V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life opens Friday October 24, 2014–February 11, 2015


V. S. Gaitonde
Untitled, 1955
Oil on canvas, 30 x 22 inches (76.2 x 55.9 cm)
Chowdhury Family Collection, Vienna-Mumbai
Photo: Florian Biber

Guggenheim Presents First Museum Exhibition of Indian
Modern Painter Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde Opening October 24
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
(NEW YORK, NY – October 24, 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 comprises 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 reveals
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 and Poonam Bhagat Shroff, as well as to 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, 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 draws 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 reveals 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 is 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 is available for $55 at
Education and Public Programs
Film by Sunil Kaldate
Friday, October 24, 5:30 pm
This screening of V. S. Gaitonde (1995, 27 min.) features rare footage of the artist in his studio. A
conversation between the filmmaker Sunil Kaldate and exhibition curator Sandhini Poddar will follow
the screening and will take place within the exhibition space. Concludes with a wine reception.
$8, $6 members, free students with RSVP
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, critic Arthur Lubow, artist Zarina, and exhibition curator Sandhini
Poddar discuss international modernism, abstraction, and the work of V. S. Gaitonde, within the
exhibition galleries. Concludes with a reception.
$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 with the help of these funds. He continued to paint until 1998 and died in Gurgaon, Haryana in
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 guggenheim.org.
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