Gallery Chemould has a new address. The present 800 square feet space in Jehangir Art Gallery has recently found an extension in a 5,000 sq ft gallery on Prescott Road. For a gallery with its origins in a humble photo frame shop in Mumbai’s Princess Street, Chemould has not done too badly.
In the current art scene that’s increasingly aggressive with more and more galleries throwing open their doors to artists and buyers, its 44-year existence is, certainly a good measure of its success.
Proprietor Shireen Gandhy, 42, barely two years younger than the gallery started by her father Kekoo Gandhy attributes the long innings to a personalised interaction with artists. "Artists are very fragile people. It’s important (to them) that their artistic needs be understood. Given our long association with them, the relationship is not just commercial… we’ve become something of a sounding board to them."
In a world where art dealers and galleries spring up looking for new money and newer artists to feed on, Chemould has an old-world charm that offers a sturdy touch. Amid the cacophony of new names, Chemould has retained its edge in a changing Mumbai - and world.
The beginning may have been small but Chemould’s owners had to their credit the biggest names in business. In fact, MF Husain started his career with Chemould, as did SH Ara. In fact, Husain’s Doll’s Wedding, part of an exhibition at Chemould, was picked up by American collector Wayne Hartwell for Rs 300.
Like most other galleries, Chemould charges a third of the price of the painting as commission but has the first mover advantage - with tell-tale archival material in the form of photographs, and documentation of artists and their works.
What also works in their favour is the price flexibility. You can still pick up something for as low as Rs 200, and there is something good that can go as high as Rs 20 lakh.
The Chemould Framing Factory was started by Kekoo Gandhy and his brother Rusi in 1940 with help from a Belgian gentleman called Van Damme – whose father was a framer and restorer. It is in the photo-frame shop where some of the gallery's first exhibitions were held.
It was a natural favourite with top rung artists like Ara and Hussain who came to the shop for getting their works framed and mounted. It was such rarefied company that honed Kekoo Gandhy’s interest in art. So much so that he set up his very own art gallery named Chemould in 1963 just above the Jehangir Art Gallery in Kala Ghoda, very casually becoming an arthouse landmark for the city.
Shireen's father Kekoo, because of his association with Dutch and Italians interested in art was among the first to glamourise art by exhibiting works at parties hosted by prominent citizens like Naval Tata.
In keeping with the changing times, Shireen, when she took up the reins of the family business dedicated her efforts to finding new talent. It appeared to her a good way to stay ahead. Atul Dodiya and Jitish Kallat, both counted among top-drawer younger artists, started their career by showcasing their works at Chemould.
"It is a matter of great excitement when you discover a new artist. They are like wine and you need to give them time to mature. There is, of course, the inherent risk that you may miss the boat or pick somebody too early who does not evolve. But it is nevertheless exciting," says Shireen.
Shireen Gandhy's unique selling proposition may raise eyebrows among some of the latter-day art hustlers, but it has worked, in the true spirit of Mumbai.
"Sincerity, honesty and business ethics have sustained us for this long," she says.