AN INTRODUCTION TO MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY INDIAN ART

Although art has flourished within India for thousands of years, art by Indian artists has recently gained attention on an international level. Modern and contemporary Indian art has drawn on the nation’s rich artistic traditions while pushing new ideas and techniques forward. Here, ‘modern art’ refers to the period that began in the 1880s and that lasted until the 1960s, while ‘contemporary art’ refers to art developed after the 1960s through today.

1947 was a decisive year in the history of modern and contemporary Indian art. That summer, India gained independence on August 15, and shortly after a group of six artists K. H. Ara, S. K. Bakre, H. A. Gade, M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza, and F. N. Souza) founded the Bombay Progressive Artist’s Group. Also known as PAG, the collective hoped to develop an Indian avant-garde and engage with modern art at an international level. It was influenced by popular artistic movements in Europe and North America of the twentieth century, while incorporating unique Indian motifs, landscapes and references.

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Although the group ultimately disbanded in 1956, after the two main founders F. N. Souza and S. H. Raza moved to Europe, PAG had profound effects on the recognition of Indian art on the world stage. Paintings by artists M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza, and F. N. Souza are housed in renowned museums, and these artists are recognized worldwide for their contributions not only to Indian art but art history at large. In 2015 at Christie’s New York, F.N. Souza’s painting “Birth” also set a new price record for Indian art with a hammer price just above US $4 million. Of course, most modern and contemporary Indian art is much more accessible – here at Laasya Art gallery, we offer paintings and prints at multiple price points, including original paintings under $2,500.

Since the twentieth century, interest in buying modern and contemporary Indian art has only grown, and many Indian artists have followed the footsteps of PAG artists on their path to international recognition. Collectors of Indian art are enjoying the best climate in years, and the contemporary Indian art market is booming. As the art world has become increasingly globalized, with international art fairs and traveling exhibitions as well as the ability to buy artwork online, people can view and buy Indian art all over the world, from the United States and Canada to Belgium and the United Kingdom.

A few major exhibitions and fairs have helped bring about this ‘renaissance’ of Indian art. Since 2008, India Art Fair has been held annually in New Delhi to promote Indian modern and contemporary art, showing hundreds of paintings, sculptures, photography, mixed media, prints, drawings, and video art by Indian artists. Some of the artists include Indian modernists from the Progressive Artists’ Group, contemporary Indian artists living and working today, Indian diaspora artists, international artists and art from the subcontinent. In 2012, it boasted 98 Indian art galleries from 20 countries. 

In 2010, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale was founded in Kerala, and it is now not only the largest art exhibition in India but the biggest contemporary art festival in Asia. In 2011, India first participated in the Venice Biennale, a prestigious biannual exhibition hosted in Italy, and returned in 2019. These internationally celebrated exhibitions have placed Indian artists and their vital presence in contemporary art in the spotlight.

The contemporary Indian art scene is also thriving in the United States, particularly in major metropolitan centers including the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, Boston and Washington DC. US interest in and support for Indian artists has grown as many South Asian expatriates not only have the means to collect paintings but hope to connect with their culture by buying art for their home. As a result, Indian artists have enjoyed increased attention in American museums and institutions. In 2019 alone, the San Jose Museum of Art mounted a major exhibition of Indian artist and sculptor Rina Banerjee, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented a comprehensive retrospective of Indian artist Mrinalini Mukherjee.

Laasya Art gallery is fortunate to be based in Palo Alto (San Francisco Bay Area), in the heart of such a dynamic conversation on Indian art. Several local nonprofits, such as Artforum SF and Society for Art and Cultural Heritage of India (SACHI), are solely dedicated to the promotion of Indian art, and some of the most comprehensive Indian art collections are housed nearby in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Cantor Art Museum in Stanford.

Looking at the evidence of past few decades and even just the past few years, we can only predict that appreciation of Indian art and interest in buying paintings by Indian artists will continue to grow. As always, if you are curious to learn more about Indian art, Laasya Art invites you to make an appointment to visit the gallery, where one of our art advisors can help you on a curated tour of the latest and greatest in Indian art here in Palo Alto. You can also browse our collection of paintings online, including some available works by leading contemporary Indian artists such as Anuradha Thakur, Jagannath Paul, Thota Vaikuntam, Seema Kohli and Sudip Roy.