New York has SoHo, London has Cork Street, and Delhi...? Does the capital have an ‘art district’, any one street or area with a thick concentration of art galleries and artists studios? Now it could.
Lado Sarai, located behind Crescent Mall in the shadow of Qutub Minar, may not look very promising — it’s one narrow lane, full of potholes, half engulfed by all manner of vehicles parked chaotically along both sides. It’s not smart, it’s not chic, it’s far from arty — but it’s now the address of as many as seven contemporary art galleries.
The first galleries opened here around three years ago, soon after the MCD sealing drives started forcing a number of galleries located in designated ‘residential’ areas to seek other homes.
Anant was the first to open was January 2007, followed soon after by Art Motif, Art Pilgrim and Gallery Threshold. Then came Artoholic’s Gallery and Galerie Eterne up the road, and early this year, Gallery Ragini by sometime art consultant and sari-salwar kameez retailer Nidhi Jyoti Jain, and just last month, Krishna’s Collection.
If the sealing led to the discovery of Lado Sarai by Delhi galleryists, the low rents and the proximity to hip designer ateliers in the nearby
Qutub and Mehrauli areas were a huge draw — so what if it was tucked away in a corner.
“We don’t depend on walk-ins at all. Those who are interested will come here anyway,” says Mamta Singhania of Anant Art Gallery which also has spaces in Noida.
There were other attractions as well. “I have a 6,000 sq ft space,” Singhania says. “I don’t think I would have got such a large space anywhere else.”
For Mala Aneja, the very non-arty feel of Lado Sarai was its appeal. When she first checked out the rooms where Art Motif has now come up, there were metal hooks on the wall, which the landlord explained to her were used to tether the cattle there. “Later, of course, these rooms were used as an office,” Aneja explains.
What works out well, at least for some of the galleryists, is the fact that most of them have a very different focus. So while Anant concentrates on cutting edge stuff, installations, video art and the like, Art Motif clearly has a more traditional painterly bias, while Gallery Threshold is more of a mixed bag, with a thrust on sculptures, and Artoholic’s has a rich permanent collection of masters and Young Turks alike.
“I don’t feel threatened at all by the presence of so many galleries,” says Tunty Chauhan of Gallery Threshold. “In fact, last season, four of us had come up with a single card for the shows we were opening simultaneously. That hasn’t happened again, but we do try to coincide our openings. And it’s turned out to be pretty successful because we get a lot of cross visitors.”
That’s an added plus for the galleries, especially now, since the economic recession has meant that sales have taken a huge hit. Already one, Art Pilgrim, has shut down in Lado Sarai, although it continues to operate out of its older, Gurgaon pad.
But, of course, a few galleries down one street do not make for an art district — or even an ‘art walk’, as Singhania calls it. There aren’t any eateries, except for the recently opened Uzbek diner Karavan, much less a place you could sit down for a coffee and chat art. The road and parking still remain a problem and you could well find your way into a gallery clocked entirely, as I did, by a huge SUV.