Art News & Views

Love Encroaches Contemporary Art

Compelling narratives of three major exhibitions resonating with the epoch of love


by Preeti Kathuria

London. Year 2011 has witnessed a lot of love in contemporary art. It appears interesting to gauge at three diverse exhibitions that explored the theme of love across geographical and cultural boundaries.

I Know Something About Love at the Parasol Unit, London (9 March-22 May 2011) showcased the works of four artists who respond to their personal experience and understanding of love and its problems in the contemporary scenario. According to curator Ziba Ardalan ‘the idea was to curate a multimedia exhibition of works that address the theme of love in various cultures and times in history, along with works that rather than being mere representations of lovers, they also have a strong relational aspect.’ The show entices the viewer by Yinka Shonibare’s Garden of Love – a dense maze of ivy covered trellis with schematic, chance encounters of headless lovers dressed in French rococo style 18th century costumes. Shirin Neshat in her two-channel video projection provides an analytical account of gender issues, authority of the Islamic clergy in people’s private life and the negative view of love in Iran. Chinese artist Yang Fudong shows the feelings of a baffled, young Chinese couple through a three-channel video installation and Christodoulos Panayiotou explores love through a video documentation of a slow dance performance by youthful men and women and their physical contact while swaying and dancing to pop music.

The thoughtfully designed exhibition catalogue starts with an arresting quotation by the famous poet Rumi – ‘The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere; they are in each other all along.’ The communicative aesthetic of the lush green labyrinth; the unspoken linguistics of Shirin Neshat’s Iranian women; the soothing music of Yang Fudong’s work and the celebratory notes in Christodoulos Panayiotou’s video – all come together under one roof to echo Rumi’s fascinating insight on love.  Love Is What You Want – a grand survey exhibition of one of Britain’s most celebrated artist – Tracey Emin at the Hayward Gallery, London (18 May – 29 August 2011). Curated by Ralph Rugoff and Cliff Lauson the exhibition showcased a massive body of work across various mediums revealing different aspects of love, affection, intimacy, longing, obsession and addiction. The works come across as a provocative confrontation with the artist’s personal history. Crude intimate descriptions seem to make a spectacle of our common understanding of love. The gallery space became a challenging, cathartic chamber where one could analyse the character of love in the new world order.

New Delhi. Love Is A Four-Letter Word - a group show at Latitude 28, New Delhi (20 August – 30 September, 2011). In an attempt to capture their interpretation of love, four Indian artists - Bose Krishnamachari, Chintan Upadhyay, Chittrovanu Mazumdar and Manjunath Kamath and one Pakistani artist - Sana Arjumand showcased about 27 paintings and a few installations. The exhibition aimed to introduce the viewer to the darker side of love and its double-edged, simultaneously existing tendency of happiness and sorrow. Sana Arjumand’s painting Politics of Love sees love as measured and rationalized while Bose Krishnamachari’s work affirms his belief in the innocence of love and emotion; Manjunath Kamath takes a dig at the artificiality of love today; Chintan Upadhyay presents the love-stuck, starry-eyed youth and Chittrovanu Mazumdar reflects upon the polarities of passion and romance. Curator Bhavna Kakar quite successfully brought together such diverse takes on love so that the viewer gets a glimpse of every high and low of this complex tendency. It also provides a politically relevant framework where artists from India and Pakistan together respond to love.

All the three exhibitions draw upon a common subject matter but are exclusive in their character and approach in delivering the essence of love. Although geographically sparse, the exhibitions happened in a row, one after the other and a mysterious, unplanned order emerged. It was fortunate to see three exhibitions in single year, all unfolding a different dimension of the same idea.  It is intriguing how this ephemeral yet indulgent sentiment of love has carved its niche in contemporary art practice today. However, one cannot deny that the meaning and conviction of love has changed tremendously over the years and it possibly needs such audacious crusades.

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