08 Oct

Iconic Idiosyncrasies

The contemporary artist today may act a little like a rebel without a cause at times…it is not to say that there’s a dearth of issues in the world. It may just be an overwhelming number of issues that need addressing that is confusing coupled with the fast process of democratization of the icon…about Mona Lisa, when Duchamp drew the mustache on Mona Lisa it was a great act of subversion for its time.  In 2012 when Androgyny was envisioned there wasn’t a plethora of deviant art representations of Mona Lisa with various hairdos and outfits! Androgyny was depicted with the body of Michelangelo’s  David and Mona Lisa’s face with the oh so well-known languid expression complete with a mustache and a goatee.  His bare body is embraced by a pair of arms resonating those of Mona Lisa’s in the essence posture as opposed to the original David who had his kill slung over his shoulder. Androgyny holds up a beer bottle cheering the absurdity of it all!

Subodh Gupta’s black Mona Lisa bust with a mustache and goatee was in Frieze 2017. The bust, devoid of the intricate ethereal background of Mona Lisa’s painted portrait and the moustache done to death already. It is humbling to remember the words of Warhole, “nothing is original anymore”. While it makes no sense to shame and blame the contemporary artist for plagiarism it is still important that a meaningful work of art bears within it a narrative that is expressed in a new and unexpected way even if it’s been said before.

On the topic of Mona Lisa, Jogen Chowdhury’s rendition was typical of his intrinsic style.  He made her hungry, with a dark sense of humor! Although fully recognizable in its iconic presence, this woman is somehow wizened either from aging as the sagging bosom indicates…the saffron on the part of her hair tells of her married status, the smile somewhat jaded yet self-assured. Regardless of what the artist’s own imagination might have conjured, the painting in an unmistakably Jogen Chowdhury style maintains enough ambiguity to capture or even seduce speculation from an audience – something sadly missing in the black bust.

07 Oct

Bindass Bourgeois

Highly suggestive forms recurring throughout Bourgeois’ works are potential visual metaphors that might have found their way into her works from her own childhood days subject to incest.  Curvilinear lines, organic shapes, seeds, roots, opening flowers hint to parts of the body.  The spider that catches bothersome mosquitoes is called “a friend” perhaps a symbol of her mother or maternal figure.

In her portraits, often a combination of the real and surreal, Bourgeois treated the human figure as a vehicle to be in touch with her fears desires and vulnerabilities.  Child birth, motherhood, gender fluidity are topics she explores in her works.  She saw psychological correspondences in elements such as wind storm and rivers, seeds and germination.

What is “Bindass” one might ask?  It is the quality of effortless spontaneity.  It is the humor in her works that faces the truth with mild detachment which is perhaps the most attractive element of Bourgeois’ work!  Having dealt with taboos in her own life, she is the rare woman who deals with sexuality with disarming, albeit slightly comical candidness.  In other words, Bourgeois’ work has oodles of Bindass!

05 Aug

End of the “Social”

When I first embraced Mona Lisa as an icon for my “Death of an Icon” series in 2012 it was because her face was recognizable no matter where I placed her. And placed her I did or displaced her as the case may be when I dressed her in a chunni (transparent veil worn on the head) and gave her henna tattoos in the palm of her hands, in the pattern of Louis Vuitton prints and made her posture like Madhubala in the movie, “Mahal”.

It wasn’t until recently when I found her face slapped on a Louis Vuitton showroom on 5th av with those prints all over her.  Suppose the prints belonged to Louis Vuitton to begin with.  The oversize Mona looming over 5th av traffic commanded a presence larger than her original counterpart and stirred up a mini outrage in me however unfounded!  I thought of putting the two together first, no fair I thought in quiet desperation.

Death of an Icon, art, tania sen

Louis Vitton Showroom on 5th Avenue, NYC

It made me revisit a Facebook conversation that turned sour rather quickly with Todd Levine, a curator and art advisor in NYC.  In response to an article published on CNN, that quoted a Nigerian visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor saying, “For the thousands of viewers seeing this for the first time, they won’t think Ife, they won’t think Nigeria,” about Damien Hirst’s “Golden Heads” at the Venice Biennial.  The crux of the article being that people would more readily recognize Mr Hirst’s Bronz heads in Venice over their African originals.  And here’s  Mr. Levine’s (curator and art adviser based in NYC) explanation as to why the viewer might automatically draw a parallel with the original, despite not having any mention of the name of the specific artist:

Facebook Post, Tania Sen, Todd Levin, Damien Hirst


Fine arts is increasingly being used to advertise, the reason?



“Art is a sign of affluence; it belongs to the good life,” Berger wrote. “It is part of the furnishing which the world gives to the rich and the beautiful.” Berger also noted the “cultural authority” art brings to the product being advertised, with canonical works from history treated as floating with ethereal levity above capitalist materiality. Even as advertisements endeavor to sell you something, art provides “a form of dignity, even of wisdom, which is superior to any vulgar material interest.”  – Artsy



Death of an Icon

Mona Lisa sells shoe polish



Mona Lisa being among the “Portraits Completed” campaign that brought the award of the  “Gold Lion” to Ogilvy Chicago for concept and design.  The ad was for Kiwi shoe polish.  Now here’s the next part of the Facebook conversation:The reason for my sharing this instance is to make a point about the futility of the article not to mention my conversation with Mr. Todd Levin.

Facebook Post, Tania Sen, Todd Levin, Damien Hirst

The indisputable truth of the article in the end is quite futile given that, today’s art lover and audience is much more likely to respond to the multiplicity of the shiny mass produced Bronze heads by Mr. Hirst and may choose to remain oblivious about their African original.

It is no longer about the art!  In Mr. Levine’s own words, “the amount of money sloshing around in the market, and that’s due to an excessive amount of excess capital in the hands of a smaller group of people. They’re certainly not going to put it in a bank at 1%, they’re certainly not going to hide it in their mattress, so they need to find assets. Art has been a favored location to place a portion of one’s assets.”

There has been a strong interest lately in flipping.  Collectors buy extraordinary young art and then immediately put it up at auction, flipping that work for five, ten more times than the initially purchased price , from only six months, a year or two ago.” – E-flux

Art is no longer for keeping and cherishing, rather a commodity to be pimped out in the market for a quick turnaround.   The impact of the heads would last for as long as social media and the dealers scream about them, and then, they too will succumb to the eventuality of the silence of the masses, swallowed whole by the shadow of the “silent majority”.

“In a media society meaning has no meaning anymore: communication merely communicates itself.”

This ideological terrorism may just be the end of the “social” as pointed out by Jean Baudrillard.  Once again, in my conversation with Mr. Levine, I had mentioned how “Death of an Icon” addresses the democratization of social icon from the perspective of mechanical reproduction.  As an afterthought, I might go as far as to add that the culture of art “flipping” might in fact lead to the Death of Art itself!

30 Jul

Sailor Of No Country

“You can take a sailor out of the country not the country out of the sailor” –  the adage has undergone major overhaul in recent years.  Bringing Sistine Chapel to the newly constructed World trade center whoever’s bright idea it was is a standing example. If freshly baked baguettes could be flown in from Paris then why not Art being the
underlying idea?

When I heard one young individual greeting another, addressing as “Dude” in the streets of Seoul, during my recent visit, I realize that a jargon did not belong to any one location any longer, that I did not need to be in Southern California to hear that mode of address.  Back to my recent boundary unbinding sculpture pieces that are meant to incorporates its surroundings as visual elements turned out to be more of a pain to photograph than I had imagined.  Here are some of my attempts to photograph them in Time Square.


28 Jul

The Evolving Gardener

Since the making of art has always been about removing all obstacles between myself and the conceived notion I have never really addressed the process before this.  It could be that most of my art making skills were picked up outside a conventional art program. That is not to say that I have not had the good fortune of learning craft making from some of the most dedicated artists employed by top notch institutions.  My degree has been in TV/ print production and Business, perhaps that’s the reason that I have not broached the topic of art making in the past.


The Evolving Gardener, sculpture, etching

Elements – I

Converting a 2-D sketch to a sculpture  is about envisioning a visual element across two separate planes. These works – etched, inked and colorized on a flat surface, occupy a 3-D space easily because of their transparency. Unwilling to be bound in a square or rectangular surface, I moved to circular canvases when it came to painting. Eventually, that too started to feel confining so I moved to construction cones as they occupy a 3-D space yet do not conform to either a square or a circle or any other single specific shape…which makes it fun to play with! The transparency of my material allows for these sculptural pieces to occupy a 3-D space very easily, without occupying a large footprint.  These works easily embrace the environs it occupies, which is perfect since art is after all, supposed to imitate  life and vice versa! These works pick up bits and pieces of information while they go from venue to venue.

Meat eating plants are strange in a way. Delicate and colorful, these plants are unassuming and yet deadly for the prey that inadvertently steps into their territory. Inspired by Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Gene” these works are a tribute to the process of evolution. The graphic lines of tattoo art are incorporated into “Elements” such as water and fire to celebrate the imprint of life on this planet much like scraping off the outer layer of skin on one’s body to mark it with a statement about the self!