged on which most invites were sent out, for these exhibitions was celebrating birth centenary or such other equally important dates of the artist concerned. But experts from the art community say art world’s financial crisis, among other factors, has played an important role in sidelining and highlighting these artists in the last couple of decades and years, respectively.
“Keep aside the sale or money factor. The most important aspect of these exhibitions is that masses are able to see these important artists in these exhibitions. A good number of exhibitions of Bengal’s artists have been held in last one year or so and masses have gone to see them, be it in Kolkata, Delhi, or elsewhere. The viewing fulfils the purpose of their creation,” said renowned artist Ganesh Haloi.
Although only temporarily, the exhibitions have been filling the gap of a permanent space where one could go to see works of artists of repute in the city.
In opinion of gallerists and critics, the exhibitions can be seen in the perspective of financial crisis the city’s art market is going through.
“There was always a demand to see these Bengal artists. But, say till 10 years back, it remained somewhat overshadowed in media due to the attention Bombay school artists FN Souza, MF Hussain and SH Raza got. The massive canvas sizes and unbelievably high auction rates of their works cannot be compared with that of Bengal artists,” says Abhijit Lath, director, Akar Prakar.
Lath adds, part of the reason why media and masses sidelined names of many Bengal artists is “that works of these late Bengal masters have not come up for auctions. How many times have you heard the name of Sailoz Mukherjee – one of the nine masters whose works are national treasure – in the last few years? How many youngsters know him? If not shown or sold, you are forgotten.”
“There is more to exhibitions than celebration of the art of the great ones. Since 2007, the art market has been down. Private galleries do not want to take risk of showcasing young talents. Thus, with minimal investment but lot of efforts, galleries are collecting works of old masters and showing them to keep holding programmes on premises,” says art critic Pranab Ranjan Ray.
Thus, Ranjan Ray opines most of the exhibitions in the city are no rediscovery of the artist. “The few exhibitions that have rediscovered the artist involved, in recent times, are of Ramkinker Baij, curated by KS Radhakrishnan in 2012, and Benodebehari, curated by Gulammohammed Sheikh and Siva Kumar in 2007, shown by NGMA. The credit for the shows goes to the curators more than NGMA (where they were held),” says Ranjan Ray.
“Exhibitions happen for various reasons, among which economy is as important a factor as academic interest… For us in academics, showcasing these masters is an opportunity to focus on historical significance of past art,” says Sanjoy Kumar Mallick, curator and lecturer, history of art department, Kala Bhavana.