SUBODH GUPTA, Untitled, 2013, oil on canvas, 20 × 25 × 0.5 cm. Courtesy Arario Gallery, Seoul/Shanghai.  

SUBODH GUPTAUntitled, 2013, oil on canvas, 20 × 25 × 0.5 cm. Courtesy Arario Gallery, Seoul/Shanghai.  

Subodh Gupta

Arario Gallery

For Subodh Gupta, 2014 has been a critical year. It started off with his retrospective exhibition “Everything Is Inside,” which opened in January at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, and was curated by art historian and Arte Povera theorist Germano Celant. “Everything Is Inside” has since travelled to Frankfurt, Germany, where it is on view at the Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK) until January 2015. In addition, Korean powerhouse Arario Gallery recently inaugurated its new space in Shanghai with a solo show of Gupta, in conjunction with another exhibition of his works at its main branch in Seoul.

The decision to exhibit Gupta in China is not simply a means for Arario to capitalize on the celebrated Indian artist’s peaking institutional recognition. It is also a daring attempt to highlight the spiritual links that unite India and China, as well as the social and cultural challenges that the two countries are similarly facing. The universality of Gupta’s visual language is undoubtedly an excellent vehicle for such an endeavor. The show will also help Arario in embracing cultural hybridity as its leitmotif. In this regard, it is worth remembering that Arario was the first Korean gallery to open a branch in mainland China, with a curated show that gathered prominent Western and Asian artists, in 2005. (The gallery was initially located in Beijing until 2012, before reopening in Shanghai this year.)

Among Gupta’s five works displayed in Arario’s Shanghai space, two large-scale oil paintings and a hanging sculpture were introduced in the first room. Each piece evokes a familiar theme from Gupta’s oeuvre: food. Both of the untitled canvases (2013) are hyper-realistic paintings of finished meals. The dishes are compiled like vignettes on a white background and are captured from above, recalling Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri’s “snare-pictures” of assembled objects. The hanging sculpture, entitled Love (2014), is made of brass tongs that are commonly used in India to make a popular bread called chapati. The numerous collection of tongs form the shape of a big heart, referencing the affable aesthetics of Pop-art.

Further on, a small sculpture displayed on the gallery’s staircase looks to be a variation of Potato Ring (2009), a previous work by Gupta that showcases 697 potatoes cast in bronze and placed in a metal stand. In the newer work, the tubers are far less numerous and instead are plated in 24-carat gold and isolated in a glass vitrine, which has transformed them into precious investment assets.

SUBODH GUPTAUntitled (Golden Potatoes), 2013, glass vitrine, wood, bronze potatoes (24k gold plated), dimensions variable. Courtesy Arario Gallery, Seoul/Shanghai.  

SUBODH GUPTA, Love, 2014, stainless-steel structure, brass tongs, 175.3 × 53.3 × 162 cm. Courtesy Arario Gallery, Seoul/Shanghai.  

Upstairs, the installation Round the Corner (2011–13) is undoubtedly the highlight of the exhibition (incidentally, a larger version of this work is currently being displayed in Gupta’s retrospective at MMK). Made of old metal pots, pans and water faucets, the apparent triviality of the installation’s materials encourage different levels of interpretation. What first looks like an accumulation of discarded kitchenware waiting to be rinsed or recycled is transcended by the hilly landscape that they form—from which the faucets erect like young bean sprouts. Water gushing endlessly from the taps succeeds in bringing life to the metallic microcosm. As a result, the assemblage of metal objects seems frozen in time, at an indefinite moment halfway between life and death. This hiatus seems prolonged by the ambiguous impression of presence and absence that emanates from the cookware. Even though the empty containers have been released from their functionality, they still encapsulate the individual lives of their original users and deliver an insight into India’s everyday life. This humanist testimonial is a way for Gupta to denounce social discrimination based on food and water, which still prevails in his native country. Due to the strict partition between pure and impure (or cleanliness and uncleanliness) within Hindu culture, and the resilience of the traditional caste system, food and beverage remain the mainstay of social segmentation in India (where some still frown upon members of one caste coming in contact with the food or water of another). This stance resonates with the work of Martha Rosler (Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975) and Mona Hatoum (Home, 1999), who both criticize kitchenware as an instrument of sexual discrimination.

Despite the limited number of works, the show remains quite evocative of Gupta’s career and current orientations. The show seems to pursue the crosspollination of Gupta’s visual language and cultural heritage with Western art, in order to demonstrate art’s ability to transcend boundaries. Gupta’s exploration is particularly effective when he creates subdued and low-tech sculptures and installations that let a more soulful and poetic side of his work show through. Sometimes hailed as the “Indian Damien Hirst” due to his dramatic success on the art market, Sobodh Gupta definitely has a great opportunity to become the Indian Michelangelo Pistoletto—as a powerful name in Indian art history.

SUBODH GUPTARound the Corner (detail), 2011–13, found aluminum utensils, water pipe, tap, cement, wire, pump and water, dimensions variable (approx. 4 × 4 m). Courtesy Arario Gallery, Seoul/Shanghai.

The show continues at Arario Gallery Shanghai until October 26, 2014. The retrospective exhibition “Everything Is Inside” can be seen at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, until January 18, 2015.