The moment Mr. August Uribe, Senior Specialist from Sotheby’s, was introduced as “Oggie”, I should have known this was not going to go so well. Being told someone’s nickname is never a good sign, particularly when the nic in question makes them sound like they should be singing in a chorus with Big Bird. Most of the time, the point of a nickname is to simplify a name. Which is why a kindergarten teacher will say, “My name is Anonandon, but you can call me Anon.” Neither August nor Uribe are particularly complicated but even so, the venerable crowd of posh art lovers that had gathered to hear a talk about the nude in 20th century art was told Mr. Uribe is affectionately known as Oggie (or is that Auggie? See, sometimes nicknames are more complicated than real names). I was so hoping that at the end of the talk,  one of the elegant peeps would raise their hand and say, “Oggie darling, I was wondering, what do you think of the post-postmodern fixation with the live nude figure in contemporary performance art in comparison to the nude in nineteenth century paintings?”

Apparently, Sotheby’s decided to have the talk at the last minute but a rather large crowd showed up and I was quite sure that they’d kept it quiet so that some saffron-wearing local guardian didn’t land up at the gallery baying for Mr. Uribe’s blood. By the end of the lecture, I wasn’t so sure. Mr. Uribe’s lecture seemed to have been put together over a couple of hours with a little help from Uncle Google and Grandpa Powerpoint. He showed us pictures of nudes by the most well-known names, like Modigliani, Picasso, Giacometti, Niki de Saint Phalle and Lucien Freud. The pictures weren’t of the artists’ best works by any stretch of the imagination. There wasn’t any interesting analysis. It was just a straightforward chronological slideshow. During the course of the talk, the projector collapsed twice and like some of the audience, the microphone went to sleep from time to time.

I was sitting there, building up righteous, postcolonial rage at these people who come from abroad and think we know nothing. Sotheby’s had called collectors, gallerists, critics and people who are interested in art for this talk. And August “Oggie” Uribe was giving them the most basic, rudimentary round-up of modern art. The kind that you’d give schoolkids. Then the Q & A started and I wanted to borrow Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. Now I’m no good at Q & As. Mine is a sluggish brain. It rarely works and when it does, it needs time to crank into action. This business of popping out a question as though the lecture is popcorn put into the brain’s microwave isn’t my thing. So I admire people who can ask questions. Unless of course you get up and ask the following one (I paraphrase): “Can you tell me what about the artist who made those long bodies you showed pictures of? You see according to Feng Shui, long bodies, exposure to long bodies I mean, bring misfortune to the person. So I was wondering, what happened to the artist who made those paintings of elongated bodies?”

Ans: He went on to become one of the most respected artists of the 20th century. (Sadly, he didn’t say that.)

She was asking about Giacometti. And she wasn’t taking the piss out of Oggie.

After this, if Sotheby’s makes a presentation for us with muppets, instead of people with just muppety nicknames, that’ll be enough. I’m going to stay at home and re-watch my Simon Schama DVDs.

3 thoughts on “Mumbai Talkies

  1. i have to ask what was the point? Did Sotheby’s not have a clue what their so-called ‘specialist’ was going to do? and what’s he a specialist in – stating the blooming obvious??

    deepest sympathy.

  2. It wasn’t all ghastly. There were some fun bits, like I didn’t know Modigliani was so desperate for models that he tried to seduce maids at the house he lived in.

    Mad, Sotheby’s, like everyone else, assumes that it’s a bunch of illiterates in the art world here. Clearly from the feng shui question, they’re not entirely off the mark but it’s just frustrating for some. There is no art education in this city. I suppose basic is the way to go in such a scenario but a lot of the people on the Sotheby’s mailing list have worked hard at educating themselves. That tends to get forgotten.

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