Exhibitions: Love divined and kama sutured

The Whitechapel Gallery has coupled the Hindu god of love with a surrealist sculptor of the female anatomy. But Krishna the Divine Lover looks happier in the union than Cathy de Monchaux

The Whitechapel Gallery is a good place for paired exhibitions because its higher and lower floors have different characters and don't interact very well if they are filled by a single artist. Now at the Whitechapel is a quite happy and also rather sexy partnership. Downstairs is a display of Cathy de Monchaux's recent sculpture. Upstairs is "Krishna the Divine Lover", in which we trace the worship of the legendary Hindu god through some 120 miniatures, most of them classical but some by contemporary Indian artists.

These shows have come about in different ways. The carefully planned "Krishna" is a special gesture to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Indian and Pakistani independence, and it's one of the National Touring Exhibitions organised by the Hayward Gallery.

These exhibitions deserve more attention, for they are often rather good and at any time there are about 20 of them around the country (and another country could be involved: the South Bank is prepared to send exhibitions to Ireland, though Irish galleries have not yet twigged that this is so). Anyway, "Krishna" will tour to Huddersfield, then Sheffield, and will finish in Brighton next January.

This exhibition of miniatures was carefully devised with lots of help from experts. Cathy de Monchaux was talent-spotted, then invited to use the Whitechapel in any way she pleased. Here's a radically different way of making an exhibition, and the Gallery's enterprise is to be applauded. De Monchaux was first noticed when she contributed a piece called Hide to the Whitechapel Open in 1988. It was a sculpture of no great size, made from lead, velvet and bolts, but it stuck in the mind because the imagery was sexual, perhaps fetishistic, indebted to Surrealism but feminine in a way that old Surrealism never was. In the next few years de Monchaux's work was often seen in mixed shows and was always distinctive, though in the same ways. Her manner of combining, for instance, plushy velours with steel grips was cleverly varied, but the sculptures were still variations on a single them. Clearly she needed a new start, and this is where the Whitechapel came in.

When de Monchaux was offered the lower gallery three years ago she had to think of ways of filling it. Here were difficulties. A retrospective was out of the question because her art hadn't changed enough. She had a big space to play with, but her sculptures are at their best if their size is rather compressed. Furthermore, the gallery has a large floor area, yet her pieces are more effective if hung on walls. Only two solutions were possible. Either de Monchaux had to totally remake herself as a sculptor or she had to build interior rooms within the gallery. She has taken the latter course, and the results are interesting rather than compelling.

Her work is three-dimensional - on the whole - but de Monchaux still cannot make sculpture that owes its presence to volume and mass, that stands on a floor or a plinth and is seen in the round. Her instincts are for decoration rather than construction. The scale of the new work is mistaken because the detail is so much more interesting than the whole. We read her work in bits, looking at the little clamps, prongs, thongs, sections of rubber or copper with an attention that is never commanded by the whole piece. This is a fault of the flat hangings she has devised to cover the gallery's high walls. At the back of the room is Wandering about in the future, looking forward to the past and opposite the entrance is Rocking the boat before the storm ahead (all de Monchaux's titles are like this, and the labels are in her own handwriting). Little bits are often terrific. Stand back, and the whole work is disappointing, also derivative.

These hangings remind me of free-form installations that were done in New York in the early 1970s. De Monchaux is a little like the late Eva Hesse, an American artist whose high reputation has now disappeared. The room de Monchaux has constructed in the centre of the gallery, artistically a failure, is influenced by sculptors of Hesse's period, principally Carl Andre and Robert Morris. I fear that de Monchaux is original in small things, but a follower of previous art when it comes to big things. Her formidable imagination and craftsmanship might have been helped forward by an invitation from a gallery of more modest proportions.

Upstairs, a different experience. Small in size, vivid and concentrated as they are, Indian miniatures always give delight to the eye - and maybe to the eye alone. For we Europeans still find Indian art difficult to understand. Its sculpture and architecture makes more sense to me than the painting. When you look at miniatures it's like surveying a whole civilisation through the wrong end of a telescope. For these reasons I recommend "Krishna the Divine Lover". It has a clear and wonderful theme. The exhibits are of a high class, for they are taken from the choice collections of the V&A, the British Museum and the British Library. Above all, perhaps, Balraj Khanna's little catalogue-cum-book is a perfect guide to the Krishna legend and its illustration. It deserves a wide sale, especially among the school parties who will certainly visit this exhibition.

Children will be interested in Krishna's erotic adventures and ought to be able to sense his divinity. The pictures are so obviously sincere. Indian religious art never hit the depths of banality we find in 19th- century European Christian painting. One thing saddens me. The contemporary artists are no good. A great continent is joining the modern global world, with which its visual culture cannot cope.

! Whitechapel, E1 (0171 522 7878), to 27 Jul.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam