Subodh Gupta’s show reminds me that even a nebulous term like postmodern no longer adequately describes contemporary art. If we’re post-anything, it’s ideas. Artists still take stabs at meaning, of course, but as a practical matter, art has become a financial asset for the megarich: less portable than diamonds but more tangible than stocks.
One consequence has been the spawning of a global class of artists I like to call ambassadorial conceptualists. Hailing from China, India, the Middle East and elsewhere, they employ installation, scatter art, video, found-objects, appropriation and other tropes, offering morsels of their particular cultures for Western delectation. Gupta, who’s from New Delhi, is a master practitioner of the form. His signature use of common utensils found in Indian households has been lauded for its celebration of the simple virtues of subcontinental life, which is another way of saying he transforms impoverishment into very expensive objects.
The pieces here follow suit: There’s an enormous pile of banged-up pots sprouting pipes with running faucets; a room-filling patch of loam and manure in which he buried personal items solicited from his neighbors; sumptuous photorealist paintings featuring bird’s-eye views of plates, pans and, in one case, a flattened gas can; and two videos, one of a train ride home, the other of a round piece of flatbread spinning continuously in midair.
Gupta’s approach is effectively that of a tour guide, using a variation on Orientalism writ large. While he may want to extol the commonplace, he winds up diminishing it as a plutocratic diversion.—Howard Halle