Subodh Gupta is one of India’s leading contemporary artists. His works have been exhibited in the most prestigious art fairs and museums across the globe – including Centre Pompidou and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Subodh is best known for his incredible sculptural works made of household metal objects such as kitchen utensils, lunch boxes, and cookware. His work highlights the socio-economic landscape of India and cultural transitions. Currently, Subodh is showcasing his new Installations at the iconic Le Bon Marche in Paris which is the first ever department store in the world. Titled Sangam, the exhibition will be on display until February 19, 2023.
Design Pataki: You went to art school in Patna in the 1980s. What was your education like at the time?
Subodh Gupta: When I applied for art school the first time, I did not get admission – they rejected me. The second time, I was so busy doing theater, I did not go. The third time I applied, I got in. We only had three teachers, we didn’t have a single art history class, we didn’t have access to a library. So I’m almost a self taught artist. But one good thing about being in an art school (a so-called art school) – you have a studio to work. And most of the things we learnt, we learnt from our seniors. One of my seniors did watercolours. “Can you teach me?,” I asked. He said, “Yes, let’s go at 5 o’clock in the morning.” So everyday at 5 we would go to the landscape site and paint, and by 8 we’d be back. That’s how I learnt watercolour.
For drawing, we’d go to the railway station. At midnight, at the railway station, most people would be sleeping. And so, I could draw them while they were still. Staying in the hostels helped me meet students practicing everyday And we learned from each other.
DP: This is your first time exhibiting at a department store. How did you navigate this, and what inspired the name Sangam?
Subodh Gupta: It feels different, surely. It’s not a white cube. It’s not a museum. It’s (Le Bon Marche) a store. But the store has a history. They’ve exhibited artists like Ai Wei Wei, Tadao Ando, and many great people. That intrigued me. I was nervous for sure. I thought of the title a year ago. In the way I’m talking to you, it came out – Sangam. In an Indian context, Sangam is the meeting of three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati. They come together on holy ground. Also, in this store, people come from around the world – not just Paris. It’s a Sangam in many ways.
DP: Utensils are a key motif in your art. How do you and your team go about sourcing so many utensils?
Subodh Gupta: My home was my studio. I used to paint there and sleep there. I love to cook, and one afternoon, when I went into my kitchen, the sunlight was flowing in and I felt like the utensils were talking to me. At that very same time, I picked up all the utensils and put them in the living room. That’s how I started.
In the beginning I used to go to Sadar Bazar to buy my utensils for my installations. Later on, I started using used utensils – I find them to be more powerful. When I go to a scrap yard, the person who collects them is going to melt them to make aluminum bricks. They are going to be reincarnated. I collect before they’re melted and do the reincarnation in my art!
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