Humour by Rehana Munir: The underrated joys of the art binge

Published on Feb 27, 2022 12:49 AM IST

Rediscovering the excitement of the art hop at Mumbai Gallery Weekend. When was the last time you tried it?

Opening night at an art gallery can be intimidating, but an art show should never be judged on art alone (Hexcode)
Opening night at an art gallery can be intimidating, but an art show should never be judged on art alone (Hexcode)
ByRehana Munir

I’m still savouring the afterglow of Mumbai Gallery Weekend, a collaboration that’s more relevant than ever in its tenth year. Crawling out of the Omicron-shaped hole we’ve been slumbering in through the winter is not easy. The gift of excellent art from an eclectic range of artists, spread across the southern tip of the city, has been a real booster for the spirit. Post-lockdown, it’s freeing to lose oneself in physical galleries where nothing is expected of you but a serious-looking gaze at assorted walls, with the occasional gasp or sigh.

Abstract art and fake laughs

No matter how many books you’ve read or lectures you’ve attended, nothing prepares you for the initially forbidding atmosphere you encounter in an art gallery. In time you realise the image you’re fighting in your head is not one of an undemanding near-empty room, a serene setting in which to experience art, but the much-touted art opening, an absolute assault on the nerves and senses. Vikram Seth captures it best in his little parodic verse, Overheard at a Cocktail Party:

‘But empathy with the Id is the quintessential

Je-ne-sais-quoi–as it were–of the Existential…

I’ll never be old or sophisticated enough to attend an art opening unironically. Something about the occasion encourages inauthenticity. People who are pleasant and engaging enough in regular life assume an unbearable air of false jollity in the vicinity of wine, canapés and abstract art. I know because I’m one of them. It is impossible for me to either breathe, smile or talk normally in the rarefied atmosphere of opening night. I’ve often found myself gushing over strangers’ necklaces and speaking gibberish to familiar faces in a bad case of art-night awkwardness.

Silence, please, this is a gallery

The trick, of course, is to give arty parties a miss. To walk around a gallery on one’s own, or with one’s own, is an urban pleasure like few others. In a city starved of public spaces, and of activities that do not make monetary demands, an art gallery is indeed an oasis. It’s a pity, then, that these spaces are accessed only by a privileged few. This is, thankfully, changing as Ritesh Uttamchandani’s A Lease of Life proves. A perceptive photo exhibition that explores the afterlife of political banners, it welcomed guests ranging from cab drivers to school-going kids with their mothers at the legendary gallery, Cymroza. A fine interplay between the art of politics and the politics of art.

Desmond Lazaro’s Cosmos at Chemould Prescott Road was a visual treat, exploring the realm of the heavens through maps and pigments, memories and myths. Midway through my starry, starry walk, I was interrupted by a musical explosion, so incongruous with hallowed art spaces. The eruption was caused by a group of twenty-somethings (from that most distant of planets) buzzing on art and beer, and in control of the sound system. A welcome break from our bland, sanitised times.

A very arty pooch

Walking into TARQ at Dhanraj Mahal, the iconic art deco building near the Gateway of India, is a lesson in history. Inside, Saju Kunhan’s ongoing exhibition, Home Ground, features extraordinary image transfers on teak wood, evoking the nostalgia and displacement of migration. But an art show cannot merely be judged on art alone. The colour-coded chocolates lying at the door were pleasing takeaways, providing a superb aftertaste to the show when I visited.

I usually look forward to visiting Jhaveri Contemporary thanks to their perfectly framed view of the Gateway of India, and the resident black-and-white pooch, Cola. This time around, I was awestruck by Sri Lankan sculptor Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s multi-hued figures of “guardians, warriors, goddesses, demons, jokers and monsters” in ‘The Mud and the Rainbow’. Behind the Taj, at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinrucke, Sosa Joseph’s ‘Where Do We Come From?’ wove quite the spell with its dreamlike swirl of colours and forms from Kerala. Such a treat these art hops are, plucking you out of everyday life and submerging you in a river of reflections. Whenever the art leaves you cold, but you’re mortally afraid of either wounding or being judged by the artists standing close by, you’re saved by your mask. Luckily, none were around on this particular jaunt, sparing me the trouble of spontaneously finding something insightful to say.

Follow @rehana_munir on Twitter and Instagram

From HT Brunch, February 27, 2022

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