press release

Politics and poetics, ethics and aesthetics: the continual crossing of these dimensions defines the evolving forcefield in which the multimedia oeuvre of Vivan Sundaram (born 1943 in Simla, India) has taken shape over the last five decades. Its inaugural phase coincides with an emblematic date in the second half of the twentieth century: 1968, synonymous with the international protest movements of students, workers and civil rights activists. This was the year in which Sundaram made an important set of paintings, soon after he graduated from the Slade School of Art in London. It was a moment that crystallized his conviction that an engagement with the world in all its actuality was the fundamental reason for being an artist. All his endeavors since then, whatever the mediums he has explored, have focussed on finding the formal means appropriate to this commitment. The principle of collage and montage that he adopted early on—the juxtaposition of elements deriving from opposed aesthetic registers, the taste for fragments and quotations—made for a disjunctive pictorial space in which the frame was put under considerable pressure. Both Pop Art and Minimalism paved the way towards a practice understood as situated in an expanded field, and Sundaram is the artist in India whose work has most keenly registered the political import of this deterritorialization.

The turn, from the early 1990s, towards a spatially enlarged conception of art making coincided with his interest in exploring the materiality of a range of substances, whether of industrial or artisanal provenance, even as it allowed freer rein to a poetics of bricolage that has been an important formal component of his way of proceeding. The choice of materials, moreover, usually has a thematic resonance in the different bodies of work that he has made over the last 25 years. If Sundaram describes himself as a political artist and as a critical witness to his times, it is the mediation of the plastic language deployed by him that makes his political stance indissociable from a poetics of making, and that mediation is permeated with a profound and abiding consciousness of history.

Initiated by Okwui Enwezor, the exhibition is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging survey of Sundaram’s work at a European institution. It comprises early paintings and two sets of drawings—Long Night (1987-90) and Engine Oil and Charcoal (1991-92)—that reflect on the aftermath of 20th century wars. It includes performative sculptures, photography and video; an important sequence of works that reconfigures urban detritus as the basis of a rumination on "reality at the poverty level of consumption" and on the “Junkspace" of the globalized, late-capitalist present; and multi-part installations, notably Memorial (1993/2014), which confronts the specter of communal violence in India. The display is conceived as a sequence of juxtapositions suggesting how formal and thematic preoccupations ricochet from one work to another. History, memory, archive: the three keywords that the artist has designated as the overarching concerns of his practice are the signposts for articulating the overall structure of the exhibition, an open-ended framework for exploring the connections and disjunctures between these terms and themes.

Curated by Deepak Ananth Assisted by Anna Schneider

Supported by the Consulate General of India Munich and Goethe-Institut e.V.