THE EXHIBITIONParis-Delhi-Bombay, which opened at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on 25 May and runs through 19 September before traveling to India, exposes an elegantly muted yet palpably French anxiety about irrelevance: Indian contemporary artists have been taking the global art world by storm for several years now, but France's national museum dedicated to contemporary art only just took notice. The introductory texts by the museum's president, Alain Seban, the director of the National Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Pacquement, and curators Sophie Duplaix and Fabrice Bousteau self-consciously admit that the Centre Pompidou is playing catch-up.
In the annex to the exhibition catalogue, a chronology of major exhibitions worldwide of contemporary Indian art, dating back to the First Triennale in Delhi in 1968, amply illustrates that what was for decades a mere trickle has become, in the 21st century, a raging torrent. Listed in the chronology are the major museum exhibitions, biennials and triennials across North America, Europe and Asia, as well as big private exhibitions in India. It is hard to miss that even in France, the Centre Pompidou is late to the India party. In 2005, L'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts hosted Indian Summer, an exhibition that featured some of the very artists currently showcased at the Centre Pompidou. In 2006, the city of Lille hosted Bombay: Maximum City, an exhibition that showcased several of the same artists. In 2009, the Indian Contemporary Art exhibition, curated by Supriya Banerjee and Ranjit Hoskote, was held at Fécamp. And partly concurrent with the Centre Pompidou show is Indian Highway IV at the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring, again, some of the same artists.
So what can France's national museum of modern and contemporary art do at this late date to distinguish itself on a crowded playing field? The Centre Pompidou's answer: initiate a dialogue between India and France by asking Indian artists to react to France and—and here's the big innovation, or so the museum brags—French artists to react to India, in works commissioned for the show.