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At Hauser & Wirth’s Chelsea location in New York, everyday objects familiar to the Indian home are brought together en mass to form the sculptures, paintings, and video installations that make up New Delhi-based artist Subodh Gupta’s newest solo exhibition. Entitled “Seven Billion Light Years,” the show links the seven billion people who live on earth to the unfathomable span of the cosmos. Distinctly Duchampian in his practice, Gupta transforms the ready-made into a personal and cultural gesture, and imbues the object with a hint of surrealism.
The show opens with a leviathan fountain that stretches 12 feet across the gallery floor, and fills the room with the deafening echo of running water. It is constructed from hundreds of pots, pans, and vessels familiar to the Indian kitchen, which are dirty from use and melded together into a towering mass. Coyly titled This is not a Fountain after Magritte’s famed painting Ceci n’est pas une pipe. (This is not a pipe.), it implores us to consider the many objects that make up the mass, and in turn, the many lives that make up the earth.
The kitchen proves an important space as the exhibition continues, with food acting as a key signifier of personal identity and cultural practices for Gupta. My Family Portrait is a collection of three shelves taken from the homes of Gupta’s brother and sister, and stocked with new dishes. Beside it, Aam has a hint of surrealism with a collection of 13 mangoes that look deceptively like ready-mades (or perhaps “ready-growns” is the correct term here), but are actually constructed of bronze and hand painted. The work points out a duality between majesty and commonality with a play on words. The Hindi word for “mango,” for which the work is named, also means “common,” yet, in India, the fruit is also referred to as the “king of fruit.”
This juxtaposition between everyday and divine is found throughout the show. In the next room, a restaging of Gupta’s 1999 work Pure (I) includes objects collected from Gupta’s neighbors that have been buried in a field of earth that visitors may walk on. The dirt that makes up the form of the work is a reference to a paste of mud and cow dung, which in Indian culture is considered a medium of divine cleansing. This installation is paired with a series of black and white portraits depicting the neighbors who lent pieces to the work.
Farther on hang gorgeous, celestial paintings that are actually large-scale, realistic copies of found utensils affixed to the canvas next to their representations. Their scale makes the images almost abstracted, and upon first glance, they conjure the Milky Way over the kitchen. Likewise, three wall-mounted orbs that look like massive, metallic dandelions or three dimensional star bursts (not to be confused with the candy), are made entirely of tongs ordinarily used to flip bred in an oven.
This pairing of intimacy and distance characterizes Gupta’s work. The artist deftly multiplies commonplace objects, creating massive and majestic spectacles that demand our attention and contemplation. This show is an invitation for us to contemplate our place in the world, be it domestic, cultural, familial, or existential, and to consider those of our peers, near and far.
“Seven Billion Light Years” will be on view at 511 West 18th Street through April 23.