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Peabody Essex Museum opens pivotal show of Modern Indian art from its collection
Tyeb Mehta, Sequence, 1981, oil on canvas. Peabody Essex Museum, gift of the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection. © The Estate of Tyeb Mehta. Image courtesy Peabody Essex Museum, photograph by Walter Silver.

SALEM, MASS.- From the moment India achieved independence from British rule on August 15, 1947, through the global economic boom of the 1990s, a revolutionary art movement emerged. The Peabody Essex Museum presents Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independence, From the Peabody Essex Museum's Herwitz Collection, an exhibition spanning three generations of Indian painters who changed the way we think of Indian art. Nearly 70 works by 23 leading artists were selected from PEM's Chester & Davida Herwitz Collection -- internationally recognized as one of the largest and most important assemblages of modern Indian art outside of India. They are presented alongside conversational groupings of key works by well-known artists from around the world including Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, and Andrew Wyeth, lending context to the development of this movement in the wider world of modern painting. Midnight to the Boom is on view at PEM from February 2 through April 21, 2013.

During this time of enormous political and cultural upheaval, artists working in post-independence India were able to express their individual artistic visions, transcending the limits of the region's traditional art forms. From the 1940s to the 1990s, they responded to art from around the world and across time, developing original themes, techniques, and means of expression. The movement's proponents -- among the most influential, M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, and Nasreen Mohamedi -- faced a particular challenge: how to convey their individual concerns and remain true to their roots, while entering into a wider discourse based on modernism's universal principles of experimentation.

"This exhibition reflects the reality of an interconnected global art world, and the way non-Western artists have participated in art movements at home, and as part of the overall unfolding of the world's art history, " said Susan Bean, Guest Curator. "With Midnight to the Boom we offer a new framework for appreciating and interpreting modern Indian art."

In carefully selected juxtapositions throughout the exhibition, paintings by Indian artists are presented with works by international and local artists who resonated with their aesthetic preferences or techniques. Artists' statements indicate just how such works of their contemporaries and others were used as creative resources. These comparisons expand our understanding of modernism as a global phenomenon and reflect its boundless spirit of exchange.

In the 1980s, Bikash Bhattacharjee rejected traditional themes in pursuit of emotionally charged and visually direct depictions of contemporary life, such as street scenes of Calcutta. After graduating from art school, Bhattacharjee encountered American artist Andrew Wyeth's paintings for the first time, recalling the way "...the differences of country, period and characters melted away." Bhattacharjee became an avid collector of books on Wyeth, and he continued to explore Wyeth's brush techniques and thematic preferences. Bhattacharjee shared Wyeth's dramatic handling of light and shadow, creating scenes sympathetic in their compositional techniques and tonal gradations. In Midnight to the Boom, Andrew Wyeth's 1937 Charlie Ervine is considered alongside Bikash Bhattacharjee's 1986 The Lady with the Gas Cylinder.

M.F. Husain, perhaps the most famous of India's modern artists, found a source of artistic inspiration by looking eastward. While travelling in Beijing in 1951, Husain met the renowned artist Xu Beihong, and viewed his famous horse paintings for the first time. Struck by their exquisite grace and vitality, Husain returned to his studies of horses -- one of his favorite subjects --with a renewed vigor, drawing inspiration from Xu's treatment of the subject and pushing his work in a new direction.

The Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection of modern Indian art comprises 1,200 works by more than 70 of India's leading artists of the second half of the 20th century, including M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza, Manjit Bawa, Tyeb Mehta, Ganesh Pyne, K. Laxma Goud, Jogen Chowdhury, Nalini Malani, Nasreen Mohamedi, Bhupen Khakhar, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, Gulammohammed Sheikh, and Arpita Singh. This groundbreaking collection also includes a major international art library and an archive of letters, papers, and other documents. In 2003, the Peabody Essex Museum opened the Chester and Davida Herwitz Gallery of Contemporary Indian Art, the first gallery dedicated to India's modern and contemporary art by an American museum and featuring changing installations from the collection.

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