If you have visited Rangsharda Auditorium over the last three years, you couldn’t have missed the odd, rounded building bang opposite it. Designed by architect Sanjay Puri, the award-winning structure has no sharp edges and resembles an abstract sculpture. Aptly so, for it houses an art complex run by the non-profit platform, The Bombay Art Society.
The society, which dates back to 1888, was one of the premier art societies of India, and prominent artists have been its members. While its administrative office was located in the Jehangir Art Gallery, it was given a plot of land by the state government almost two decades ago, on which the art complex has been built.
Spread over 13,000 sqft, the structure boasts of three art galleries, a 90-seater amphitheatre for lectures and screenings on art, a reference library comprising 1,000 books, a shop selling art-related memorabilia, and a space for art residencies.
For their first exhibition, they have curated a show titled Masters of Indian Art, which features paintings, drawings and sculptures by 88 artists born pre-Independence, from 1860 to 1947. It includes works by acclaimed artists like Abalal Rahiman, MV Dhurandhar, Prabhakar Kolte, FN Souza, Akbar Padamsee and MF Husain. The highlights include rare drawings by SP Agaskar, an epic work by MR Acharekar, and a never-before-exhibited painting by VS Gaitonde.
“Principally, Bombay was the initiator in developing the art scene in India. There were several art movements which changed art in India. While the Tagore family shaped modern art by refusing the academic teachings of the British art schools, the Bombay School mastered the technique and later improvised,” says curator Ratnadeep Adivrekar.
Through the artwork, the show highlights the evolution of the city’s art scene. Broadly, it features the Company School artists who were trained in western techniques under colonial rule. In 1857, the Sir JJ School of Art was formed and the artists who emerged from there such as Abalal Rahiman and AA Raiba were termed the Bombay School artists and they developed a hybrid Indo-European style. By the ’40s, artists went beyond western academic art and assimilated the Indian art style inspired by the Swadeshi movement. Independence led to the formation of the Progressive Artists’ Group by artists like MF Husain and KH Ara, bringing with it a wave of modernism.
“This interplay of colonialism and nationalism with contemporary art spans three centuries. If the Sir JJ School of Art was teaching almost all the important artists of India, then the Bombay Art Society was rewarding them,” observes Adivrekar.
Interestingly, the works have been sourced from private collections, the families of the artists and institutes within a short span of a fortnight.
“Unlike Jehangir Art Gallery, this is not a fully commercial space for exhibitions. While one of the galleries will be rented out, the other galleries will feature curated shows. Moving away from the art district, the gallery will cater to art lovers in the suburbs. Thanks to the space we have, we can encourage artists to create experimental installations and explore new media as well,” says gallery manager Shraddha Purnaye.
Since The Bombay Art Society has no sponsors or support from the state, they are looking for patrons who can donate or become members (for Rs 8,000). The money generated will be used to support the venue.
Next up, the society is planning to revive their Art Journal, their erstwhile annual publication, and publish it every quarter. Also on the cards is a café at the venue. Watch this space.
What: Masters of Indian Art is on view till March 1, 11am to 6pm
Where: The Bombay Art Society, opposite Rangsharda Auditorium, KC Marg, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (W)
Call: 2651 3466