Mrinalini Mukherjee’s modern sculpture
Combining elements of modern sculpture, inspirations from nature and local Indian tradition, sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee created commanding, odd, and unsettling forms that are on display in Phenomenal Nature: Mrinalini Mukherjee, the first U.S. retrospective of the sculptor’s work, which is on view at The Met Breuer running until September 29th. The exhibition explores Mukherjee’s longstanding engagement with fiber, along with her ceramic and bronze work from the middle and latter half of her career.
Born in Mumbai in 1949 to artist parents, Mukherjee studied painting, printmaking, and mural making at the M.S. University in Baroda, India, with the influential artist K.G. Subramanyan, who firmly rejected the Western modernist hierarchy between art and craft and encouraged Mukherjee, to engage with this legacy. It was under his guidance that Mukherjee first experimented with fiber.
A committed sculptor who worked intuitively, never resorting to a sketch or preparatory drawing, Mukherjee in her forms explored the divide between figuration and abstraction. Nature was her primary inspiration, and this was further informed by her enthusiasm for Indian historic sculpture, modern design, and local crafts and textile traditions. The exhibition highlights the radical intervention Mukherjee made by adapting crafting techniques with a modernist formalism.
Mukherjee’s fiber forms are physical and organic. She never worked with a loom. Knotting became her primary technique, imbuing her sculptures with three-dimensional volume and a sense of monumentality. She used natural as well as hand-dyed ropes sourced from a local market in New Delhi, where she lived and worked. The forms she fashioned are replete with sexual imagery, while some of her large anthropomorphic pieces—in which the vegetal, human, and animal merge—at times suggest the imagery of classical Indian sculpture.
Phenomenal Nature also presents the latter half of Mukherjee’s career in the mid 1990s when she began working with ceramics, eventually taking on bronze in 2003 that probed the divide between figuration and abstraction.
Phenomenal Nature: Mrinalini Mukherjee is organized by Shanay Jhaveri, Assistant Curator of South Asian Art in The Met's Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. For more information visit www.metmuseum.org.