nine seventeen at the AAR Gallery

April 10, 2014
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Prabhavathi Meppayil’s first solo exhibition in Europe opened last Wednesday evening at the AAR Gallery with the artist in attendance. On display until May 12th and open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, the show invites visitors to reflect on the relationship between local tradition and international Modernism.

Previously exhibited in group shows across Europe, Japan and the United States, Meppayil’s work drew significant attention at the Venice Biennale of 2013 as part of Massimiliano Gioni’s international exhibition, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, which explored so-called “artist-outsiders” whose work bridges the worlds of traditional artisan process and contemporary practice. Born to a family of goldsmiths in Bangalore, India, Meppayil introduces the tools, materials, and processes associated with a deeply rooted Indian craft into the forms and language of Minimalism. Curating the show, Andrew Heiskell Arts Director Peter Benson Miller described the artist’s work as having particular resonance for the American Academy in Rome. He explained that Meppayil’s work revisits Minimalism from a very different cultural angle and, in this sense, also reaffirms the Academy’s commitment to being an international forum for global perspectives in contemporary art.

The artist is introduced in her own words with a wall quotation at the gallery entrance describing her process as “very disciplined” yet “unpredictable, subject to chance” and perhaps the same might be said of the spectator’s experience of viewing her work. On show are nine untitled works, completed between 2009-14, at once arresting as an aggregate contemplation of modernist white and subtle in their invitation to greater intimacy through the exploration of intricately patterned surfaces. The white canvases hover without frames over white gallery walls and only on closer inspection do the works reveal their idiosyncrasies. In this respect the artist engages modernist memories of Malevich’s White on White (1917), Piero Manzoni’s Achromes (1957-63), or Agnes Martin’s Leaf (1965).

Historically, however, these prior meditations on whiteness have often belied complex cultural allusions. Given that Malevich was inspired by Theosophy and Martin by Zen Buddhism, Meppayil’s work complicates the terms of this East/West spiritual exchange. Her materials and process introduce non-Western culture both literally and figuratively into the white landscapes of Modernism. Embedding delicate metallic strands into the lime gesso or patterning the canvas with the thinnam, a traditional tool for metalwork incision, Meppayil makes visible these previously invisible cross-cultural discourses.

This exhibition is a collaboration with Pace London. An illustrated catalogue with essays in English by Harvard Professor Benjamin Buchloh and Paris-based art critic Deepak Ananth will be presented at the finissage on May 12.