Media contact: Cynthia Medina, [email protected], 848-445-1940

The Art of Curation: Breathing New Life into Indian Tradition in Contemporary Art Exhibit

Rutgers students curate full-scale exhibit from one of America’s largest Indian art collections

Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J. (Nov. 5, 2019) – During your next visit to an art museum, consider the years of planning that went into arranging each artwork while weaving the artists’ unique visions into an exhibit that tells a coherent story.

Art history students at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, working toward a curatorial studies certificate that will help them stand out in the art world’s increasingly competitive job market, recently arranged an exhibit of more than 100 artworks by contemporary Indian artists in just one semester – the equivalent of curatorial boot camp.

Their exhibit, Paper Trails: Modern Indian Works on Paper, occupies six rooms of the Gaur Collection gallery in Franklin Park, New Jersey. The Gaur Collection holds one of the largest collections of modern Indian art in the U.S. The Paper Trails exhibit seeks to challenge traditional views of Indian art with works by Anish Kapoor, M. F. Husain, Atul Dodiya, Zarina Hashmi and many others.

For graduate students in the seminar, the learning experience included every aspect of the exhibition’s planning, from the conceptualization of key themes to the juxtaposition of art works within in the gallery – a process typically takes far longer than a single semester. 

“Every detail from the wall color, text descriptions and how each piece of art relates to the art next to it – this delicate process can take museums up to five years to plan,” said Tamara Sears, associate professor of art history at School of Arts and Sciences who led the six students through their curation work during the Spring 2019 semester.

Developed in collaboration with Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Zimmerli Art Museum, the curatorial studies program combines practical and academic courses, along with internships designed to prepare students for a wide array of careers at museums, galleries, non-profits, academia and the private sector.

The students began their exhibition seminar semester by researching the artists in the collection and choosing which artworks to include, categorizing the works, writing narratives and artist biographies, and fine-tuning the details of how they would be displayed.

“We placed the artwork on the floor, visualizing how to display them on the wall so it tells a story,” said Swathi Gorle, a doctoral art history student. “We also had to consider how to mix famous Indian artists next to lesser-known artists.” 

Emma Oslé, doctoral student who has interned at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, said, “This experience was different, particularly in that we were able to work directly with the collector and physically work within the space itself. We were able to be extremely hands-on with many of the works, and that allowed for an intimacy with the artworks that just isn’t possible in a larger museum-type institution.”

The works include two of M. F. Husain’s “Mother Theresa” paintings which, according to the artist, tried to capture what Catholic nun and saint’s presence meant to the destitute and dying; the works show her as an abstract, spirit-like figure, invisible except for her white sari, variously cradling a baby in her arms or comforting a small child lying at her feet.

They also include several of Anish Kapoor’s “12 Etchings,” colorful images that resemble microscopic cells, ink clouds or electromagnetic radiation, made by dripping acid or pigments on polymer films.

Gorle said that one of the more rewarding parts of the process was the challenge of telling the artists’ stories without focusing overtly on their heritage.

“When you enter a museum and you see an Indian artist’s painting on the wall, it’s usually in a section for South Asian art. It gives this impression that it can’t stand on its own,” Gorle said. “New Jersey has a very robust Indian population, and a lot of the community here doesn’t know about this artwork. This collection can show them a new aspect of India. For example, Atul Dodiya’s work mixes the contemporary and the traditional – something all Indian-American families can relate to.”

Paper Trails: Modern Indian Works on Paper will remain on display at The Gaur Collection through 2020.





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