To assemble almost everything in almost nothing

News Section, Reviews

October 10th, 2012


(Review) Tantra Song: Abstract Tantric Painting from Rajasthan

The New York Times Style Magazine

17th Century Modernism?


Originally published November 1, 2011

The abstract paintings shown here are not by Kazimir Malevich or Paul Klee but by Hindu tantra devotees from Indian cities like Jodhpur and Chomu, the anonymous heirs to a pictorial tradition that dates to the 1600s. Painted on salvaged paper and rarely measuring more than a foot high, the images possess a strange kinship with 20th-century art. And their agelessness cast a spell over Franck André Jamme, a French poet who nearly got himself killed tracking down these works across the deserts of Rajasthan.

In 1985, Jamme was on a bus to Jaipur when his driver fell asleep and smashed into an oncoming truck, killing seven people. Jamme suffered a series of comas but eventually returned to India. After consulting a soothsayer, he resumed his quest to befriend tantrikas and understand their meditative art form, which originated in handwritten religious texts but is today mostly neglected on the subcontinent. “I needed around 20 years to find the good nests, the good families where people were still making these marvels,” Jamme said.

His discoveries are newly collected in Tantra Song (Siglio, $40). They were first exhibited in 1994 at the gallery of Agnès b. in Paris, where Jamme hung this triumphant notice: “Perhaps rarely in the universal history of painting have works at once so mysterious and simple, yet so powerful and pure, ever been produced — a bit as if, here, man’s genius had been able to assemble almost everything in almost nothing.”

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