On the 22 August, the beautiful Engadin opened its doors to a region-wide exhibition of Contemporary Art from India hailing the seventh St. Moritz Art Masters exhibition.
The event boasted 30,000 visitors, introducing to the area some of India’s most prestigious artists including but not limited to Manish Nai, Nalini Milani, Shilpa Gupta, and Dubodh Gupta. Through guided Walks of Art, visitors from around the globe were guided through site-specific art interventions, which brought Indian life to the Alpine setting.
At the very centre of this buzzing exhibition stood a seminal exhibition of works from the Stellar International Art Foundation’s art collection – a three-artist show which linked contemporary to modern, India to Europe, and the spiritual to the secular.
The first room showcased a group of watercolours by Paresh Maity, who lives and works in Delhi. Paresh’s work is famous for his vibrant colours and luminosity. What made this selection important was the variety of locations the artist depicted. Just as the Indian art brought the east to the Alps, Paresh’s vibrant style brought India to his depictions of Venice, Japan, Iceland and Alaska. He takes as his subject the light and colour of every place to which he travels. And in stark contrast to these works on paper, stood one oil – the only depiction of India – which hints at quite how unimaginably saturated India’s landscape truly is. Heavier, more densely packed.
Europeans could only see this as the testament to an exaggerated experience which can only be absorbed in the country itself, and only little flavours of which have scattered the globe in the form of Maity’s vivid watercolours.
Escaping from secular and worldly visions, a second space presented the work of Maity’s wife Jayasri Burman who brought to life the spiritual in both literal and stylistic manner. Her presentation of the Buddha over a lobby in the centre of the hotel created a veritable shrine. Standing back, the room glowed with beautiful silvers and golds, yellows and greens with a brightness that diminished the natural light of the corridor. Still, it is up close that one discovers the true essence of Burman’s work and the technique by which her ethereal style is communicated. It is the detailed, methodical, intricate curls, and pen scratches – the minute additions and subtractions over ever millimetre of the canvas that reveal the artist’s persistence.
It is truly a meditative interaction with the surface and out of this spiritual engagement with each piece that the energy pronounces itself from the frame.
Last and certainly not least – in fact, the gem of the entire presentation – was the exhibition of over nearly 100 works by the late, great M F Husain. At its heart, literally in the centre of the room, stood the famed Maria Collection. A group of 80 works which Husain gifted to the woman he termed the ‘purest’ love of his life – Maria Jaroslav Zurkova – who was his translator on his first visit to Prague for an exhibition there in 1956. They were bonded by love of philosophy, religion, and art – but sadly neither spirit could settle out of their own country. These were returned unbidden to him in 2006 by Maria, who is said to have renounced all claim to them, instead returning them to their rightful owner: India.
It was the first time this series has ever been made available to the public eye – and appropriate that it should reveal itself in Europe in an exhibition focusing on India – with its various mix of sketches from both parts of the globe.
Surrounding these early sketches were the artist’s later, monumental paintings – mixes of oil and acrylic, using white overlays and golden strokes capturing the sun literally as if from the palaces of the great Mughals themselves. Capturing stories of great literature, poetry, and even the spirit of the horse – an image he adopted from a Chinese artist whose horses infused the canvas with a masculine virility and fire. A fire that the artist himself carried until his last days.
This tribute as an exhibition highlighted the launch of the first publication since Husain’s tragic passing in 2011. Commissioned by Stellar International Art Foundation, M F Husain: The Journey of a Legend, was written by Kishore Singh, Head of Exhibitions and Publications for Delhi Art Gallery.
The book is a prodigious volume including all of the nearly 300 works by Husain in the Stellar International Art Foundation collection. Equal to the power of the plates, is within this book a most eloquent biography of the artist and the beautiful story of his relationship to the Choudhrie Family, founders of the Stellar International Art Foundation. It is truly an enchanting text, which deserves the same painstaking attention as the mesmerising images of the artist’s work itself.
The publication was launched at the Nira Alpina Hotel overlooking St. Moritz on the morning of the 24 August. Surrounded by the beautiful landscape, the first book was introduced by Kishore Singh and then officially presented and debuted by Bollywood starlet Sharmila Tagore, one of Husain’s greatest advocates and friends.
The entire event, in fact, truly centred on a tribute to this great Indian artist. And his presence was certainly felt and celebrated throughout the event from the opening through to close.
In the words of founder Mrs. Anita Choudhrie: “For us, I think all this effort that we have made for the Art Masters for 2014 is all based on our absolute love for M F Husain…all this that we are doing is in his memory.”