Review: "Anonymous Tantra Paintings"/"Connected"

These spiritual paintings look remarkably modern.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

Photograph: Courtesy Feature, Inc.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Despite occasional excesses of rhetoric to the contrary, we seldom expect the contemplation of abstract art to incite genuine religious experience. The artists in India who created 39 of the small paintings on paper here, however, intended them to be used as aids in tantric meditation, an esoteric Hindu practice. Painted on recycled paper—stained, torn, patched and not quite washed free of the writing that previously covered them—these works appear old. Although most actually date to the last two decades, the compositions themselves may go back centuries.

To our eyes, their simple shapes filled in with color seem like dead ringers for modern or contemporary art, often of the quiet, quirky variety (a brand frequently found at Feature); to a devotee, they embody gods or divine principles. A black triangle pointing to a red circle in one 2008 painting recalls a Suprematist work by Malevich, but really represents a magnetic attraction between the masculine and the feminine. A square of mauve-tinged white bordered by a red line in a 2007 work symbolizes "the purity of consciousness" and crackles with a visual tension that would make Robert Ryman envious.

Five drawings by Western artists in one corner of the gallery invite comparisons. On a sheet of antique paper, Lonie Guyer limns a tiny lobed shape with a fine yellow line, inspiring close-up attention, while Sherman Sam's nervous mappings in spidery pencil—like a diagram of thought—do not resemble the tantra paintings at all, but share the high pitch of their intensity.

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