A collection of Shiva linga paintings—possibly the finest in the country—opens at ICON Gallery in Fairfield on Friday, March 1. Anonymous Shiva Linga Paintings: The Hudson Collection features Tantric images made by unknown painters from Rajasthan, India, from the personal collection of Hudson, a New York City art dealer known only by his last name.
Founder of the gallery Feature Inc., Hudson (1950–2014) was a performance artist who won great respect from his fellow artists by forging his own path. He became “one of the most prescient, independent-minded, and admired gallerists of his generation,” wrote Roberta Smith in the New York Times. “Like Alfred Stieglitz, Betty Parsons, Richard Bellamy, and other earlier New York dealers, Hudson was part aesthete, part pedagogue, part artist, and part nurturer of artists.”
Without seeming to try, Hudson built not an empire but a community of students, artists, critics, curators, and art lovers who respected his independence and were educated by his eye.
Each of the 67 paintings in this exhibition depict the Shiva linga on a page-size sheet of antique paper. The Sanskrit word “lingam,” originally meaning “mark” or “sign,” often refers to the phallus or symbol of male creative energy that is complementary to the “yoni,” which means both “source” and “female.”
Unlike sculptural Shiva linga, which are commonly phallic in shape, the linga in these paintings are ovoid and hold some of the symbolic associations of the “egg-shaped cosmos” or “hiranyagarbha”—the “golden womb” or “golden egg” that represents the birth of the cosmos and the source of all energy. The images are intended to awaken heightened consciousness.
French scholar André Padoux describes these images as “painted silences, the simple revelation of pure consciousness. . . . Artless, modest in appearance as they may seem, these lingas can induce a vision of the infinite.”
Despite their expression of an unbroken, centuries-old tradition, the works that comprise this exhibition (made between 1966 and 2004) convey a surprising freshness and immediacy. Possessing an uncanny affinity with examples of 20th-century abstract art, they are coveted both in India and in the West.
This exhibition has been made possible by the generous donation of the Hudson Collection to ICON’s permanent collection by Patricia Hudson, James Hudson, and Thomas Hudson. Additional support for the exhibition was provided by David T. Hanson. A portion of this collection was included in the prestigious 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.
On Thursday, March 14, University of Iowa Professor Frederick Smith will give a lecture entitled “The Form of No Forms: Placing Shiva Paintings in Context” at ICON Gallery. Professor Smith gave this lecture in Pennsylvania when the collection toured the country in 2013.
“We are extremely grateful to the Hudson Family for gifting this prize collection to ICON,” says ICON Director Bill Teeple. “New York gallery owner Hudson passed away in 2014. He was a friend to Fairfield and ICON. I feel he is happy that his personal collection has found a home at ICON.”
ICON Gallery is located at 58 N. Main St. in Fairfield. Hours are Tuesday–Friday noon–4 p.m., Saturday 1-4 p.m., and by appointment. (641) 469-6252.