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Fifteen-year survey of Bharti Kher's practice opens at the Rockbund Art Museum
Bharti Kher, Sing to them that will listen (detail), 2008.

SHANGHAI.- Rockbund Art Museum presents Bharti Kher: Misdemeanours, on view in Shanghai from January 11 to March 30, 2014. Contemporary painter and sculptor Bharti Kher has been engaged with the varying art historical traditions of the readymade, minimalism and abstraction (through repeated gestures and forms), as well as mythology and narrativity for the past twenty years. This fifteen-year survey of Kher’s practice from the early years of the 21st century through to the present — represented by new bodies of work made specifically for the Rockbund Art Museum and its related institutional and cultural histories — constitutes a synthesized overview into a complex and evolving worldview and the artist’s first major solo exhibition in Asia. Organized to occupy all six floors of the museum’s galleries, the exhibition examines tropes, ideas, and bodies of work that constitute the mainstay of Kher’s oeuvre, including the interlocking relationships between man and the animal kingdom and the attendant notions of hybridity, transmogrification, and ethics, which are pervasive topics in contemporary art and critical discourse today; the links between abstraction and figuration; the question of the other; gender politics; globalization and cosmopolitanism, and what it means to be a contemporary artist and cultural producer. The exhibition also includes two site-specific installations that serve as conceptual and physical “skins” that encase the museum’s monumental façade and conjoin two exhibition spaces on consecutive floors. These architectural interventions serve as mirrors to Kher’s own use of the bindi to serve as a carrier of the other, and an object that revels in both in its ability to decorate and enliven attention, as well as to subsume and obscure the gaze.

For Kher, the central question of identity (as body, gender, language, and motif) is inextricably linked to the question of artifice — as an existential, aesthetic, biological, and ethical trope. Kher’s women in her important photographic suite, the Hybrid series, which includes The hunter and the prophet, chocolate muffin, angel, family portrait, and feather duster (all from 2004), exist in a liminal state between humdrum domesticity and violent phantasmagoria, as their photoshopped selves — part human, part animal — appear both seductive and demure, seemingly in agreement with their given roles, as well as domineering and resistant, having elected to relish in their own duplicitous and multiplying selfhoods. The poetics of the body reveals Kher’s interests in entropy, mutation, and transformation, as witnessed by humans and animals alike. Kher’s series of animal-based works, including Misdemeanours (2006), The skin speaks a language not its own (2006) and An absence of assignable cause (2007), together may constitute what Benjamin H.D. Buchloh has termed as “the embodiment of the spectacularized uncanny par excellence.”1 For Kher, agents such as folly, accident, satire, and play go to the heart of what it means to be a practicing artist, and to relate to the world through art.

Kher has stated, “If I could remake my artistic career, I think I would be a minimalist painter. All the art that I love comes from the tradition of reduction—but I can’t because I’m super maximum!”2 Although Kher’s diverse output is highly varied in materiality, sensibility, approach, and subject matter, repeating patterns and gestures do appear throughout, starting with her early work as a painter during her student years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Kher’s work displays an intrinsic love of counting, subtle understanding of scale, and predilection towards human drama and contemporary life, as witnessed by her in the metropolitan center of New Delhi, where the artist has lived and worked since the early 1990s. Furthermore, it is also a practice that includes cyclical characters that appear and reappear, including the ape for instance, and a highly attuned sensitivity to the cascades, puns, and intonations of language, as expressed in Kher’s evocative titles for her artworks. The Rockbund Art Museum exhibition includes a selection of twenty works comprised of sculptures, Kher’s much-celebrated bindi paintings, photographs, site-specific installations, and an outdoor mural consisting of a gigantic multi-paneled bindi painting, modeled after Kher’s 2007 bindi diptych, Target Queen. These works include loans from leading private and public institutions internationally as well as new commissions.

The exhibition has been curated by Sandhini Poddar, Mumbai-based art historian and adjunct curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Bharti Kher was born in London in 1969 and studied at Middlesex Polytechnic, England from 1987–1988 and Newcastle Polytechnic, England from 1988–1991. She has participated in numerous international exhibitions since 1990, with recent solo exhibitions including Kukje Gallery, Seoul, South Korea and Nature Morte, New Delhi, India, 2013; Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London and Savannah College for Art and Design, Georgia, USA, 2012; BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England, 2008, amongst others. Noteworthy recent group exhibitions include Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto and Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, 2012–13 (traveling); Mystetskyi Arsenal, First International Biennale of Contemporary Art: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times. Rebirth and Apocalypse in Contemporary Art, Kiev, Ukraine, 2012; Paris — Delhi — Bombay, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, 2011; Serpentine Gallery, Indian Highway, London, England; Astrup Fearnley Museum, Indian Highway II, Oslo, Norway; Herning Kunstmuseum, Indian Highway III, Denmark; Musée d'Art Contemporain, Indian Highway IV, Lyon, France, 2011; MAXXI Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo, Indian Highway V, Rome, Italy (2008–11, traveling); and India Moderna, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Spain, 2008, amongst others. Her works can be found in the collections of the Burger Collection, Hong Kong; Tate Modern, London; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi, and François Pinault Collection, Paris, amongst others.

1 See Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, ‘The Entropic Encyclopedia’ in Artforum Vol. 52, No. 1, September 2013, p. 316.


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