September 5, 2010

Sundaram Tagore is a New York-based art historian and gallerist. A descendant of the influential poet and Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, he promotes East-West dialogues through his contributions to numerous exhibitions as well as his eponymous galleries and their multicultural and multidisciplinary events. A candidate for a Doctorate of Philosophy from Oxford University, Tagore writes for numerous art publications. He was previously a director at Pace Wildenstein in New York. He has advised and worked with many international organizations including The Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Italy; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the United Nations. In 1999, he was nominated by Avenue magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Asian Americans in the United States. He has served as a juror for the 2002 UNESCO Design 21 competition and the Asian American Arts Center in New York. Recently, he was profiled on CNN International’s Talk Asia.  – bio from Sundaram Tagore Gallery website

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cB: What was the inspiration behind starting your own gallery? Was it something that you have always wanted to do or was it a gradual realization? 

ST: I opened the gallery in 1999 with the idea of bringing together a global community of artists and galvanizing intercultural dialogue. Although I represent artists from a wide range of countries such as Korea, Israel, Holland, Mexico, India and the United States, they are all linked by a similar philosophical view. Each artist shares a deep concern to harness art for the betterment of society. Moreover, each of these artists creates work for humanist purposes. Theirs is a quest for aesthetic beauty and spirituality. This has been a guiding force that has allowed me to bring together artists from such disparate places and create a cohesive vision for the gallery. 

I believe that art and culture are of paramount importance to life. Art and culture have the power to bring people together, which is why I formed this gallery based on intercultural dialogue. 

cB: I read somewhere that your father would take the family on month-long adventure trips all over India. What was it like growing up in such a family environment? 

ST: Just about every single day was crazy during my childhood. Indian homes have this tradition of an open house. Starting from 8 to 9 o’clock people would gather at houses to drink until two in the morning. Each evening artists, writers, intellectuals, poets would flood into our home. In Bengali they called this “adda” or discussion. As a child, it was both exciting and confusing. While we were growing up the old world Indian aristocratic structure was collapsing and new wealth was being created. The old aristocracy lived for culture but that lifestyle was disappearing before my eyes. We led a very nomadic life continuously travelling not just to cosmopolitan centers but also to remote villages. My father was a true Bohemian. 

[above image: Sundaram Tagore at the opening reception of ‘New Creative Constructs’ at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Chelsea, NY]

cB: What do you think of the current art scene in both the Bengals? Any Bengali/Bangladeshi artist whose work you particularly admire? 

ST: There is a great deal of talent emerging both from Bengal and Bangladesh. In fact I am thinking about having a historical exhibition of Bangladeshi art but it takes some to identify the conceptual basis of the show as well as the most suitable curator who has the academic background to pull it together. It will be in the same line of exhibitions that we have done in the past.

cB: One of your visions for your art gallery is to facilitate spiritual, aesthetic dialogues. Do you see any change among the younger generation in that they are trying to lead more balanced lives and giving art more importance than their parents? (specifically among the desi youths..) 

ST: Yes I believe that this is true. Art is a necessity. Art is very much like a diet that sustains one’s spiritual and aesthetic well being. It is not to be slighted that we as human beings have always created art since the pre-historic era. Art has existed for 40,000 years. We have a basic need to express ourselves in visual terms. It fulfills the realm of the imagination. The purpose of art is to inspire the soul, to make us think, and help us look at the world in new ways. 

Today art has become an integral part of the economy and society has recognized the important role of aesthetics. Look at the Bilbao effect in Spain for instance. A single museum revived the economic standing of a city in front of a world audience. Prior to Bilbao’s museum, no one talked about that region of Spain. Today the cosmopolitan world visits Bilbao purely because of the museum. Art has allowed them to regenerate the economic side of the story. Particularly in contemporary democratic societies, people are realizing that art is a cohesive factor that can bring together people from many different levels.

[above image: Guests at the opening reception of ‘New Creative Constructs’ at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Chelsea, NY]

cB: You also have a gallery in Hong Kong. How has Asians responded to western art? Earlier art had predominantly traveled in one direction, from East to West – how has that changed in recent years as more Asians get access to western art? 

ST: Asian buyers are playing an increasing role in the international art market particularly as they travel and create relationships overseas. As Asians continue to invest in properties and businesses abroad they are opening up to buy Western art as well as growing their Asian collections. I believe this will continue to a point where people will soon collect art based solely on aesthetics rather than the nationality of the artist. Cosmopolitanism is truly extending into the art world. 

cB: What role can the younger generation play in cross-cultural exchanges especially in today’s fast-paced, hi-tech world? 

ST: The younger generation are facing a globalized world that is more flattened and highly digitalized both in the positive and negative sense. There is also an economic brunt which they have to shoulder from the recent economic crisis. Hence their activities and decisions will either enable them to build a sustainable society or destroy it. I believe that the socially conscious entrepreneurs in our society will play an increasingly leading role in determining the kind of world we create and the kind of society we build. Within that context, art will come to play a progressively important role both offering a critique and serving a celebratory function. 

[above image: ‘Fragile-Dragon’ by Kim Joon, part of ‘New Creative Constructs’ at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Chelsea, NY]

cB: And how can young members of the Bengali diaspora help to bring mainstream awareness to their cultural heritage? 

ST: First and foremost I suggest they create a standard of high aesthetic value, whether they are talking about poetry, literature or compositional art. It is important to present artistic ventures or events with serious intellectual and spiritual thought behind them in a highly cohesive manner. And I am not talking about money, I am talking about ideas. 

cB: Some future projects / plans for Sundaram Tagore Art Gallery that you are extremely excited about… 

ST: I am very excited about our film making ventures. The first film is about an Indian artist and the Indian diaspora. The second film will focus on the Louis Kahn parliamentary complex in Bangladesh. In fact I have already had meetings with government agencies who are highly supportive of the second project.

I am including a short synopsis of the first film below for your reference: 

Natvar Bhavsar The Poetics of Color

A Film by Sundaram Tagore

This documentary explores the life and work of the painter Natvar Bhavsar. Born in Gujarat in 1934, Bhavsar settled in New York City, the very nerve center of the art world, in the mid-1960s where he still lives and works. The central theme of the film is the multicultural nature of Bhavsar’s work and how that has influenced the trajectory of his career. Although it’s common today for artists to work cross culturally and find critical and commercial acceptance outside their own spheres of origin, Bhavsar was a pioneer who paved the way for subsequent generations of artists. This film is not only a history of one artist’s journey, but a celebration of the Asian diasporic community and its contribution to American contemporary art.

Thank you Sundaram for taking the time to join us for inConversation with creativeBangladesh! 

For more information on the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, please visit their website here.

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CREDITS:
photos: Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh

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