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Art is rocking...more the merrier

A boom is on. Art galleries in the city are multiplying like rabbits, writes Jigna Padhiar...

art and culture Updated: Jan 12, 2009 20:25 IST
Jigna Padhiar

A boom is on. Art galleries in the city are multiplying like rabbits, writes Jigna Padhiar...

It’s India’s New York. The city is now buzzing with art galleries, some of them at unconventional spots like disused warehouses and office spaces. Even as the barometer of real estate fluctuates in Mumbai, it’s considered a safe investment to use property for the display and sale of art.

In the last six months, it has been repeatedly contended that the art market has dwindled, that prices have tumbled. On inquiry, indications are that A-list art by the masters and established artists still command premium prices. New art — or works by the young and upcoming — isn’t exactly going for a song either.. but for the just-about-initiated collector, it’s within reach.

Go figure
Concurrently, the city has spawned art galleries which are inaugurated with the customary cheese-and-wine evening, duly publicised on Page 3 the next morning. Promotion matters. Gratifyingly, most of the galleries do take care to ensure that the art they display has a semblance of quality control.

Inquiries with the art frat indicate that there are around 45 active art galleries in the city, which on an average organise 40 shows a month. Last month, galleries across the city introduced as many as 25 artists working in a mixed bag of mediums.

Although there is no fixed amount, artists disclose that most galleries charge a 30 per cent commission (give or take three or four per cent) on the sale of every painting. Most frontline artists have dedicated gallerists who display and promote them. Incidentally, it is rare but not impossible for artists to conduct their own “private sales” from their studios.

Quality check
In recent months, Kala Ghoda has emerged as the city’s hub, a description that can arguably be shared with Colaba. Kala Ghoda’s Rampart Row dominated by the 57-year-old Jehangir Art Gallery, is the city’s nerve-point. There is a waiting list of two years and more to get an opportunity to exhibit at the spot which is a tradition as well as easier on the artist’s pocket.

Kala Ghoda is home to the good old Artists’ Centre in Ador House although few know about it. Hacienda, a marvellous little gallery, is tucked away shyly in a gully, that should be a must-halt for art connoisseurs, but isn’t yet.

The Museum Art Gallery and Amit Judge’s relatively new Bodhi (which hosts the more avant-garde artists) are other art stops. At a stone throw’s away, at Fort the Pundole Art Gallery is run by second-generation gallerist Dadiba Pundole and is again known to be extremely quality conscious. It is the kind of gallery where you could run into Krishen Khanna, Akbar Padamsee, and M F Husain before his exile.

New spots
At Fort, Articulate displays high-end art. The Mecklais of Jamaat are staples on the art as well as party circuit. At Apollo Bunder’s Athena complex and Juhu, Ashish Balram Nagpal has his roster of young and senior artists. And at Breach Candy, Pheroza Godrej’s Cymroza can be depended upon to host group shows as well as seasoned artists.

Worli, Lower Parel, Andheri, Juhu and Bandra are being increasingly dotted with galleries too. Take Worli’s Tao and Priyasri Art Gallery, both have been hosting shows which have not only been imaginatively curated but indicate a definitive approach towards art.

“Mumbai, as an art hub, is right on top,” affirms Anupa Mehta, curator, collector and art consultant who opened The Loft in Lower Parel in August last year. The Loft specialises in conducting interactive art sessions and displays the results.

Outer space
Geetha Mehra, owner of Sakshi Gallery, states, “We like to maintain a high standard of exhibitions and promotions, focusing on contemporary work, be it installation, photography, painting or sculpture.”

Evidently, with more artists changing their idiom to enormous-sised installations as well as video art, larger spaces will be required for display.

Which is perhaps why Kala Godha’s Bodhi Art opened Bodhi Space in Wadi Bunder. The gallery hosts 10 shows a year on an average, a student art show and presents awards to the best student artists.

Sakshi Art Gallery shifted from Lower Parel to a larger space in Colaba, close to Regal cinema. And Kekoo Gandhy’s Chemould relocated from the first floor of the Jehangir Art Gallery to Prescott Road, Fort.

Bombay Art Gallery in Colaba, which opened early last year, aims to showcase classic contemporary art. Owner Aditya Ruia explains, “We like to feature art that is of permanent appeal and value.”

Of late, galleries have attempted to promote the experimental and the young. Like Colaba’s Project 88 which showed Neha Choksi’s video project, Prajwal Chowdhary’s quirky sculptures and Sarnath Banerjee’s comic art. Farah Siddiqui Contemporary Art at Colaba showed a collection of offbeat films last month.

Chaterjee and Lal at Colaba — owned by Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal — showed Nikhil Chopra’s performance photography. And the Gallery Maskara Warehouse on 3rd Pasta Lane, in Colaba, which opened in March last year showed inflatable sculptures by Max Streicher. The Strand Art Room, also in Colaba, is currently showing works by students from Baroda’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

Abhay Maskara of Maskara Gallery states, “Art should be relevant to the world that we are living in today. I do not want to show art that happened a long time back.”

The Guild Art which now has two galleries (in Colaba yet again!) and Sakshi Gallery were among the first to exhibit photography, with solo shows by Vivan Sundaram, Navjot Altaf, Akbar Padamsee and Riyas Komu.

Different thoughts
Colaba’s Galerie Mirchandani and Steinruecke has brought international art to the city by showing the creations of Kiki Smith, Jonathan Meese and Polly Apfelbaum.

"Serious collectors and serious galleries will promote crispy curated projects,” avers The Loft’s Anupa Mehta, who will open a show curated by Jehangir Jani next month.

According to Rukshaan Krishna of Strand “The influx of new galleries obviously means that a larger number of art works is being displayed. After all, many of the shows are group shows. Art activity has almost tripled in the last six months.”

Aditya Ruia maintains, “We haven’t felt the pinch of recession yet. We have enough collectors.. we now need the breed of collectors to grow.”

And Maskara encapsulates, “Mumbai has an eclectic art scene. Various galleries are catering to different visions. There have been several newcomers in the art business and there are more to come. Every gallery is doing what it knows best. The more the merrier!”