Behind a mall and before the golf course, a few hundred metres into Delhi’s answer to Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda and New York’s Greenwich Village, the realty of the Capital’s art mile hits me. A lathi-wielding teen, thanks to my flab abs and queries for directions, takes me for an estate agent. As I protest, he makes me meet a tau (term of reverence for a village elder) coughing into a hookah in 46-degree heat, with a proposal to rent out space for a gallery.
Dashing their rental dreams, the photographer and I make a dash across Lado Sarai, the urban village-turned-art-district in Mehrauli that has witnessed the launch of five new galleries in as many months this year. There are 10 galleries in one lane behind Crescent Mall alone.
Those who’ve set up shop in the village haven’t done it anticipating an art windfall alone, says curator and critic Sushma Bahl. “They have distinctive business models. Also, new galleries help young artists get a platform.” Siddhartha Kararwal, an artist from MS University, Baroda, is one of these. Finding place at Bhavna Kakar’s Latitude 28 Gallery, which opened in March, is his work Double Barrel. Two Rs 500 currency notes are folded like a gun barrel and photographed on paper with a shadow which forms the other barrel. “It is a comment on money power fuelling gun culture. All it cost him was Rs 1,000, some imagination and a sense of humour,” says Kakar. In case you missed the nomenclature, her gallery is named after the north Latitude (28.39) on which Delhi is located.
Providing a platform for new artists appears to be Ravi Chadha’s credo, too. Launched in April, his gallery Paintbrush and Chisel has brought in Thai artists of promise, apart from select works of American artist Lee Waisler. “We won’t deal with established Indian artists. It just adds another two zeros to the price. I would rather give a platform to new talent and keep prices affordable.” In his last show, Chadha sold works for Rs 40,000-70,000.
Across the street, Gallery 320 has managed to strike a balance between commerce and showcasing contemporary art with three shows in its five-month existence.
At the entrance is a World War II motorcycle modified by Sandip Pisalkar into a mosquito spray machine titled Human Enemy Killer. On the wall plays a video showing a man annihilating the insect in a Baroda neighbourhood. “The idea of a killing machine came to me after a bout of malaria. In the home, as on the battlefield, we attack what we perceive as a threat,” says Pisalkar.
At Art Positive, the latest to set up shop in Lado Sarai, If Salvador Dali had a Stallion, by Haribabu Natesan, uses electronic waste such as old keyboards to create a mechanical horse the surrealist wouldn’t have been ashamed of. Owner Anu Bajaj wants to extend the gallery experience with a café, book shop and culture hub.
“To begin with, we are displaying works of 18 people shortlisted in Artspotting, a fellowship for mid-career artists. Later, we plan painting and puppetry workshops to keep the gallery abuzz,” says the wife of Bajaj Capital Managing Director Rajiv Bajaj.
New galleries are also opening beyond Lado Sarai’s Art Mile. Ensign, launched on Thursday at South Delhi’s Geetanjali Enclave, would focus on artists who work in paper, says co-owner Seema Subbanna. Delhi Art Gallery, a 14-year-old entity in Hauz Khas, has opened its second branch at the tony Emporio Mall.
Despite signs of an economic recovery, veteran critic Keshav Malik reckons new galleries would be wise to invest in the middle rung since the handful of top artists are still not selling.
The bottomline? Appreciate art while it is still appreciating.