Guggenheim Presents First Museum Exhibition of Indian Modern Painter V. S. Gaitonde

Gaitonde 1962 490


Guggenheim Presents First Museum Exhibition of Indian Modern Painter Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde

Exhibition: V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life
Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Location: Annex Level 4, Thannhauser 4, and Monitor 4 Galleries
Dates: October 24, 2014–February 11, 2015
Media Preview: Thursday, October 23, 2014, 10 am-12 pm

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(New York, NY - June 4, 2014) – The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents the first museum exhibition dedicated to the work of celebrated Indian modern painter Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde (1924–2001) with V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life from October 24, 2014, to February 11, 2015. The retrospective will comprise forty-five major paintings and works on paper drawn from thirty leading public institutions and private collections across Asia, Europe, and the United States, forming the most comprehensive overview of Gaitonde’s work to date. As current scholarship revisits traditions of mid-20th-century modern art outside of the Euro-American paradigm, Gaitonde’s work presents an unparalleled opportunity to explore the context of Indian modern art as it played out in the metropolitan centers of Bombay (now Mumbai) and New Delhi from the late 1940s through the end of the 20th century. Featuring many works that have never been seen by the public, the exhibition will reveal Gaitonde’s extraordinary use of color, line, form, and texture, as well as symbolic elements and calligraphy, in works that seem to glow with an inner light.

The exhibition is organized by Sandhini Poddar, Adjunct Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, with Amara Antilla, Curatorial Assistant, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It is presented in conjunction with  the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Initiative, committed to the integration of modern and contemporary Asian art into museum programming and collection activities as part of  the institutional global mission.

This exhibition is supported in part by Christie’s and the W.L.S. Spencer Foundation. 

The Leadership Committee for V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life is gratefully acknowledged for its support, with special thanks to Shiv and Kiran Nadar, as well as Aicon Gallery, Marguerite Charugundla and Kent Srikanth Charugundla, Mr. and Mrs. Rajiv J. Chaudhri, Pheroza Jamshyd Godrej, Gujral Foundation, Amrita Jhaveri and Pilar Ordovas, Mukeeta and Pramit Jhaveri, Sangita and Sajjan Jindal, Shanthi Kandiah and Brahmal Vasudevan, Peter Louis and Chandru Ramchandani, Ashwath Mehra, Sanjay and Anjna Motwani, Smita and Ramesh Prabhakar, Pundole Art Gallery, Poonam Bhagat Shroff, Aditi and Shivinder Singh, Talwar Gallery, Vadehra Art Gallery, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky, and those who wish to remain anonymous.

Born in Nagpur, India in 1924, Gaitonde was briefly affiliated with avant-garde collectives such as the Progressive Artists’ Group and the Bombay Group in the early ’50s. Nonetheless, Gaitonde remained independent throughout most of his career, unrelated to any of the modern groups, movements, styles, or academies that developed after 1947 in post-Independence India. He was an artist of singular stature, known to fellow artists and intellectuals, as well as to later generations of students and collectors, as a man of uncompromising artistic integrity of spirit and purpose. A stringent attachment to the codes of painting and the ethics of being a painter distinguished his aesthetic worldview.

The exhibition will draw an arc from Gaitonde’s early, figurative, mixed-medium works and watercolors inspired by Paul Klee (1879–1940), through his major bodies of paintings from the 1960s and ’70s during which time he developed his signature oil works on canvas, to his late works from the 1980s and ’90s. Gaitonde began participating in solo and group exhibitions across India and abroad in the mid-1950s. Departing from Klee’s agile lines, lyrical colors, and fantastical symbolist imagery, the artist began working in the late 1950s in a nonrepresentational mode—or, as he preferred to call it, a nonobjective style. This turn towards abstraction coincides with Gaitonde’s lifelong interest in Zen Buddhism, and is in accordance with the philosophy first espoused by Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944), as is embodied by the Guggenheim Museum’s origins as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Achieving silence was constitutive in Gaitonde’s creative process. During an interview in 1991, he equated the circle—which appears in several of his canvases—with silence, speech with the splitting of the circle in half, and Zen with a dot: “Everything starts from silence. The silence of the brush. The silence of the canvas. The silence of the painting knife. The painter starts by absorbing all these silences. You are not partial in the sense that no one part of you is working there. Your entire being is. Your entire being is working together with the brush, the painting knife, the canvas to absorb that silence and create.”

Gaitonde employed palette knives and paint rollers and often used torn pieces of newspaper and magazines to create abstract forms through a “lift-off” technique. The resulting paintings have a sense of weightlessness, yet their texture assures physicality and presence. His work spans the traditions of nonobjective painting and Zen Buddhism as well as Indian miniatures and East Asian hanging scrolls and ink paintings. This transnational set of references and influences provides an art historical context for Gaitonde’s work that has not yet been fully developed before this retrospective and its accompanying catalogue. When looking at Gaitonde’s oeuvre within the wider related context of international postwar art, one can draw parallels to artists working within the contemporary School of Paris, and movements such as Art Informel, Tachisme, and Abstract Expressionism, and yet continue to define his output within the particular ethos of living and working in India, as he did throughout his lifetime. The artistic careers of Nicolas de Staël (1914–1955), Adolph Gottlieb (1903–1974), Simon Hantaï (1922–2008), Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967), Mark Rothko (1903–1970), and Anne Ryan (1889–1954) provide some formal resonances to Gaitonde’s work.

V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life will reveal Gaitonde as a seminal colorist whose career remains unequaled in the history of South Asian modern art. As Indian critic Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni has stated, Gaitonde’s “independent-mindedness was accompanied by a firm belief in his identity as a painter.” The artist often spent months conceiving a new work but allowed for accident and play to ultimately inform the making of his art. Never prolific, Gaitonde is known to have made only five or six paintings a year, given his lengthy process of conceptualization. An emphasis on process, a masterful handling of color, structure, texture, and light, and an intuitive understanding of how these forces alter perception, are all testaments to Gaitonde’s unwavering commitment to his craft.

After the presentation at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life will travel to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice from October 3, 2015–January 10, 2016.

Exhibition Catalogue
V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue authored by Sandhini Poddar that will serve as the first comprehensive art historical and biographic record on the artist. The catalogue is co-published by Prestel/DelMonico Books and will be available for $55 at

Education and Public Programs
Film by Sunil Kaldate
Friday, October 24, 5:30 pm
A rare film screening of V. S. Gaitonde (1995, 27 min.) followed by an in-gallery discussion between the filmmaker and exhibition curator Sandhini Poddar.
$8, $6 members, free students

Curator’s Eye Tours
Fridays, 12 pm
October 31: Sandhini Poddar
January 16: Amara Antilla
Free with museum admission

Eye to Eye: Gaitonde and Abstraction
Monday, November 3, 6:30 pm
In this program, scholar Iftikhar Dadi, artist Zarina, and exhibition curator Sandhini Poddar discuss international modernism, abstraction, and the work of V. S. Gaitonde, within the exhibition galleries.
$12, $8 members, $5 students

About V.S. Gaitonde
Gaitonde was born in 1924 in Nagpur, Maharashtra. He graduated from the Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay in 1948 and became a fellow there from 1948 to 1950. In 1957, Gaitonde won the Fleischmann Prize at the First Young Asian Artists Exhibition in Tokyo organized by the Japan Cultural Forum. The artist was awarded the JDR 3rd Fund in 1964, which allowed him to spend a year in New York. In 1972 he received the highly prestigious Padma Shri award from the Government of India, and moved to New Delhi the same year. In September 1984, Gaitonde was injured in a severe auto accident, which temporarily left him unable to make large canvases. Consequently, he turned to smaller format works on paper from 1985 to 1987. The artist was awarded the Kalidas Samman award by the state government of Madhya Pradesh for the year 1988–1989, and resumed work on his canvases in 1989. He continued to paint until 1998 and died in Gurgaon, Haryana in 2001.

Gaitonde’s works are included in numerous public collections, including the Rupankar Museum of Fine Art, Bhopal, India; Glenbarra Art Museum, Himeji, Japan; Humboldt Arts Council at the Morris Graves Museum of Art, Eureka, California; Philadelphia Museum of Art; University Art Gallery, University of Pittsburgh; Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum), Mumbai; Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy School of Art (now Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy Institute of Applied Arts), Mumbai; Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi; Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Bengaluru, and Mumbai; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

About the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Founded in 1937, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of art, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods, through exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications. The Guggenheim network that began in the 1970s when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, was joined by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, has since expanded to include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which opened in 1997, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, currently in development. Looking to the future, the Guggenheim Foundation continues to forge international collaborations that take contemporary art, architecture, and design beyond the walls of the museum, including with the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, and with The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative. More information about the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation can be found at

Visitor Information
Admission: Adults $22, students/seniors (65+) $18, members and children under 12 free. The Guggenheim’s new, free app, available with admission or by download to personal devices, offers an enhanced visitor experience. The app features content on special exhibitions as well as access to more than 1,400 works in the Guggenheim’s permanent collection and information about the museum’s landmark building. A verbal imaging guide for the collection is available for visitors who are blind or have low vision. The Guggenheim app is sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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September 22 (Updated from June 4, 2014)

Lauren Van Natten, Associate Director, Media and Public Relations
Molly Stewart, Media and Public Relations Associate
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
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V. S. Gaitonde. Untitled, 1962. Ink and watercolor on paper, 26 6/8 x 30 inches (55.9 x 76.2 cm). Collection of Kiran Nadar, New Delhi. Photo: Anil Rane, 2014 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

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