Released July 07, 2014


Biren De You-July '70



On view through mid-2015

SALEM, MA -- The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is pleased to present Figuring the Abstract in Indian Art, an installation of late 20th-century modernist paintings and 19th-century devotional Hindu sculptures. Moving across time, form and function, this installation explores the concepts of figuration and abstraction in the context of Indian art. The 20 works on view are drawn from PEM's Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection -- the most important holding of 20th-century modern Indian art in the U.S. -- the Leo Figiel Collection of vernacular metal sculpture and the Tina and Anil Ambani Collection -- one of India's leading private collections. Figuring the Abstract in Indian Art is on view through mid-2015.

“This installation uses traditional devotional images of Hindu gods and goddesses as a way to unlock concepts of the abstract in Indian traditional and modern art,” says Sona Datta, PEM’s curator of Indian and South Asian Art. “By looking at bronzes figures, such as Shiva or the mighty warrior Durga, we understand that Hinduism provides a vehicle for ordinary mortals to access the divine and the universal. This idea is approached alternately in modern art through painters such as Biren De, who express the essential notion of the divine through pure abstraction.”

In the middle of the last century, modernism provided a new framework in which Indian artists could express abstract concepts through non-representational forms by using color, flatness and space. The tumbling human forms of Tyeb Mehta effectively use fragmentation as a means of expressing the very human pain of political divide. Concurrently, M.F. Husain’s 1950 painting Man provoked a collector in New York to ask why the artist didn’t paint like an abstract expressionist. Husain replied, “There is nothing abstract about a billion people.” This installation celebrates India’s modern artists who were able to effectively look towards the language of international modernism while remaining firmly rooted in the distinct context of India.

IMAGE CREDIT: Biren De, 1926 – 2011. You-July '70, 1970. Oil on canvas; 51 x 52 inches (129.5 x 132 cm); The Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, E301118


The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is one of the oldest and fastest growing museums in North America. At its heart is a mission to transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections and the vital importance of creative expression. Founded in 1799, the museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, as well as Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities, performance spaces and historic properties, including Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House, a 200-year-old house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States.

HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm and the third Thursday of every month until 9 pm. Closed Mondays (except holidays), Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

ADMISSION: Adults $18; seniors $15; students $10. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 17 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang.

INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit our Web site at

PR Contacts:

Whitney Van Dyke  -  Director of Communications  -  978-542-1828  -

Dinah Cardin  -  Press Officer / Special Projects Writer  -  978-542-1830  -

‹ Back To Press Releases