Subodh Gupta: A Million Dollar Contemporary Artist From Bihar

Subodh Gupta is one of the most appreciated Indian contemporary artists based in Delhi, India. He’s currently among the most valuable contemporary artists from India who owns a list of the most expensive contemporary arts from India.

His unique style of employing everyday objects that are widespread in India such as steel tiffin boxes, thali plates, milk pails and other Indian kitchen utensils, bicycles etc into his works is what makes him stand out from the crowd. Other than his overwhelming sculptures and installations, his painting, photography, performance and video is equally incredible. 

Subodh Gupta with former president

About his medium of work, he has said, “All these things were part of the way I grew up. They were used in the rituals and ceremonies that were part of my childhood. Indians either remember them from their youth, or they want to remember them.”

Given the symbolism of Hindi ritual elements in his works, he says “I am the idol thief. I steal from the drama of Hindu life. And from the kitchen – these pots, they are like stolen gods, smuggled out of the country. Hindu kitchens are as important as prayer rooms.”

Journey From Acting Theatre To The Most Elite Art Galleries 

Born in Khagaul, a town in Bihar, his father was a railway guard and his mother belonged to a family with a farming background. His father passed away when he was just 12. After his death, his mother sent him to live with his uncle (mama) in a remote village. Of his years there, Gupta said, 

“Not a single school kid wore shoes, and there was no road to go to school. Sometimes we stopped in the field and we sat down and ate green chickpeas before we went to school.”

After schooling, he joined a small theatre where he worked as an actor where he used to design posters for his play. And this was the time when he considered pursuing this art form. He also worked as an illustrator at a newspaper while studying at the college of arts and crafts, Patna between 1983-88. Of his time studying art in Patna, Gupta has said, 

Can you imagine the library of an art college forever locked? I just felt so lost when I passed out of college. Had there been the proper infrastructure in the college, I feel I wouldn’t have had to experience the same kind of struggle.”

After graduating, he moved to Delhi where his struggle started. There he hustled for quite some years before finally getting recognition for his art at Fukuoka Art Museum in 1999 and the Gwangju Biennale. Then he exhibited his works at the Armory Show in New York, Frieze in 2005 and Art Basel in 2006. This was a life-changing year for him as one of his sculptures called “Very Hungry God” was bought by a French art collector and businessman “Francois Pinault”. This sculpture is in the shape of a humongous skull that weighs more than 1000kg made from aluminium kitchen utensils.

 

His works have been exhibited in world-renowned contemporary art galleries including Hauser & Worth (London, Zurich, New York and Somerset), Arario (Seoul and Beijing), Pinchuk Art Centre (Kiev) and Galeria Continua (San Gimignano, Italy). Some of his recent works include Anahad/Unstruck (2016) at Famous Studios, Mumbai, India; Invisible Reality (2016) at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset, UK; and Seven Billion Light Years at Hauser & Wirth (2015), New York. He was also awarded “Chevalier Dans” for his contribution to contemporary arts. One of his monumental sculptures called “When soak becomes spill”, a giant stainless steel bucket with hundreds of small vessels spilling from the brim like over-flowing water, was installed in front of the Victoria and Albert museum in Loddon in late 2015. Here are some of his notable works that grabbed the attention of the world-

  1. Bihari (1999) – ‘Bihari’ is a painting by him using cow dung, acrylic and sequence light on hand made paper. It proudly reflects on and flaunts his identity that people use as a slur.
  2. Very Hungry God (2006) – A giant sculpture made of aluminium kitchen utensils that weighs more than 1000kg. This sculpture was bought by a French art collector.
  3. My Mother and Me (1997) – This is a 10 feet high cylindrical structure made of cow dung with a layer of ash spread across the floor.
  4. Saat Samandar Paar (2008) – Saat Samandar Paar is a series of works undertaken by the artist on the theme of migration. He used luggage, luggage carts, and airport conveyor as a metaphor. This one was sold for 34 million at a Saffronart auction.
  5. Gigantic Cactus – Gigantic Cactus is one of modern Patna’s symbols. It is a metaphor for Bihar that shows that a Bihari can withstand any situation. This work was commissioned by the state government to Mark the 100th year of Bihar as an administrative unit.
  6. What does the vessel contain, that the river does not (2012) – A boat 21.35m long, 3.15m wide full of junk objects like abandoned chairs, beds, fishing nets, window frames etc. The idea of the title of this artwork was inspired by a line from Rumi’s poem, ” The Sufi path of love”. 
  7. Line Of Control (2008) – Line of control demonstrates a cloud of mushrooms made of pots and pans. This artwork was exhibited at Tate Triennial at Tate Britain in the UK in 2009, and is currently exhibited at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi.

In an exclusive interview with CNBC Awaaz in 2012, he talked about his origins and also shed light on the need for educational reforms in Bihar. He also expressed his disappointment with the government doing nothing for art and artists.

He shared his love for his hometown and also along with the help of other artists raised a donation of around 4 crores for the flood victims of 2008 by selling his artworks while being away from his hometown. 

Today, Subodh Gupta is one of the most valuable contemporary artists from India whose artwork itself speaks for his identity and sentiments for his homeland all across the globe. 

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