Masterpieces of Indian Modern Art, part of a larger display from DAG Modern’s booth at the India Art Fair 2016 in New Delhi, attempts to answer this question in the context of art from the subcontinent.
But a masterpiece, besides being culturally rooted, also has universality in terms of context, subject or style that broadens its appeal across cultures. Therefore, several of the sub-texts mentioned by its curator would find a lot in common with what we consider masterpieces anywhere in the world – originality, quality (and technique), the ability to evoke emotion, subject, the rarity of the work, its provenance and exhibition/collection history, the artist’s motivation, and its perfection. Each of these qualities is, of course, somewhat subjective, but the works exhibited at DAG Modern as part of Masterpieces teach us to look at and understand significant works of art in general, and of Indian modern art in particular.
The exhibition, marking the one-year anniversary of DAG Modern in New York, is particularly apt because each painting or sculpture has been chosen to draw our attention to the finest of twentieth century Indian modern art. While the New Delhi exhibition began with a rich showing of pre-modern art, because of governmental regulations, it is not possible to move those works from India, so the exhibition here is a foreshortened one and necessarily restricted to works that are under one hundred years old and not included in its restricted list of nine artists that are considered National Treasures. The accompanying publication, however, catalogues the entire selection, and representative films on these works will help viewers understand the ethos and context of Indian modernism.
Artists represented in the New York exhibition include M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza, Krishen Khanna, Jehangir Sabavala, Ram Kumar, S. K. Bakre, Sunil Das, Avinash Chandra, Shanti Dave, K. Laxma Goud, Jeram Patel, Himmat Shah, J. Swaminathan and V. Viswanadhan. There are significant works by Ramkinkar Baij, S. K. Bakre, Radha Charan Bagchi, Chittaprosad, Prokash Karmakar, Hemen Majumdar, A. Ramachandran and Ramgopal Vijaivargiya. Artists whose work has been documented, but who are not being shown, include Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, Nandalal Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, and Jamini Roy.