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Gurugram, high on energy and potential but still low on cultural quarters

A cursory scan of the residents’ list in just a dozen neighbourhoods would round up the who’s who of corporate India. So why, then, is the city so woefully undernourished when it comes to the cultural spaces?

gurgaon Updated: Jun 01, 2018 11:47 IST
Gurugram,Art sales,Gurugram cyber city
The skyline view of cyber city, cyber hub and gateway tower building in Gurgaon.(HT File Photo)

My first genuine tour of Gurugram was a real-estate recce sometime in 2003. Beyond the still marginally occupied portions, it was an unending swathe of dusty scrubland with stunted skyscrapers thrown in for good measure. The grand tour was riddled with the property dealer’s ceaseless jabber about the exceptional investment opportunity and the incontestable promise of this glorious destination.

Instead of some get-rich-quick formula, it had the promise of a burgeoning art district, or, at the very least, a welcome oasis for heady and hearty cultural conversations. The intelligentsia was already relocating to this city, I was cheerfully told by the dealer, following a corporate office exodus that had been recently unleashed.

I recall drifting into a vision of Gurugram

2020: a land that would be plentifully, packed to the gills with a teeming gallery neighbourhood, an Opera Hall for performing arts, perhaps even the country’s largest amphitheatre that could host a celebrated global arts festival of some sort, and a cavernous privately funded Museum. I realise I was getting ahead of myself, but having just recently initiated my advisory practice, I was idealistic and optimistic (read: younger and naive).

In part, this was fuelled by exposure over the immediately preceding years to two yet nascent but incredible art spaces: 798 Art Zone in Beijing and the Wynwood Art District in Miami. The sheer physical scale of both locations, as also the vision of the individuals involved in either endeavor, were astounding. In 798, the art community converged on the available space within a decommissioned complex of factory buildings, to be followed over the years by a bevy of gallerists, designers, restauranteurs, and chic entrepreneurs.

In Miami, for the inaugural edition of Art Basel’s Americas chapter in 2002, I reluctantly tagged along one evening with a group of artists who were heading to Wynwood to paint a wall mural. It was monumental, in many sections yet vacant, but strikingly vibrant.

Fading light demanded a visit the following day to view the district properly. The place was a creative public art riot. A walk through that neighbourhood highlighted the fascinating far-sightedness of the local property owners and developers, in allowing the artists to have a free run of the district. Round the corner was the Rubell Collection, an exceptional body of contemporary art housed in a 45,000-sq-ft erstwhile Drug Enforcement Agency warehouse.

These two experiences had perhaps been the reasons for my buoyant dream of what Gurugram would shape into. Surely if not for pure patronage, a business baron or group would see the immense value and commercial sensibility of extending such support to an artistic initiative of a comparable format. Such was my resounding belief, that I not very much later moved lock, stock and easel to this neck of the woods.

And for a stretch following my move, Gurugram was great.

Epicentre at the Apparel House was alive, the fascinating Poddar Collection at the Devi Art Foundation was running an active program, there were even a few galleries that ventured into these parts as well.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve visited scores of art and gallery districts from Berlin’s Mitte to Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue. In every instance, the one facet that stands out is the role of the community and its participation that fosters and ensures the success of these initiatives.

We’ve definitely got the community component covered here in Gurugram. A cursory scan of the resident’s list in just a dozen neighbourhoods would round up the who’s who of corporate India.

So why, then, is the city so woefully undernourished when it comes to the cultural quarters? Are we not adequately demanding? Are we so radically desensitised that we don’t feel the absence of a readily accessible art and performing arts program?

To be bluntly honest, I haven’t in years asked myself these questions, replenishing my quota of want by travelling overseas. A practice most fellow denizens would also follow, not half expecting their city to offer what should by default be available to us and our children.

I’m asking myself these questions now, and I reckon the following parts of this column will allow me to share some of those observations.

(The author is the CEO of Artery India, a financial data centre focused on Indian art sales globally)