From the fluttering fabric of a tent, to the blurred motion of the potter’s wheel, to the rhythm of a horse puppet’s wooden hooves—these scenes make up a set of mid-1980s art exhibitions as part of the U.S. Festival of India. The festival was conceived at a meeting between Indira Gandhi and Ronald Reagan to strengthen relations between the two countries at a time of late Cold War tensions and global economic change, when America’s image of India was as a place of desperate poverty and spectacular fantasy. Displaying Time unpacks the intimate, small-scale durations of time at work in the gallery from the transformation of clay into ceramic to the one-on-one, personal encounters between museum visitors and artists.
Using extensive archival research and interviews with artists, curators, diplomats, and visitors, Rebecca Brown analyzes a selection of museum shows that were part of the Festival of India to unfurl new exhibitionary modes: the time of transformation, of interruption, of potential and the future, as well as the contemporary and the now.
1. Flickering Light, Fluttering Textiles
An Interruption: Derridean Temporality at the Festival
2. Material Transformations: Clay, Terracotta, Trash
3. Time, Interrupted: People in the Gallery
4. Entrepreneurial Exhibits
5. The Contemporary, at a Distance
6. Setting Up the Tent Anew
Displaying Time is an original and compelling contribution to scholarship on South Asian art and exhibition practices. Focusing on the Festival of India in the United States, Brown emphasizes art as an event, performance, and time-based form and explores the aesthetics of duration, repetition, and animation. It is essential reading.
Sonal Khullar, author of Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990
Brown’s application of western theorists to the nitty gritty of exhibition organization makes for a solid foundation upon which future studies of such mega cultural projects will be based.
Vishakha Desai, Columbia University
Rebecca Brown's seminal study of the Festivals of India is a wonderfully crafted and illuminating account of cultural diplomacy and its artistic tensions. It is essential reading for anyone concerned with South Asia, the political and artistic complexity of exhibitions, and the exhibitionary complex broadly defined.
Natasha Eaton, author of Mimesis across Empires: Artworks and Networks in India, 1765-1860
Rebecca M. Brown’s Displaying Time: The Many Temporalities of the Festival of India launches a productive way of understanding and interpreting festivals and contributes to South East Asian studies, especially Indian art in North America in the twentieth century.
Displaying Time can be read as an innovative and engaging approach to exploring, through its overarching theme of temporality, the complexities of staging a large-scale international festival event and will be of interest to those concerned with the presentation of art and cultural histories through museum and exhibition practices. It is also valuable through its offering to the reader the means to ‘refocus their temporal lenses’ in order to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the web of moments and durations, flows and interruptions, linear, cyclical and layered temporalities, and the temporal resonances that are all constituents of such exhibitions and events.
Brown. . . boldly unfurls novel ways of thinking through, and with, exhibitory practices of the past, the present, and the future.