February 26, 2024

The Indian art scene – an overview

by Ashoke Nag

The art gallery scene in India took off pretty early. Even three or four decades back, one found galleries like Dhoomimal in Delhi and Chemould and Pundole in Bombay. Those were days when the die-hard art collector lapped up even masterworks for a song, for their aesthetic value, to retain them for the long-term. This band of collectors could not even conceive of art as an investment instrument.

The rising level of art prices from around 2004, which culminated in the boom which peaked in early 2008, in essence, spurred the activity level of most galleries in the country. Not only did the sales volumes jump hugely, the prices of art pieces spiralled exponentially. True, that the economic meltdown from around middle of 2008, came as a dampner for the art market. With signs of the recession ebbing gradually, it may be interesting to take a look at some of the well-known galleries across some cities and art hubs like Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta.
“We have four spaces in Delhi and one in London. Of these, three happen to be full-fledged art galleries, while one of them houses a bookstore and a reading room,” says Arun Vadehra, director of Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery. “We also have a vibrant publications wing.”
“As far as our gallery business goes, we deal in all senior artists who have been with us for long. In step, we also offer works by well-known contemporary artists. Some of the artists include M F Husain, S H Raza, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, Arpita Singh, Rameshwar Broota, Ramachandran, Ganesh Pyne and Jogen Chowdhury. Figuring among the younger lot are Atul and Anju Dodiya and Hema Upadhyay, to mention just two or three. Our London gallery was launched in collaboration with Grosvenor Gallery in 2006 and is called Grosvenor Vadehra. We stage around 7-8 shows in London every year,” informs Vadehra.
He felt the country needs 200-300 new galleries to nurture talent. “There’re thousands of art students coming out of colleges every year. Where can they be absorbed if there’s such a dearth of galleries,” he stresses.
Chitrakoot, the oldest private and commercial Modern art gallery in Calcutta, focuses on old and Modern art, with a stress on aesthetic pleasure. “We have a large collection of early Bengal art, especially the mythological genre. The gallery also possesses stocks of Bengal masters including the Tagores, Jamini Roy, Hemen Mazumdar, Ram Kinkar Baij, Nandalal Bose, D P Roychowdhury, Somnath Hore and Ganesh Pyne,” says art connoisseur and founder-director of Chitrakoot, Dr Prakash Kejariwal.
“Together with our regular exhibits of paintings, we also stage photography and calligraphy shows and have produced art-related documentary films and publications revolving around art. Chitrakoot also houses a restoration centre to resuscitate old and damaged art,” says Kejariwal.
Art Alive is another frontline gallery in New Delhi. Headed by Sunaina Anand, the gallery promotes both 20th century and 21st century traditions of Indian art. “In response to this, we have organised retrospectives to give tribute to legendary Indian artists. We also conceptualise shows that establish methodological links between Modern and Contemporary art. The gallery finds great delight to observe contemporary nuances of modernistic trends, which saw us staging a multi-art event celebrating the 85th birthday of S H Raza in 2007,” says Ms Sunaina Anand.
“The gallery has also churned out books, catalogues and limited edition art portfolios with artists’ signatures like litho works by Jogen Chowdhury, T Vaikuntam, Paresh Maity and others. Among archival publications are sketches on the life and art of S H Raza and T Vaikuntam in the Master Series and the first volume of Faces of Indian Art. We have also produced monographic books with large reproductions of their works on K S Radhakrishnan and Paresh Maity. Incidentally, we stage shows both at home and abroad,” says Anand.
Adds Abhijit Lath, director of Calcutta’s Akar Prakar Gallery, who happens to belong to an elite art collector’s family: “We deal in, and promote art of all serious genres covering modern, contemporary, photography, sculpture, installations and multimedia. We have shown international artists through the cultural wings of the French and German consulates. Apart from promoting young and emerging artists, we also source art for collectors, and help their collections grow. Sometimes, collectors also use our services to sell works, and evaluate the pricing of artworks. We have also shown collections in a thematic setting, and document the collection in the process.”
“I’m drawn to new media artists. In that sense, my interest differs from my parents,” expresses Shireen Gandhy of Mumbai’s leading gallery Chemould. Chemould, set up in 1963, can be definitely said to be one of the trailblazers of the art gallery movement in India. “Chemould is inclined towards the younger generation of artists. In fact, we had presented the debut show of Atul Dodiya back in 1989. We deal in Contemporary artists like Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Hema Upadhyay, L N Tallur and Anant Joshi, to cite just a few names. The gallery will stick to this genre. We also field art fairs in international locales like Dubai, Paris and Miami Basel,” observes Ms Gandhy.
Bombay’s Sakshi Gallery is into its 25th year. Informs Geetha Mehra, director of Sakshi, “We like showing artworks of high quality and enjoy cutting-edge works, videos and installations. The gallery also focuses on international artists. We have shown Gregory Crewdson from the US, UK’s Julian Opie and Ghana-Nigeria artist El Antsui among others. The bulk of overseas works are sourced from Africa, the US, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.”
Most interestingly, with Indian art going global in the last few years, various top notch international galleries are offering this genre, too. Some of these outfits embrace London’s Berkeley Square and Grosvenor galleries, Galerie Mueller and Plate in Germany, France-based Enrico Navarra and Beijing’s Arrario.
Now, take your pick, art buff!

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