Art in Calm and Chaos: My Week in New Delhi

(Left) Balasubramaniam (aka Bala), Stone Waves, Fiberglass and sandstones Dimensions Variable / 2010-2011. (Center) Vesela Sretenovic and Bala in front of his work, Nothing From My Hands. (Right) Balasubramaniam (aka Bala), Dead-line, Iron and jute 48 x 19 x 105” / 2011. Photos: Vesela Sretenovic

Recently I had the challenging pleasure to spend a week in New Delhi.  The occasion: artist A. Balasubramaniam (or as we  know him “Bala”) opened a solo exhibition at Talwar Gallery concurrent with the 4th edition of India Art Fair. My experience of the two places could not have been more different. Bala’s show was pristine, solemn, and inward, an oasis for quietude and reflection. The art fair, much like other art fairs, was hustle and bustle, only this time with unusual suspects (numerous non-western dealers and artists) and with intensified colors and scents unknown to New York, London, Paris, and Madrid. The untamed energy of New Delhi and the potential of art coming from the region was fascinating, perplexing, and the future will tell if this potential gets fully realized.

But to get back to Bala, I was thrilled to be able to see the follow up—and much, much more—of his artwork that we had on view last summer and still remains in our courtyard. See photos of the installation and de-installation of his sculptures at the Phillips.

Entitled Nothing From My Hands, Bala’s exhibition at Talwar (a gorgeous, four-story gallery in south New Delhi) features different bodies of the artist’s work spread through separate indoor spaces and an outside garden and roof. These works include sculptures emerging from walls (Nothing from my Hands, see photo above center); wooden, organic forms displayed on the floor (Stone Waves, see photo above left); an eight-foot thorny spiral made of rusting metal hung from the ceiling (Dead Line, see photo above right); a six-foot diameter sphere made of spokes from bicycle wheels, similar to the one that is currently at the Phillips (Embryo), and a large scale outdoor piece made of granite (Nothing from my Hands). In short, experiencing Bala’s work in the midst of a super-sensorial city was like a breeze of fresh air that brings you back to life, the inner life away from the street crowds and noise, continuous cars’ honking, and an overwhelming dust in the air.

I am still bewildered by the contradiction between the outward chaos and inward peace in people. As a friend of mine—who is originally from Delhi but spent almost 20 years in the United States—said upon returning to her hometown, the city’s chaos gave her a new sense of freedom. Although I can’t go that far, Bala’s exhibition did give me an opportunity to experience both the “outside” and the “inside,” which is what his work is about all about.

Vesela Sretenovic, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

A Unique De-installation

Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Installations Manager Bill Koberg examines the wall containing a portion of Bala’s Sk(in) sculpture, in preparation for de-installing the work. The sculptural elements are fiberglass panels that are seamlessly integrated with the wall. (De-installation will be less than seamless.)

Before We Say Goodbye to Bala

A. Balasubramaniam, Sk(in), 2011. Photo: Brooke Rosenblatt

UPDATE: Great news! Just as we posted this, we learned that Bala’s sculpture will remain in the courtyard for an extended stay until April 2012. The inside portion of his installation will still come down this weekend.

Before Bala’s sculpture bids us farewell this weekend, come and see it on a sunny day. If you stand in the stairwell between the second and third floor of the museum, you’ll be able to see the amazing shadows the bicycle spokes cast on the slate pavers of the courtyard. I think they look like a line drawing!