Subodh Gupta, Born 1964, India
The Indian artist Subodh Gupta made "Soma" specifically for Donum: it is a giant tilted – perhaps slightly tipsy looking – Pinot Noir wine bottle made out of the artist's trademark kitchen utensils, with a bunch of grapes (also in stainless steel) sitting at its feet. "Soma," the title, refers to the Vedic ambrosia: a drink favored by the gods that gave them vigor and immortality. The drink is so intoxicating that it is often represented as a deity itself.
Gupta's utensils are the stainless-steel dishes, milking buckets, cooking pots, and metal tiffins found in any Indian middle-class kitchen. He buys them in bulk on regular shopping trips to the market – they are at the heart of Gupta's art. The artist, it turns out, loves food and cooking.
"One afternoon, when I went to the kitchen, instead of cooking I started looking at the utensils," he recalls. "Basically, I felt that they started talking to me. Every day, in every home, these are such common objects. I thought: 'It's perfect – I can draw something with it, these become like my tools.' I thought, 'Here is something happening,' and I went for it. Here I am with the utensil now, and it's like my signature item in sculpture."
People Tree, 2017
High on a hill, overlooking the pond, Gupta’s expansive People Tree, in the form of a giant banyan tree with its prominent “aerial prop roots”, is simultaneously an expression of traditional and contemporary life in India, one of the most populous nations on Earth. Thousands of ordinary stainless-steel dishes and pots are carefully melded to form the crown of the ubiquitous tree of the subcontinent, its lavish trunk and branches also dramatically formed from the super-shiny white metal. Gupta’s conceptual take on this material is particular: “When I was in school, stainless steel was so desirable; to eat on it at an uncle’s house was the height of luxury.” That is no longer the case, a reflection of India’s economic growth over recent decades, but still, here, the metal is transformed into something extraordinary.
The national tree of India, the banyan is considered sacred, symbolizing eternal life and knowledge. In placing such a bold sculpture on this golden hillside, close to the eucalyptus grove, the park is extended and delineated, encouraging exploration to the edge of its bounds.
Now an international art star, Gupta grew up in the state of Bihar in eastern India. His father was a railway man who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps. But art was Gupta's calling, as he discovered early on. He enrolled at the College of Arts and Crafts in Bihar's state capital, Patna. Having spent his childhood being taken to the theater by his mother, he subsequently became a set designer for a traveling theater troupe.
Today, Gupta’s work is in museum collections all over the world. He recently installed a giant bucket of steel outside the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. He lives in Delhi with his wife, the artist Bharti Kher, and their two children, where he works out of a three-story studio to accommodate the scale of his work. There, he collaborates with a welder, a clay modeler, a plaster cast painter, and a graphic painter on his monumental sculptures.
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