Modern + Contemporary Art of India



Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independence at the Peabody Essex Museum 2013 ©PEM, photo by Walter Silver

Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independence at the Peabody Essex Museum 2013
©PEM, photo by Walter Silver

In 2013 I curated Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independenceat the Peabody Essex Museum. For Midnight to the Boom I drew on the museum’s Herwitz Collection and select loans to present critical shifts in art practice across three generations between independence in 1947 and the economic boom of the 1990s. Reviewers for the Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal appreciated the exhibition for its “display of so much impressive and accomplished art,” its “beautiful and carefully edited” installation. Cate McQuaid of the Globe experienced a “lush, bustling” exhibition, that followed “moves from modern art through the anything-goes era of postmodernism and toward the more conceptual, technology-driven era of art in the 21st century,” drawing  “a taut picture of conflict and synthesis.” Thomas Freudenheim, writing for the Wall Street Journal, noted that the “focus on Indian artists’ engagement with other art makes this show especially important.”  Freudenheim deemed  a “curatorial coup” the juxtapositions of paintings with works from near and far that had been explicitly drawn on as resources because of the ways that these comparisons “illuminated the aesthetic breadth of the artists.”

Midnight to the Boom was the culmination of a decade’s work with the Herwitz Collection of modern and contemporary art from India. I first met Chester and Davida Herwitz In the early 1990s when I was invited to view their amazing collection, numbering more than 4000 paintings, works on paper and sculptures. At the time they were beginning to consider an eventual donation of their collection to a museum. It was my good fortune be able to interest them in the Peabody Essex Museum, help bring the collection to PEM, and integrate it into the museum’s program. The first exhibition from the Herwitz Collection at PEM, Timeless Visions, was mounted in 1999. In 2001 the Herwitz family donated the core of the collection to PEM.  I oversaw the cataloguing of  more than 1300 works of art, the first substantial collection of 20th century art from India in a museum outside India. At the same time, I supervised the compilation of the Herwitz’s correspondence, books, clippings, brochures, catalogues and photographs into an archive invaluable for the study of the art world of late 20th-century India. Between the inauguration of the Herwitz Gallery in 2003 and Midnight to the Boom in 2013, I curated a series of exhibitions in the museum’s Herwitz Gallery, the first space  in an American museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art from South Asia.  Click here for a complete list of these exhibitions and accompanying publications.

Exposing the Source: Paintings by Nalini Malani PEM photo by Walter Silver

Exposing the Source: Paintings by Nalini Malani
Peabody Essex Museum 2005
©PEM photo by Walter Silver

The inaugural exhibition, Visions of India: the Herwitz Collection, presented a selection from the collection to illustrate its scope, ranging from established to younger artists, and from major works to sketches.   Exposing the Source: Paintings by Nalini Malani (2005)  augmented with several recent works borrowed from private collections, exemplified the depth of the collection through a mini-retrospective of one of India’s now globally renowned contemporary artists. Epic India: M. F. Husain’s Mahabharata Project used works from the collection and a few important borrowed works for an in-depth look at the artist’s 20-year engagement with India’s greatest epic.  Gateway Bombay (2007) presented the work of 13 painters and photographers responding to India’s largest metropolis.  ReVisions: Indian Artists Engaging Traditions (2009), co-curated with Kimberly Masteller in collaboration with the Harvard University Art Museums, paired works by 14 artists with examples of popular, classic and traditional genres on which each artist had drawn. Painting the Modern in India (2010) featured paintings by eight pioneers of the post-independence art movement.

In addition to curating the collection and the exhibitions I have lectured in museums and universities on aspects of South Asian 20th-century art, including a course in the Harvard University Extension School, the Art of Modern India (2004), and published essays and reviews on aspects of the post-independence art movement. Click here for a list publications.