What makes an artist modern? The question has long loomed over Mrinalini Mukherjee, an Indian artist who sat at the uneasy confluence of contemporary art and Indian folk aesthetics, never fully belonging to either world. Best known for colorful, hulking sculptures that pay homage to the natural world, Mukherjee was largely misunderstood in her lifetime, regarded as “tribal” by the West, dismissed as “religious” in India. Now, she might be getting the recognition she’s long been due with her first retrospective in America.
Phenomenal Nature: Mrinalini Mukherjee, at New York’s Met Breuer through September 29, features nearly sixty of Mukherjee’s works. The first thing you might notice is the distinctiveness of her sculptures. Some are suspended from the wall, others sit on the floor, but all command attention with their bright yellows, verdant greens, and royal purples, blending botanical and anthropomorphic forms. They’re meticulously woven from jute, which the artist treated in a month-long process—wetting, uncurling, straightening, drying, and dyeing—before even beginning the sculpting process.