Look again, Dada

'American Wedding' at the Dadaumpop exhibition in New Delhi.

Italian pop: 'His Hero'.

Pop art, with a potent message, at an exhibition to celebrate Italy's unification.



How many times have you come across a painting, a sculpture or an art installation that you felt was nothing but child's play and dismissed it saying, “Even I could have done this”? Chances are, many. At first glance, Dada or neo-pop art of Europe, may make you feel that this kind of art is nothing but one of those “stupidly easy things” that you could do too. Moral of the story — the greatness or beauty of an art object lies not in its intricateness but in the power of its idea, its expression and the message it conveys.

A simple, everyday object such as a hot water bottle or a throwaway bottle carton can be used to convey an idea. For instance, an installation of hot water bottles encased in brightly knitted bags with names of different mineral water bottling companies on them becomes art with the simple caption “Hot Water Battle”, which conveys a potent message.

Many more such examples of Dada art can be savoured at an ongoing exhibition at the Italian Cultural Centre in Delhi till March 20. The exhibition, titled Dadaumpop and curated by Italian critic Igor Zanti, is part of the celebrations of 150 years of Italy's unification. The expo represents works of 27 artists, with ages ranging from 82 to 27 years. “It offers a 360-degree, all-round panoramic view of neo-pop art,” says Zanti.

Dada art movement started in the early 20th century as an anti-art movement, in opposition to the idyllic and flowery images of the late Victorian period. While in literature the pastoral poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats gave way to the Wasteland and Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot, in art the creativity found expression in subverting the established practices of the masters.

As with most other art movements, Dadaism also began in Europe with the iconic installation of a subverted men's urinal in the form of a “Fountain” by French artist Marcel Duchamp. The idea was to question the established and mock at the revered images of art. This soon gave way to surrealism, abstract, modern, pop and, now, what is called the neo-pop form of art.

The exhibition, which has travelled to Delhi after Mumbai and Kolkata, covers installations, sculptures and acrylics on canvas that are as bright and cheerful as the comic-book and cartoon characters they depict. The use of popular characters such as Alice (of Wonderland), Goofy, Donald Duck and Batman may give the impression of the works being frivolous and nothing more than pretty images at first look, but an insight into their deeper meaning by the curator takes them to another level. For instance, there is a series of four Walt Disney characters painted in simple, bold, black strokes on golden square pieces by 73-year-old Silvio Monti. The uninitiated would look at them and walk past. But when Zanti explains that in European art, especially Italian, a golden background is only used for saints, the Disney characters and their depiction suddenly acquire a whole new meaning and dimension — they are the saints of the modern world or “foundations of contemporary culture”, as the artist dubs them, and they go beyond religion, boundaries and words.

Similarly, there are two toy characters — oil on canvas by 45-year-old Stefano Bolcato — conveying the story of domestic violence. Here the twist, in an Indian context, is that the violence is being inflicted on the male, who has fallen down with the pudding, and the female is triumphantly marching on with a pan in hand. The caption says, “The proof is in the pudding, but the pudding was not good”.

There's an Indian connect, too. There are robotic toy installations of actors Amitabh Bachchan with Superman imprints and Shah Rukh Khan with the Spiderman motif, though one has to look closely to find a similarity.

And the biggest takeaway — tag on to the curator to get deeper insight when you go to see an art exhibition!

Published on March 10, 2011

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