National artistic vanguards tend to come in two types. Some groups, like the revolutionary muralists in Mexico, consciously set out to depict an aspect of their country: its people, its landscape, its culture. Others, like the American Abstract Expressionists, develop a novel style or approach, make an aesthetic breakthrough, which only later comes to be associated with the country of its origin. Over seventy years after its founding, it remains unclear whether India’s Progressive Artists’ Group (1947–1953) is a national vanguard of the first or second type.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is perhaps the most well-known photographer in India, or rather—an important distinction—the photographer whose work is most well-known. In “Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame,” the Rubin Museum brings together selections from his trips between 1947 and 1980. It’s hard not to detect a sense of social estrangement here. In fact, Cartier-Bresson made a style out of his outsider status.