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Modern masterpieces from across India give this show its magnum edge
Vineet Gill  15th Aug 2015

Crayon Art Gallery at The Claridges, New Delhi.

There's a term to be found in the dictionary of the museumgoer: Stendhal Syndrome. It is supposed to signify the nausea and exertion one feels after being overexposed to great art. A nice new-fangled synonym for it is "hyperkulturemia". Although it was obviously a hoax, the story goes that the French novelist Stendhal went through an emotional and physical crisis right after seeing Giotto's frescoes in Florence for the very first time. His symptoms included increased heartbeat, dizziness and even repeated fits of fainting.

Visiting the Crayon Art Gallery at Delhi's Claridges Hotel these days, one is always on the lookout for the onset of Stendhal Syndrome, for some of the greatest works of modern Indian art are assembled here under one roof. Thankfully, after an elaborate tour of the exhibition — spread out across the hotel lobby and over two small gallery halls — I didn't feel anything like Stendhal had (or, given the apocryphal nature of the tale, hadn't).

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To come across rare paintings by MF Husain, Raza and Ram Kumar, among several other modern masters, at the same place is like an art lover’s candy-store dream.

To come across rare paintings by MF Husain, Ram Kumar, Jamini Roy, SH Raza, FN Souza and Sakti Burman, among several other modern masters, at the same place is like an art lover's candy-store dream. The only trouble is, it's difficult focussing on something when virtually every piece of the exhibition is a potential highlight. How does one take eyes off the Benares landscape by Ram Kumar, painted in 2014, and concentrate on the untitled oil-on-canvas painting by Husain from 1989, which shows a female sitar player in a red sari with an entirely yellow figure playing the tanpura in the backdrop?

Lost for words, I foolishly started talking money with the gallery attendant. "How much for the Husain?" I asked. "85 lakh" was the snap response. Jesus! And that's one of the cheaper Husains. Anyhow, the value of this exhibition is not sufficiently summed up by the exorbitant prices you'll hear quoted at the venue. Some of the paintings showcased here are extremely rare and getting a chance to see them — an exercise significantly cheaper as compared to owning them — should be enough.

One such rarity is a vertical panel — 78.75 x 15.75 inch — done in acrylic by Raza, which stands almost floor to ceiling at the gallery. Another is an untitled 2014 painting by Ram Kumar with two human figures, filling up the right foreground. Yes, you read that right: 2014. But for those who don't know: Kumar, in his later phase, completely ceased painting human figures. Only landscapes, with their emptiness and silence, appealed to him. And then he goes ahead and paints this piece, which alone makes the show worth attending. Never mind the other invaluable gems.

 
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