Art Discovery

Art Discovery

You get to a certain age, and you think you’ve seen it all. What more can there be to discover? Answer: Lots. Until yesterday, I had never heard of, much less knowingly seen a work by Indian-born American artist Zarina Hashmi (b. 1937). All that changed at Zarina: Paper Like Skin, the thrilling—there is no other word—retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, thru April 21, 2013. As Allegra Pesenti, the curator who organized the show, said at the end of her remarks to the gathered press, “I want to leave you with a final question, ‘Why did it take so long for Zarina to receive this kind of recognition and appreciation?’” Why indeed? Is it enough to say better late than never? In her works on paper, Zarina (she prefers to be known by one name) speaks softly. Hers is an art that doesn’t crave the limelight. She is elusive, constantly on the move, a peripatetic force. Yet, for an artist who has spent most of her adult life on the road, traveling the world, a recurring theme throughout her career is home, whether it be in Tokyo, Paris, Bangkok, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz or New York, where she has mainly lived since 1976. A pair of parallel white lines on a black ground defines her New York (“New York,” 2003; a floor plan of an apartment outlines her Paris; a street map conjures up Beirut. The visual language is minimalist and abstract. For example, a thick, wayward and jagged black line bisects a white sheet (“Dividing Line,” 2001). Symbolically, it demarcates a boundary between India and Pakistan that divided her life as a child, set her to wandering and continues to make return visits to what was once home painful. Politics runs like a silent stream from which she draws time and again. The process of carving a block of wood for a print allows her to also define herself as a sculptor. In more recent works, whether densely black or luminously golden, she turns her gaze inward, meditating on spirituality and enlightenment, mortality and the future. Throughout her work, there is a wondrous tactility, whether she is manipulating bronze, tin or her beloved handmade papers from India, Japan and Nepal. A year ago, the Guggenheim turned me on to Maurizio Cattelan. This year, Zarina. The museum’s on a roll, and so am I. A footnote: The Guggenheim Shop is selling a 5-by-7 note card based on Zarina’s “Pin Drawing” (hundreds of pin pricks on a creamy weave). Costing $10, the card is issued in a signed and dated (in the print) limited edition of 1,500. Could I resist? On my walk to work today, I bought a “green” frame, made from a rubber tree, at Utrecht Art Supplies on E. 13th St.; somehow I think Zarina would approve. So, there it is, my first Zarina, framed and hanging in my office, where I can contemplate it every day. Can life get any better than that?