The Asia Society Museum holds a special exhibition on the Progressive Artists’ Group. [Image: F. N. Souza. Untitled, 1962. Oil on canvas. H. 63 x W. 41 in. (160 x 104.1 cm) Blanca and Sunil Hirani Asian Art Collection, courtesy of the Asia Society]

India’s Modern Art Pioneers Get First US Exhibition in 60 Years


The first US exhibition in 60 years of India’s first modern artists, the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG), completed this month at the Asia Society Museum in New York. Titled “The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India,” the exhibition ran from September 2018 to January 2019. It featured over 80 pieces of art from PAG, with pieces coming from various collections in the United Kingdom, India, the United States and Dubai. The exhibition is a first of its kind in terms of the completeness of the works. It examines the early days of the Group, their sources of inspiration and later iconic works. Additionally, it featured South and East Asian artifacts to highlight the influence of Asian traditions on the Group.

The Progressive Artists’ Group is famous for leading the Indian modern art movement following India’s independence. It was founded in 1947 by F.N. Souza and the artists saw the emergence of a new India as an opportunity to paint freely and independently. The Group drew from both Indian traditions and Western influences, creating unique pieces that reflected a new, secular India. The artists also reflected the rich diversity of India as the Group included artists from a variety of backgrounds.

To accompany the exhibition, the Asia Society also put on “Season of India,” a series of events focusing on Indian art, culture, and policy. Among American museums, there has been a deepening interest in South Asian art. The recent Asia Contemporary Art Week in New York featured Indian sculptor and multimedia artist Anita Dube as the event’s keynote speaker. In 2017, there were more South Asian artists featured in prominent American art museums than ever before. Additionally, American art museums have started to send delegations to Indian art festivals and events. The Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Asia Cultural Council sponsored Indian artists to come the United States, and provided grants to prominent Indian art institutions.

Cheok Kay Nathalie Chun is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate of American University, where she studied International Studies with a concentration in East Asia.