The new guard of the country’s most influential artists is changing the artscape around the globe. Historian and art critic Amin Jaffer gives HELLO! his top picks of who he thinks rule the proverbial roost in the world of art.
The Progressives defined art in India for several decades. Their paintings hung in the homes and offices of the country’s cultural cognoscenti and soon found themselves in museums and auction houses around the world. MF Husain, FN Souza, SH Raza, Tyeb Mehta and VS Gaitonde… The names are enough to immediately evoke a deep sense of pride and bring to mind flashes of genius and some of the most celebrated canvases to come out of India.
As the world evolves, so does its art. And with that in mind, a new group of masters have emerged from the subcontinent. We spoke to art historian and former Christie’s honcho Amin Jaffer to come up with this stellar list of India’s new elite. The Modern Masters, as we call them, these men and women today redefine Indian art and pave a way for themselves globally like others of their ilk have never done before.
Anish Kapoor is one of the most renowned contemporary Indian artists of our time. Born in Mumbai in 1954, he moved to London in the 1970s and has since become a prominent figure in the global art world. He’s won numerous awards, and his works have been exhibited in major museums and galleries the world over.
One of Kapoor’s greatest strengths is his ability to create art that’s both visually stunning and intellectually engaging. His deep understanding of the relationship between space, form and light, and using these elements to create works, are both awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. His sculptures are often large-scale, creating an immersive experience for the viewer and encouraging them to contemplate the work from multiple perspectives.
Kapoor’s art is also characterised by his use of materials. From the traditional bronze and stone to more unconventional modes like wax and silicone, he has experimented with a wide range over the course of his career. He has a particular affinity for mediums with transformative qualities, such as pigments that change colour in response to light.
Another key aspect of the artist’s work is his engagement with the spiritual and the mystical. Many of his works are inspired by Hindu mythology and other spiritual traditions, and he often uses his sculptures to explore concepts like infinity, transcendence and the sublime. His artwork can be seen as physical manifestations of these abstract ideas, allowing viewers to engage with them in a tangible way.
With work notable for its political and social commentary, many of Kapoor’s sculptures deal with issues like migration, displacement and the refugee crisis. His sculpture ‘Cloud Gate’ (also known as ‘The Bean’) in Chicago has become an icon of the city, symbolising the melting pot of cultures that make up America.
Subodh Gupta started his career as a painter before turning to sculpture and installations. He’s known for his use of everyday objects and materials to create large-scale works that address issues of identity, globalisation and consumer culture. The sculptor’s early works focused on the human body, often portraying figures in states of ecstasy or suffering. However, in the 1990s, he began incorporating daily objects like utensils, pots and pans into his ideas to create sculptures and installations that addressed social issues. One of his most famous works is ‘Line of Control,’ a giant mushroom cloud made of stainless steel utensils that comments on the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan.
It was in the early 2000s that Gupta’s work gained international attention, with exhibitions at major art institutions such as the Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim in New York. His work has also been included in the Venice Biennale and other major globally renowned art events.
Gupta’s rise in the art world can be credited to his ability to address universal themes through the use of everyday objects, as well as his willingness to experiment with new techniques and materials like found objects and gold leaf. Besides carrying a deeper meaning that speaks to larger cultural issues, his works are accessible, relatable and often site-specific, which means they’re created for a particular space and incorporate the surrounding environment into the work itself. In addition to these factors, the artist has also been praised for bridging the gap between traditional Indian art forms and contemporary art practices, creating works that are both culturally specific and globally relevant.
She gained international recognition for her powerful and provocative works that challenge cultural and societal norms. Born in England in 1969 to Indian parents, Bharti Kher moved to New Delhi with her family at a young age, where she later studied painting at the prestigious Delhi College of Art.
Her early works were primarily paintings and drawings, but she soon began to experiment with different mediums, including sculpture and installation art. In the late 1990s, Kher became interested in the use of bindis as a symbol of femininity and cultural identity — a fascination that later became a recurring theme in her work.
The artist’s breakthrough moment came in 2006, when she was selected to participate in the prestigious Venice Biennale. Her installation, ‘The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own,’ featured a massive elephant sculpture covered in bindis, which served as a powerful commentary on cultural identity and the objectification of women in Indian society. The installation was widely praised and helped to cement Kher’s reputation as a rising star in the evolving world of art.
Since then, she has continued to create works that challenge societal norms and push the boundaries of what is considered “acceptable” in art. Her works often explore themes of identity, gender and cultural heritage, and she’s known for her use of unconventional materials and techniques.
In 2014, Kher was awarded the prestigious Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government, in recognition of her contributions to the arts. Her works have been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including the Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim in New York.
Today, Kher is considered one of India’s most promising artists, and her rise to fame serves as an inspiration to creatives around the world. Her works continue to challenge and inspire audiences, as she pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in the realm of international contemporary art.
Known for his thought-provoking and politically charged works of art that explore themes of history, identity and social justice, Jitish Kallat was born in Mumbai in 1974, where he studied at the Sir JJ School of Art. He later earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Mumbai, making it unsurprising that much of his early works were heavily influenced by his experiences growing up in the city and his interest in its rich history and culture. Kallat often incorporates elements of Indian mythology, symbolism and language into his works, creating powerful and immersive installations that challenge viewers to think deeply about the world around them.
One of his most famous works is a large installation titled ‘Public Notice 3,’ a recreation of a famous speech given by Mahatma Gandhi in Mumbai in 1947, shortly before India gained independence from British rule. The speech is rendered in neon lights and hangs above the viewer, creating a powerful and immersive experience that encourages reflection on the themes of freedom, justice and equality.
The artist’s popularity grew in the early 2000s, when he began to exhibit his works around the world. His paintings, sculptures and installations, with their blend of traditional Indian imagery and contemporary Western influences, resonated with audiences and critics alike, and today, he’s widely regarded as one of India’s most influential artists. His works are featured in numerous collections across the globe, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.
A renowned contemporary artist, Atul Dodiya is most popular for his thought-provoking and deeply personal works of art that explore themes of politics and cultural heritage. Born in Mumbai in 1959, he studied at the Sir JJ School of Art and later earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. His works often incorporate a mix of Western and Indian art traditions and explore the complexities of living in a rapidly changing, globalised world. He’s known for his unique approach to painting, which often involves incorporating mixed-media elements and found objects into his works.
One of Dodiya’s most famous pieces is a large installation titled ‘The Bombay Buccaneer.’ This work is a tribute to his father, who was a noted Indian freedom fighter and a collector of Western art. The installation includes a life-size replica of Dodiya’s father’s study, complete with bookshelves, a desk and a chair, as well as numerous paintings, sculptures and other objects that Dodiya collected over the years.
The artist rose to fame in the early 1990s, when he began to exhibit his works internationally. His paintings and installations have been widely praised for their innovative approach and deeply personal nature that also resonate with a wider audience. Today, Dodiya is considered one of India’s most important and influential contemporary artists. His works are featured in numerous collections around the world, including the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.
In 2013, he was awarded the prestigious Civitella Ranieri Fellowship in Italy, which is given to artists who demonstrate exceptional talent. Today, his impact on the art world continues to be felt, and he remains a vital voice in the contemporary scene.
Nalini Malani’s work gained international acclaim for its powerful social and political commentary. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1946, she studied art in India and has since exhibited her work in museums and galleries around the world. One of the most striking aspects of Malani’s work is her use of diverse mediums such as painting, drawing, video, installation and theatre, which reflect her multidisciplinary approach to art-making. Her work is also known for its bold use of colour and imagery, which often employs the female figure as a symbol of resistance and empowerment.
Malani’s career has been marked by numerous exhibitions, including her retrospective exhibition ‘You Can’t Keep Acid in a Paper Bag’ at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2017, which showcased her work spanning over four decades. She has also participated in major events such as the Venice Biennale in 2019, where she was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Her success can be attributed to her unique ability to create artworks that speak to contemporary social and political issues. Her work often engages with themes such as gender, violence and the effects of colonialism, which appeal to audiences around the world. By creating works that are both visually striking and politically charged, she has been able to capture the attention of art critics and the public alike.
In addition to her artistic achievements, Malani has also been recognised for her contributions to society. In 2013, she was awarded the Fukuoka Prize, an international award given to those who have made significant contributions to Asian culture. And in 2016, she was given the Asia Arts Game Changer Award for her impact on the contemporary art world. Her legacy as an artist and social commentator continues to inspire audiences around the world.
This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the May-June 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!