Monday, March 31, 2014

How a working-class couple amassed a priceless art collection

Dedicated to all the young collectors of art !

Source: Mental Floss

Image credit: 
National Gallery of Art, Gallery Archives

By Jed Lipinski

Herb Vogel never earned more than $23,000 a year. Born and raised in Harlem, Vogel worked for the post office in Manhattan. He spent nearly 50 years living in a 450-square-foot one-bedroom apartment with his wife, Dorothy, a reference librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. They lived frugally. They didn’t travel. They ate TV dinners. Aside from a menagerie of pets, Herb and Dorothy had just one indulgence: art. But their passion for collecting turned them into unlikely celebrities, working-class heroes in a world of Manhattan elites.

While their coworkers had no idea, the press noticed. The New York Times labeled the Vogels the “In Couple” of New York City. They counted minimalist masters Richard Tuttle and Donald Judd among their close friends. And in just four decades, they assembled one of the most important private art collections of the 20th century, stocking their tiny apartment floor-to-ceiling with Chuck Close sketches, paintings by Roy Lichtenstein, and sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy. Today, more than 1,000 of the works they purchased are housed in the National Gallery, a collection a curator there calls “literally priceless.” J. Carter Brown, the museum’s former director, referred to the collection as “a work of art in itself.”

The Vogels had no formal training in art collecting. They didn’t aspire to open a gallery or work in museums. They bought art the way any amateur collector shops: for the love of the individual pieces and the thrill of a good deal. But you don’t accumulate a priceless collection of anything by accident. Herb and Dorothy developed a methodical system for scouting, assessing, and purchasing art. When it came to mastering their hobby, the Vogels were self-trained professionals. This is how they did it.

The Art of Buying

Herbert Vogel was born in 1922, the son of a tailor and a homemaker. A rebellious teen, fond of jazz and zoot suits, he dropped out of high school because “I hated people telling me what to do,” he said. Instead, he worked in a cigar factory before doing a stint in the National Guard. When a dislocated shoulder resulted in a medical discharge, he enrolled in art history seminars at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where legendary art historians like Erwin Panofsky and Walter Friedlaender held court. In the evenings, Herb frequented the storied Cedar Tavern, listening in awe as artists like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline roared at each other over the meaning of abstract expressionism. He decided he wanted to be a painter. To subsidize his new passion, he landed a job at the post office, working the graveyard shift in the dead-letter department.

In November 1960, Herb, then 38, went to a dance at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Manhattan. Scanning the crowd, his eyes fell on a pretty, bookish young woman 13 years his junior. This was Dorothy Faye Hoffman, the daughter of a stationery merchant from Elmira, N.Y. Dorothy had moved to Brooklyn two years earlier, after receiving her master’s in library science at the University of Denver. Herb thought she looked “intelligent.” Dorothy found him “cuddly” and liked his dance moves. It was love at first sight.
Herb and Dorothy were married in 1962 and spent their honeymoon in Washington, D.C, where they made their inaugural voyage to the National Gallery. “That’s where Herb gave me my first art lesson,” Dorothy said. At the time, she knew next to nothing about art, having always preferred music and theater. But her husband’s enthusiasm inspired her. She enrolled with him in painting and drawing classes at NYU. That same year, they bought a small sculpture made from crushed car metal by the artist John Chamberlain. They had no idea that the joint purchase would be the first of thousands.

The Vogels rented a tiny studio in Union Square, painting there at night and on weekends and using the vibrant, abstract products to decorate their new apartment on 86th Street. But by the mid-1960s, the couple realized that their artistic ambitions outweighed their abilities. “I wasn’t bad,” Dorothy claimed, adding, “I didn’t like Herby’s paintings.” Herb, an unfailingly modest man, admitted as much: “I was a terrible painter.” They decided to concentrate on collecting instead.
At the time, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism were in vogue and too expensive for the Vogels. Minimal and conceptual art, on the other hand, had yet to be embraced by the art world establishment. The Vogels made a pact: Her salary would go toward living expenses, his toward art. Under these new terms, they visited the SoHo studio of an obscure artist named Sol LeWitt and walked out with the first piece LeWitt ever sold: an untitled, golden, T-shaped structure. “He had more than average potential, and I felt it,” Herb said. LeWitt would later become a titan of contemporary American art.
But Herb and Dorothy’s obsession was just starting to kick in. The couple began visiting dozens of galleries and studios each week, becoming what artist Chuck Close called “the mascots of the art world.” In making purchases, they functioned as a team. Herb, the impulsive Dionysian, searched for art “like a truffle hound,” said the artist Lucio Pozzi, who has more than 400 works in the Vogel collection. Dorothy, the Apollonian librarian with the encyclopedic memory, was more passive, hanging back and calculating the financial realities. They had only a few criteria: The work had to be affordable; it had to fit in their apartment; and it had be transportable via taxi or subway. Not part of the equation? The artist’s reputation. “We bought what we liked,” Dorothy said. “Simple as that.” And they continued to lead their double life—racing from studio to studio to gallivant with artists and to scout their next big purchase every night, while keeping their passions private from their work colleagues. Still, assembling such an incredible collection on such a tiny budget required a few other tricks.

Work of Art

Many in the art world call the Vogels’ method cheating. That’s because the couple never dealt with galleries and art dealers. Instead, Herb and Dorothy negotiated with hungry artists directly, arriving at studios with cash in hand. Artist Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in 2009, remembered receiving a phone call from Herb back in 1971, when the creators of “The Gates” were still broke. “It’s the Vogels!” Jeanne-Claude cried to her dispirited husband and partner in art, Christo. “We’re going to pay the rent!” But the Vogels didn’t just take their cash to big-name artists; they were equally passionate about unknown talents, often helping them to develop. David Reed, now a famous conceptual artist, said the couple encouraged him to make more drawings, which later became a central part of his practice. “The Vogels made you aware of what you were doing as an artist,” he said. “They had artist sensibilities.” When they spotted something beyond their means, they’d find a way to make the purchase: They’d buy on credit; they’d forgo a vacation; they’d even throw in cat-sitting to sweeten a deal. And the artists loved them for it. As Chuck Close told Newsday, “You knew when you were selling them something it was becoming part of an important collection.”

It wasn’t long before the artwork overtook their home. By all accounts, the 450-square-foot apartment on East 86th Street was more of a storage facility than a place to live. The Vogels’ collection gradually replaced all their furniture save the kitchen table, some chairs, a bureau, and the bed, which concealed dozens of drawings by Richard Tuttle and Lynda Benglis. Visitors cracked their heads on clay Steve Keister sculptures hung from the ceiling and discovered typographic texts by Lawrence Weiner on the bathroom wall. And while they stashed the pieces wherever they could, Dorothy has repeatedly tried to squelch one persistent rumor: The Vogels never stored art in their oven. Line Media Inc.
It wasn’t just the masterpieces that were crammed into the space; the Vogels shared their storehouse with 20 turtles, eight cats and an aquarium filled with exotic fish. To protect the artwork from kitten claws and rogue turtles, the couple boxed and wrapped the pieces not hung on the walls, further diminishing the available living space. “Art is Herby’s only interest, except for animals,” Dorothy once said. (Fittingly, they named their cats after artists, like Matisse, Renoir, and Manet.) When National Gallery curator Jack Cowart first saw their apartment, he was stunned. “It upset all of my alarm systems as a curator,” he said. “I began to think: What if there’s a fire? What if one of the mega-gallon fish tanks that Herb keeps his fish in springs a leak?”

By the mid-1970s, the Vogels were famous—at least in New York City. The Clocktower Gallery, run by Alanna Heiss, the founder of P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, staged the first exhibition of the Vogels’ collection in April 1975. The opening coincided with a profile in New York magazine called “A New Art-World Legend: Good-by, Bob & Ethel; Hullo, Dorothy and Herb!” The title referred to Bob and Ethel Scull, a vulgar taxi magnate and his Vogue model wife. After a messy divorce, their entire collection of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionist was auctioned off for an eye-popping $10 million. The Vogels, by contrast, never sold a thing. “We could easily have become millionaires,” Herb told the Associated Press. “We could have sold things and lived in Nice and still had some left over. But we weren’t concerned about that aspect.”

Pozzi offered an alternate explanation. “To ask them to sell a piece of their collection would be like asking me to cut off a square yard of one of my paintings,” he said. “They were artists, and the collection was their work of art.”

Herb retired from the post office in 1979 and, naturally, used his pension to continue buying art. But the increasing size of the collection threatened to overwhelm the Vogels, like hoarders crushed to death by towering stacks of The New York Times. In the 1980s, they were forced to admit that their apartment could no longer contain their beloved art. They began meeting with curators and evaluating their options. They knew they wanted to donate their collection instead of selling it, and they liked the National Gallery, which is free to the public and maintains a policy against deaccessioning objects, meaning the collection would never be sold. In 1990, the year Dorothy retired, the Vogels followed through on their promise: Art handlers from the National Gallery transferred an astonishing 2,400 works from the Vogels’ tiny apartment, in a move that required five 40-foot trucks. In fact, unloading the works from the trucks and into the gallery tied up the museum’s freight elevators for weeks!

Realizing that the Vogels hadn’t invested for their future, Jack Cowart, the museum’s curator of 20th-century art at the time, paid the Vogels a small annuity in exchange for their generous donation. But instead of saving the money for medical expenses or splurging on a better retirement, the Vogels couldn’t help themselves: They immediately started collecting more art. The annuity helped the couple purchase another 1,500 or so items. As Dorothy put it: “If we wanted to make money, we would have invested it in the stock market.” This led the grateful if overburdened institution to create the Fifty Works for Fifty States program, in which 50 museums across America will receive 50 pieces from the Vogels’ collection.

In 2008, Herb and Dorothy, a documentary about the couple directed by Megumi Sasaki, was released to rave reviews. Sasaki, a former field producer for Japanese public television, had met the Vogels years before while filming a series about Christo and Jeanne-Claude. “I couldn’t believe it was a true story, that such people exist,” she recalled.

It wasn’t until 2009, when Herb’s health began to fail, that the Vogels ceased collecting. “It was something we did together, and when Herb was too ill to enjoy it, we stopped,” Dorothy said with typical matter-of-factness. Herb died in July 2012, at the age of 89. Dorothy continues to live in the apartment they shared for 49 years, along with their one surviving cat, a flame-point Himalayan named Archie. Her job now, she says, is to make sure people don’t forget the collection she and her husband built, which is considered not just the most impressive art collection to have been housed in a tiny apartment, but one of the most important art collections of the 20th century. “I have no regrets,” Dorothy said. “I’ve had a wonderful life. And I believe Herb and I were made to be together.”

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Consider giving someone special a gift subscription or treat yourself.


Friday, March 28, 2014

The Huffington Post on Karachi's Indie Music

Ignore the title and enjoy the article! some of the music is really good.


One Of The World's Most Dangerous Cities Is Emerging As An Indie Music Capital

 | by  Mallika Rao 
Karachi, Pakistan is one of the world’s most violent cities. And yet some of the music coming out of it would fit right in at a garden party on Cape Cod.

The disconnect is emblematic of a new cultural era for the world’s seventh largest city, characterized by variety. Outsiders are noticing, from Rolling Stone to Pakistan's neighbors in India. A writer for the Delhi-based magazine Caravan recently dove into the city’s secret clubs and concluded that a “shift” aided by the internet is producing an unprecedented range of sounds, "reflecting [Karachi's] frenzied character.”

Even the band names seem designed to stir things up, with an almost overwrought indie sensibility: Mole, //orangenoise, Dynoman, Basheer & the Pied Pipers, Alien Panda Jury, and DALT WISNEY are a few of the current hottest indie acts. Because Pakistani hits historically come from the classical world or the movies -- meaning Bollywood, or the Lahore analog, Lollywood -- these independent artists are forming collectives that act as labels, helping bands put out albums and promoting each other.

The best-known collective is Forever South (FXS), inspired in name by one of the first albums put out by the Karachi-based band Mole. FXS members -- most of them young men -- tend to self-identify with Electronic Dance Music, which generally emanates from a single deejay’s computer. The bare-bones production of EDM is a natural fit in a country where independent studios are a rarity.

But the sounds embraced by Karachi's young musicians also recall two traditional Sufi forms that reign in the Muslim country. The ghazal, which translates to “the mortal cry of the gazelle,” tends to be slow and dreamy, while the quick beats of qawwali are intended to score the spins of whirling dervishes, as they twirl their way to enlightenment.

As in any good music scene, there are turf wars. In an interview last fall with Vice Magazine's electronic music spinoff THUMP, the rising Islamabad-based producer Talal Qureshi distanced himself from “that word ‘trippy.’” According to Qureshi, his peers in Karachi are limiting themselves by sticking to “music which is good to dance and be on drugs to.”

The comments rippled through the Pakistani music scene. In a counter interview with THUMP, FXS hit back at Qureshi, using their respective cities as ammunition. “Karachi,” said one member, “is a living city.” Meanwhile, “after 8pm Islamabad shuts down. All the house lights are switched off. It’s a town full of retired army uncles.”

There is one meeting point for every young Pakistani hopeful: the internet. Scour YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud, and you’ll soon be an expert in subcontinental indie.

But domestically, traditional venues still count. The Caravan article names a trigger for the "shift," when the band Mole performed on the popular Pakistani concert series, Coke Studio, in 2011. Sponsored by Coca Cola, the televised series tends to launch the careers of mainstream acts, as it did for the Pakistani pop star Atif Aslam.

The Mole appearance jumpstarted what the cautious are calling an “overly experimental approach” at Coke Studio HQ. (Notably, one of Mole’s members is the son of a Coke Studio founder.)
Hearing "drone beeps" of electronica mixed in with otherwise standard fare, a journalist at The Friday Times, an independent weekly in Pakistan, praised the new era at Coke Studio, marked by "the humility of the old learning from the new."

Uzair Jaiswal, the youngest singer ever to perform at Coke Studio, "represents the shift in musical culture, led by a generation [eager] for electronic sounds," wrote the Friday Times.

It’s not all revolution. Drinking alcohol is still illegal in Pakistan, a rule that ghettoizes the music scene into underground house parties.

But limitations bring their own opportunities. In the THUMP interview, DALT WISNEY compared Karachi to "a prison." As a kid, he wasn't allowed to roam due to threats of violence and kidnappings. It was on his daily circuit, from home to school to a pirated music store and then back home, that he found a CD of music-making software. "That's how I started making music," he told THUMP. "So I think I mean prison in a positive sense, maybe like being stuck in a library. You make the most of it."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid in Hong Kong

After Khadim Ali's invasion of Hong Kong in the last quarter of 2013 (Khadim-Ali in Hong Kong), the duo of Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi hit the city with a combination of solo exhibition, talks and multiple media appearances in February 2014.

Held at the prestigious Hong Kong Art Centre, the solo exhibitions reminded Artwallaa of Qureshi's indoor exhibition at the Met as well as in Rome (Imran Qureshi in Rome); it exuded the prestige of the Met exhibition and the grandeur of the exhibition in Rome.

See more photos of the exhibition here.

 Source for all photos: Gandhara-art

The duo also talked about their body of works at the Asia Society (see here and here for details). Mre importantly the artists and their exhibitions were widely covered in media (both electronic as well as printed) with over 10 articles and interviews.

South China Morning Post

Pakistani miniatures artist gets the bigger picture

Miniatures artist Imran Qureshi addresses the politics of violence in his work, writes Payal Uttam
PUBLISHED: Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 6:41pm

Source: SCMP

It is almost noon and Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi is struggling to hold back yet another yawn. Jetlagged and unshaven, he apologises and explains that he has been painting non-stop for his show at Pao Galleries in Wan Chai, which ended on Friday. "Usually when I work, I work madly. Sometimes I don't sleep for two days," he says. Judging by the exquisitely detailed works around us, it's been a while since he has had a decent night's rest.

Known for his installations of blood-like paint splattered across everything from an old courtyard in Sharjah to a slipway in Sydney, Qureshi is one of Pakistan's leading artists. Originally trained in the art of classical miniature painting, he is recognised for pushing the boundaries of the discipline. His Hong Kong show, with his wife Aisha Khalid, unveiled his new jewel-like miniatures, abstract drawings and canvases of blood-stained landscapes.

 "They look very seductive, very exotic, but then there is something disturbing happening which makes them uncomfortable," says Qureshi, pointing to rivulets of red paint. "The idea of landscape has changed. They are supposed to be very peaceful but not now due to all this global violence."
Born in 1972 in the city of Hyderabad, Qureshi has been fascinated by politics and world affairs since he was a child. "First thing in the morning when I got out of bed, I would just grab the newspaper from the door and read the main headlines," he says. Aged nine, he began submitting creative stories to the newspaper: "No one asked me to do it. I was into such things, but I didn't have any idea that I could complete my studies in art and make it my profession."

At the suggestion of his uncle, Qureshi moved to Lahore when he was 18 to pursue a degree at the National College of Arts, but never imagined he would become a miniaturist. "I was so much into theatre, puppetry and hanging out," he says, laughing. "Miniature painting wasn't my cup of tea, but my teacher was always asking me to do it." Swayed by his professor's persistence, Qureshi conceded and was surprised to find he enjoyed it: "I never thought that I could sit like that with so much patience."

Qureshi spent two years creating replicas of ancient miniatures, making his own wasli paper and paintbrushes from squirrel's hair. But he felt stifled. Not content to continue making copies, he defied his professor and began to experiment. "It was hard," he says. "I was challenging his notions in front of him. I was not daring generally, but I was when it came to my work."

Veering away from traditional miniatures depicting religious narratives or scenes from courtly life, Qureshi started exploring political and social issues affecting present-day Pakistan. Scavenging in old bookstores, he found colonial-era tailoring manuals and tore out pages, integrating the text into his paintings. "I found them so relevant and loaded with political meaning. There was a section on 'How to cut the front of a burqa', and one on 'How to cut an artillery pantaloon where the military pantaloon has more pockets than the civilian one'," he says, incredulously.

His first major breakthrough came in 2001 when he was living in a farmhouse outside Delhi doing a residency at Khoj Artists' Association. Standing in the courtyard one day, he had an epiphany. "I was looking at the geometric tiles and Aisha was using a lot of geometry in her work. She was in Amsterdam at that time so it reminded me of her." He began to paint directly on the ground, transferring his miniature techniques off paper.

One of his most impressive site-specific experiments was a 2008 installation in the Queen's Palace in Kabul. Struck by the sunlight streaming into the palace, he traced outlines of different shadows of windows on the floor and covered them in delicately painted blue foliage. "Being in Afghanistan, there was a feeling of fear in the air and a strange sadness. Looking at the painted imagery on the floor, it seemed as if the window had a stained-glass image, but actually there was nothing there," he says.

"My work was about the illusions of something which doesn't exist. [Similarly] even though people were saying 'America is here, everything is changing', it didn't work that way."
Blood red seeped into Qureshi's work after Lahore became a target for al-Qaeda in Pakistan in 2010. "Lahore was very peaceful, but then they started attacking. There was a series of bomb blasts almost every week. When I was looking at images on TV, I realised how a place full of life could be transformed into a bloody landscape within seconds."

Reflecting on the violence engulfing his country, he turned an entire courtyard into what appeared to be a crime scene ominously smeared with red paint at the 2011 Sharjah Biennale. For a positive spin, he painted lush foliage sprouting from the blood-like pool as a signal of hope. Following his success at Sharjah, Deutsche Bank selected him as its artist of the year in 2013. That year, he also did a similar installation for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where he splashed red paint, Pollock-style, onto the rooftop garden.

Qureshi's newest paintings in Hong Kong reverse the ideas from his previous installations. "In my other work, you see blood then you realise there is foliage coming out of it. But here I feel the blood comes later, when you look at them they look like flowers first. Then you realise it's something else, it's more violent," he says of his delicate drawings of paint-splattered flowers.

When his show at the New York Met opened, the Boston bombings had just taken place; in Sharjah, his installation coincided with the Arab Spring uprising.

Asked if he has deliberately toned down his work for the relatively peaceful city of Hong Kong, Qureshi shakes his head. "Violence is not an unfamiliar thing. Directly or indirectly, it's affecting all societies, all cultures, even if you don't have bomb blasts."



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lahore Art Scene - The BIG REunion and the small Controversies #1

The fire of rivalry amongst the top Pakistan contemporary artists has been there for more than two decades but stayed dormant for a long time due to the undisputed recognition of Shahzia Sikander as the global face of Pakistan art. This fire was rekindled in the past six to eight years through the rise of other Pakistani artists on the global stage (especially the likes of Rashid Rana, Imran Qureshi, Aisha Khalid) who broadened Pakistan art's representation at the global level and hence 'supposedly' 'diluted' Sikander's undisputed domain. 

Discussions on how these home-grown artists and their 'entourages' were 'monopolising' the local art scene started to spread. These closed door murmurs were fanned into a well-lit fireball after a critic's supposed specific comments in 2013 LLF (see the opening lines of the article below). In the past month, this topic has become a blazing fire across the art/literary circles through a series of incidents including Shahzia Sikander's appearance at the LLF 'to reclaim her due status at home', her delightful but hard hitting presentation, her related article in the Dawn newspaper and finally a very controversial article by an hitherto unknown London based academic.
As oxymoronic as it may sound, Artwallaa is happy about these developments regardless of the controversies raised by this 'reunion'. To us, reunions of any type (family, college, professional) always have a segment of controversies attached to them too; but at the end they are good for that community as the positives normally always outweigh the negatives. Artwallaa believes that this reunion is the same. All the 'heroes' of Pakistan contemporary visual arts space are 'claiming' not only Pakistan but also their roots to Pakistani art. What can be a more delightful development for the admirers and proponents of Pakistan art?  
As Salima Hashmi was heard saying, 'Daer Aaye Du-russt Aaye' (Better Late than Never). Welcome All. 

stay tuned for more on this topic ...............

Ali Raza's photo.
What's the fuss about, they seem to be having a good time. Together after 20 years: Rashid Rana, Imran Qureshi, Shahzia Sikander and Ali Raza.
Source: FB

PS: Artwallaa is reproducing the 'controversial' article here in the spirit of providing all Pakistan art related news on this blog. To be clear Artwallaa does not agree with the contents of this article which attacks a lot of respected and accomplished names in the art circles; above all Sikander's name herself who as if needs validation of her great achievements by being mentioned in every book related to Pakistan art. But that's our view, have a read and form your own view. For completeness we are also posting a couple of responses from the people mentioned in the article.


Little Dictators

Feb 24 2014   By Faisal Devji
Source: Newsweek Pakistan     

The Cypress, Despite its Freedom, Remains Captive to the Garden (2013) by Shahzia Sikander
The Cypress, Despite its Freedom, Remains Captive to the Garden (2013) by Shahzia Sikander

Nationalism, censorship, and the making of a canon for Pakistani art.

“Shahzia Sikander is not a Pakistani artist because she doesn’t engage with the community,” Quddus Mirza claimed at last year’s Lahore Literary Festival. It was odd to have a hypernationalist, even xenophobic, sentiment of this kind voiced by a painter and critic, whose concerns supposedly include the questioning of nationalist ideology. Even more oddly, the same Mirza had offered glowing praise for Sikander in a national newspaper some years earlier. This startling shift of opinion may be dismissed as an example of the petty conflicts and personal resentments that mark Pakistan’s cultural elite. But it signals something more ominous in a context where “culture” has come to represent Pakistan’s only positive image to many of its own citizens as much as to art buyers and investors internationally. So what is this hastily-constructed canon of “Pakistani culture” that includes some artists but excludes others?
Sikander is one of Pakistan’s best-known artists. She was born, raised and trained in the country, whose citizenship she continues to hold, and whose history and traditions her work has consistently addressed. One wonders then what “community” it is that Mirza thinks she isn’t engaging. Perhaps it is the small and self-appointed community of artist-critics, which Mirza apparently speaks for. Indeed, Pakistan is unusual in producing critics who are also artists, which in any other profession would involve them in a perpetual conflict of interest.
What this double role allows artist-critics like Mirza, Cornell University’s Iftikhar Dadi or Chelsea College of Art’s Virginia Whiles to do is to rewrite Pakistan’s art history and even erase important figures from it. In this way they repeat, on a smaller scale, the very acts of censorship and erasure for which their work criticizes politicians and religious or military leaders. In fact their ostentatious “critique” of such violence, which is externalized in the political arena, actually permits these writers to internalize it even more effectively in the cultural sphere—and all with a seemingly clear conscience.
Among the most significant victims of such historical vandalism are Pakistan’s Unver Shafi and Sikander. I wrote about the latter’s work more than a decade ago, and given the international acclaim she has received since then need not repeat my reasons for considering her an extraordinary artist, both technically and conceptually. And yet Sikander’s pioneering work is under threat, being routinely censored by the artist-critics whose writings have made them brokers for prizes, museums, and the international art market.
In his book Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia, Dadi does not mention Sikander even once, despite writing about her peers and teachers—and even exhibitions in which she was featured. Since Sikander was the first Pakistani artist to achieve recognition globally, opening the door for others, including her artist-critics, to describe this exclusion as dishonest is putting it kindly. Similarly, in Art and Polemic in Pakistan: Cultural Politics and Tradition in Contemporary Miniature Painting, Whiles refers to Sikander’s work only very briefly and ignores its foundational character for the school of art she writes about.
Both Dadi and Whiles write art history in a genealogical style, tracing contemporary aesthetic production back to founding fathers in a comically patriarchal way. They suggest that Imran Qureshi, the Pakistani artist who painted on the rooftop of New York’s Metropolitan Museum last year, is the “father” of the new miniature, forgetting that in the 1980s and ’90s it was Sikander, working with Bashir Ahmed and Zahoor ul Akhlaq, who provided miniaturists with a new format as well as an international platform. Moreover, while Sikander fully acknowledges her indebtedness to teachers and traditions, she has broken the genealogical line not simply by garnering more recognition than any of them, but also by putting such genealogies into question in her work, which always cancels out the idea of origins.
Neither her work nor that of Shafi, with its intensely abstract character, fits easily into the crudely “political” categories that writers like Dadi have invented for Pakistani art history and which they seem to have taken wholesale from the academic chatter common in U.S. universities during the ’80s and ’90s. Here is an unembarrassed example from a description in Dadi’s book of his own work: “We attempted to articulate a post-conceptual practice in dialogue with the vitality of popular urban visualities to create photography, sculpture, and installations commenting on the visual theatrics of violence and urban identity and serving as an oblique critique of official nationalism.” One looks in vain for the “oblique critique” that Dadi refers to, only to be met by a barrage of obvious and stereotyped oppositions, in which such overexposed terms as “clash of civilizations” or “war on terror” are subjected to rather trite reflection.
The double role of artist-critics allows them to rewrite Pakistan’s art history and erase important figures from it.
Deploying as she does this logic of juxtaposition, the accomplished miniaturist Saira Wasim is thus preferred in Dadi’s Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia over Sikander, for whose subtlety his categories cannot account. Serving as gatekeepers for what counts as “Pakistani art,” figures like Dadi simultaneously deploy and “critique” nationalist narratives, thus helping to direct the flow of money going to support the culture of a country that has become globally visible because of its many problems. Everyone, it seems, can make money out of militancy and war, those who speak for as much as against it.
Even when lavishing praise on his chosen artists, however, Dadi is curiously unable to locate their work in the social and historical context that his book is meant to describe. Wasim’s Round Table Conference (2006), for example, is said accurately but also misleadingly to portray meetings of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; the title’s clear reference to the far more celebrated and consequential Round Table Conferences of the 1930s are left unexplored. It was in those meetings, after all, that Pakistan’s history might be said to have begun, witnessing as they did the birth of the future country’s name. Similarly, when describing the use of the number 5 in Risham Syed’s work, Dadi links it to everything—from the five senses to Islam’s five prayers—except one of the most common references in Pakistani society: that to the five members of the holy family, who the Shia, in particular, venerate. It is one thing to make Sikander disappear from Pakistan’s art history but to erase, in effect, the cultural presence of a Muslim sect under attack in Pakistan is unconscionably naive.
Minor though such exclusions might initially appear to be, taken together they indicate a systematic erasure of history. And nowhere is this more evident than in Dadi’s principal argument about “the art of Muslim South Asia,” which, it turns out, is all about Pakistan. His book foregrounds artists like Chughtai and Sadequain, whose emergence and influence cannot be understood without taking into account powerful Indian voices like S. H. Raza, M. F. Hussain and Tyeb Mehta of the older generation or G. M. Sheikh and Zarina Hashmi among the younger one. Of course, this would show up “Muslim South Asia” as a false aesthetic category, and therefore a made-up commercial label, since the artists involved clearly belong to worlds not defined by their religion. Maybe there is a critique of “official nationalism” being made in this claim for Pakistani art being synonymous with “Muslim South Asia,” but if so it is so “oblique” as to be invisible. In other words, Sikander’s banishment from Pakistani art history is not merely the result of personal animosities; it illustrates a more general and deeply worrying trend of narrowly nationalist censorship and historical amnesia among the very champions of their “critique.”
With brokers in the art world in a position to rewrite Pakistan’s aesthetic history and set the pattern for collecting internationally, the work of these Little Dictators represents nothing less than the success of the big ones they so love to inveigh against. If anyone can break this stranglehold on the narrative of Pakistan’s cultural history, it is Sikander, who achieved global fame in the pre-9/11 world and whose work is not over-determined by the “war on terror,” itself now an aesthetic commodity. But it is a sign of the damage that has been done her if audiences have to be reminded that Sikander was the first artist to grapple with the miniature as a craft-based medium and make it central to contemporary art, internationally. In this sense, all those who came after her from Lahore’s National College of Art’s miniature department are indebted to her. But such recognition has been scant. Perhaps Sikander’s appearance at this year’s Lahore Literary Festival will spur a new appreciation of her work in Pakistan, and in doing so mount the first real challenge to an art-historical narrative that mimes real-world violence through acts of erasure.
Iftikhar Dadi's response to the article:

Faisal Devji’s allegations are simply outrageous.

The focus of my book is on modernism in South Asia, not contemporary art. It analyzes in some detail selected work of a very small number of artists: Chughtai, Zubeida Agha, Zainul Abedin, Shakir Ali, Sadequain, Rasheed Araeen, and Naiza Khan. The contemporary artists Devji mentions are discussed only briefly in a very short (11 page) Epilogue. This certainly does not mean that I find their work to be inconsequential, but only that following a research project requires one to focus on a set of questions and an archive, and above all, to advance an analytical and conceptual understanding of aesthetics and society based on necessarily selective cultural practices and artifacts, rather than writing a broad, bland survey. For this book, that emphasis was on twentieth century practice. The word-count of the book exceeded the limit set by the publishers, and simply could not be any longer. As a result, I was unable to discuss a number of important artists such as Ahmad Pervez, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, or Shemza.

Why does the development of Pakistani art have to be conceived as a zero sum game? Is Devji seriously implying that recent awards to Imran Qureshi and Naiza Khan are undeserving? Is Sikander the sole and singular artist worthy of recognition, and is her mention always necessary in every account of contemporary art in Pakistan? If Devji finds Sikander’s work to be so significant, one wonders why he chooses to mount unbalanced attacks on the too few of us who are seriously committed to the art history of Pakistan, and not by using this opportunity to explicate the significance of her work (as by his own admission, he has not written on her work for over a decade)? Simply listing her accolades in the West and ascribing her role as a pioneer, as Devji does, is no substitute for formal and contextual analysis of actual works and projects, which will render her works aesthetically and historically meaningful. And certainly Sikander is hardly a forgotten figure, she is among the best-known artists from Pakistan internationally, a recipient of the “mother-of-all-awards,” the MacArthur. She is hardly absent from the market, represented by well-established galleries in New York and London. Precisely how is she under censorship or erasure?

For the record, I have never claimed that Sikander is (or is not) “Pakistani,” for me this kind of binary categorization is unhelpful in assessing the work of any artist. The question of the adequacy of nationalism and of “Muslim South Asia” in characterizing the works of artists in my book is important, and requires a much longer assessment than is possible here. Indeed, my entire book is a meditation on how artistic practice since the beginning of the twentieth century is a profound engagement with these frameworks. I do not see this as a settled matter: rather, these categories mark an ongoing crisis of self and society. My usage of them is also necessarily marked by catachresis, in that I have no recourse but to deploy concepts whose referent is neither adequate nor stable. It seems that Devji has not read or comprehended my book beyond the Epilogue, as its Introduction lays out the methodological stakes in addressing the vexed problem of “Islamic art” and its relation to modernity in South Asia.

I have never claimed that Imran Qureshi is “father” of the new miniature. I do note that he has “played a key role in training the next generation of miniature artists at the National College of Art” (p. 220), a role that Sikander never ever assumed. Does Devji have a different understanding of this widely established fact? And the allegation of my genealogies as being “comically patriarchal” is also odd, since I discuss Zubeida’s Agha’s pioneering work in abstraction as foundational. Abstraction as a mode of practice is a very significant for me, as can be seen in my discussion of Zubeida Agha and Shakir Ali.

On the significance of the number 5 for Risham Syed, the sentence in the book (p. 224) begins as: “The number five has multiple connotations for the artist:” making it very clear that the meanings I describe are those the artist herself communicated to me as being of significance to her. As for Devji’s outrageous accusation that I unwittingly foster sectarianism in Pakistan, this is a malicious allegation unworthy of response, especially since I discuss the foundational importance of Shiaism for Sadequain’s art (p. 161), and how Araeen’s White Stallion is also a commentary on ongoing Shia-Sunni violence (p. 197).

To the best of my knowledge, the three Round Table Conferences of the early 1930s were negotiations between British and Indian leaders, not amongst the leaders of the “Muslim World” as depicted by Wasim in her Round Table Conference.

I have tried to be very scrupulous in not making the book into a personal platform for my own artwork. Indeed, in a book exceeding 70,000 words, my work (along with the work of Elizabeth Dadi and others) is discussed in passing in exactly 83 words, and is accompanied with no images. The so-called “Karachi Pop” has been recognized by many critics as an important development during the 1990s in Karachi (which did not have a miniature practice), and which opened up a new modality of practice by subsequent artists to engage with media and urban popular culture. Is Devji seriously suggesting that I should have omitted even this brief mention, and provide no context whatsoever for Karachi during the 1990s?

I have made no work called War on Terror. As for the billboard work Clash of Civilizations (with Elizabeth Dadi): this was created in the US after September 11, 2001, a deliberately provocative response to developments within the United States at a time when I was already based there. It is emphatically not a subject of any of the arguments in the book that discuss nationalism in South Asia (but it should be noted when it was exhibited in Islamabad’s National Art Gallery’s inaugural in 2007, the work had to be re-sited in another part of the building so that President Musharraf would not encounter it upon inauguration.)

Devji writes, “the work of these Little Dictators represents nothing less than the success of the big ones they so love to inveigh against. If anyone can break this stranglehold on the narrative of Pakistan’s cultural history, it is Sikander….” I leave it to the readers to assess whether equating the work of serious scholarship with dictatorship is worthy of someone who is director of the Asian Studies Center at the University of Oxford, and whether this is a “SENSIBLE, RELIABLE, AUTHORATITIVE” account that Newsweek proudly proclaims on its masthead.

Iftikhar Dadi
Associate Professor
Department of History of Art
Cornell University

Dr.Virginia Whiles' response to the article:
To Editors of NEWSWEEK re article ‘Little Dictators’
From Dr.Virginia Whiles

Faisal Devji’s article reads like a rant from a frustrated groupie. Shahzia Sikander will shiver with shame if she reads it. This is a foul text full of anger and subjective spite, for what reason? Clearly Devji has not read my book. I refer to Sikander on eight pages, citing her serious and humorous reflections on her Ustads at NCA and on the nature of the training in the practice of miniature painting. Her comments reflect her political awareness of the threats of patriarchy that dominate Pakistan, the kind of which is perpetrated in this article, and illustrate Devji’s total misreading of the feminist perspective in my book.

I know Shahzia Sikander and respect her work, the fact that she is not a protagonist in my book is because it is an ethnographic study of the specific practitioners of miniature painting whom I observed whilst participating as both student and lecturer in the NCA (National College of Art) from 1999 to 2002. Sikander had already left Pakistan when I arrived but her aura hovered maternally over the students, indeed she was a role model for the female practitioners. Devji’s ignorance of the context is proven by his erasure of facts: that Sikander and Imran Qureshi were co-students and united in their profound respect for Zahoor ul Akhlaq, and if anybody has to play the ‘father’ role to contemporary miniature practice, it is he, loved and missed by all of us who had the privilege of knowing him. (Sadly Zahoor cannot read Devji’s text as he would challenge him to fisticuffs and give us all a patriarchal laugh).

In response to his accusation of ‘re-writing art history’: where lies the ‘original’ art history of Pakistan? Devji’s implication that ‘artist-critics’ are an unusual product of Pakistan not only demonstrates his utter ignorance of cultural history throughout the world, it is an insult to the the honourable profession of criticism and the vital necessity of sustaining “a perpetual conflict of interests.” As Said wrote: “Criticism must think of itself as life enhancing and constitutively opposed to every form of tyranny, domination and abuse…”

As to his vitriolic accusations of ‘historical vandalism’, of ‘censorship’ and of ‘miming real world violence through acts of erasure’… and to crown it all ‘Little Dictators’, I will simply ask how an apparently eminent historian can cast such brutal stones on fellow comrades in search of speaking truth to power? There lies the anthropological, or psychoanalytical question.

Dr.Virginia Whiles

Imran Qureshi - Part of another global ranking

Imran Qureshi continues his success into 2014 with being part of the top-30 upcoming contemporary artists.

Source: Art Report
Here you will find contemporary artists worldwide who are under the age of 50 years and have taken over the past year the highest percentage gain in attention in the art scene. A score of 50 points in the year before last year is a condition in the selection, as well as an overall score of at least 500 in the years since 2004.

rankingartist's namecountrylives inbirth dateborn inmediumgain 2013
1Pavel PeppersteinRUMoscow1966Moscowpainting820.6 %
2Jesper JustDKCopenhagen1974Copenhagenvideo / film814 %
3Lili Reynaud DewarFRParis1975La Rochelleinstallation748.7 %
4Lucy McKenzieGBGlasgow1977painting732.5 %
5Harald ThysBEBrussels1966Wilrijk mixed media666.7 %
6Jos de GruyterBEAmsterdam1965Geel mixed media666.7 %
7Koki TanakaJPLos Angeles1975Tochigiinstallation643.2 %
8Henning BohlDEBerlin1975Oldenburgmixed media593.2 %
9Ahlam ShibliPSPalästina 1970Palästinaphotography592.9 %
10Mathias PolednaATLos Angeles1965video / film589.2 %
11Jewyo RhiiKRAmsterdam1971Seoulmixed media573.3 %
12Matthew MonahanUSLos Angeles1972painting518.2 %
13Imran QureshiPKLahore1972Hyderabadpainting515 %
14Saskia Olde WolbersNLLondon1971video / film514.3 %
15Laura LimaBRRio de Janeiro1971Valadaresphotography491.2 %
16Uri AranILNew York1977Jerusalem mixed media457.1 %
17Agnieszka PolskaPLBerlin1985Lublinphotography451 %
18Liu WeiCNBeijing1965Beijingpainting449 %
19Peter LandDKCopenhagen1966photography444.5 %
20Rabih MrouéLBBeirut1967Beirutmixed media441.3 %
21Ellen GallagherUSNew York1965mixed media440.7 %
22LaToya Ruby FrazierUSNew Brunswick1982Braddockphotography413.3 %
23Jonathas de AndradeBRRecife 1982Maceió multimedia387.9 %
24Marianne VitaleUSNew York1973New Yorkinstallation383.3 %
25Leonor AntunesPTLissabon1972Lissabonsculpture / plastik376.9 %
26Gerry BibbyAUBerlin1977Australienperformance367.9 %
27Tala MadaniIRNew York1981Teheranpainting352.5 %
28Gardar Eide EinarssonNONew York1976installation347.6 %
29Alicia FramisESBarcelone1967mixed media341.4 %
30Kendell GeersZALondon1968Johannesburg installation339 %