Mumbai’s hip gallery spaces are hard to beat

Mumbai’s hip gallery spaces are hard to beat

Compared with New Delhi's claustrophobic private galleries, Mumbai's galleries are inventive showcases of art and bold style

Gallery Maskara"Ashwamedh" by Max Streicher at Gallery Maskara; Courtesy Gallery MaskaraThe third India Art Summit held at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan came to a successful close on January 23.

Returning to Mumbai and reflecting on the difference in how art is exhibited and viewed in the two cities, I'll offer an opinion: private gallery spaces are better in Mumbai.

The evening of January 19 in New Delhi started at the Talwar Gallery in Niti Bagh -- the experience seemed to set the tone for the Delhi art scene.

A posh conversion of the ground floor and basement of a house was the scene for artist Ranjani Shettar’s works. People milled around quietly, drinks in hand.

Next stop, Gallery Threshold, once again the ground floor and basement of a commercial establishment in dusty Lado Serai.

Is all of Delhi’s art exhibited in low-ceilinged house conversions?

We moved on to a very grand opening -- in terms of value of art and attendance -- at the new Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Sprawling in terms of square footage, it is housed (temporarily) in a mall. Again, the ceilings hung just a few feet above one’s head and strangely located as it was, it was disconcerting to see art in a museum that seemed a series of ad hoc air-conditioned conference rooms.

Reaching the Restaurant at Lodi gardens where TAKE magazine was releasing its new issue, it was a relief to be out in the open and shake off the claustrophobia. This was also the setting for the fabulous Khoj Marathon later in the week.

Even the capital’s National Gallery of Modern Art and its newly constructed wing showing Anish Kapoor’s works was no match for the drama of Mumbai's Mehboob Studios -- Mumbai scored both in the works and the setting.

Is New Delhi waiting for someone to take the first step to break out of this “house gallery” mold?

There are more institutional spaces in New Delhi for exhibitions than in Mumbai, but for contemporary art the private galleries lag far behind.

Lekha and Anupam Poddar have done well in their custom-built private museum, but that is after all a museum.

When will individual galleries show in spaces that match their inventive programs and accomplished artists?

Project 88"The Hangover of Agarlum” by Hemali Bhuta at Project 88; Courtesy Project 88.

Mumbai lessons: Conversions of warehouses and old mansion flats

In contrast, Mumbai gallerists have shaken off the shackles of the 1980s and 1990s when galleries opened in garages and houses. They are taking risks and developing uniquely Mumbai spaces.

This needs to happen, in keeping with the place Indian art is taking on the world stage.

I say unique because Mumbai's reworked spaces have retained their history while galvanizing the scene to show newer forms of art like installation and video.

Unlike in New Delhi, where it is difficult to tell one space from another, here each space has a distinct feel that reflects the gallerist’s vision and respects what the space was before.

Sree Goswami’s Project 88, in a converted warehouse that once housed a printing press, still retains the curving metal beams that loop across its high industrial ceiling.

Artists have to engage with the space and its elements and the results are often unlike what one would see in a regular, white-cube gallery.

Hemali Bhuta in her inaugural show "The Hangover of Agarlum” at Project 88, struggled with the idea of four pillars in the center of the gallery.

She then responded with a sublime work of 30,000 hanging alum "agarbattis" set  among the pillars.

She also cast two additional pillars in alum on the wall, lightly and luminously acknowledging the weighty cast iron pillars.

Gallery Maskara’s warehouse on 3rd Pasta lane is a stunning space that soars 50 feet high at the center.

Originally a storehouse for cotton, it’s been left unfettered by partitions.

Artist Jitish Kallat marveled at the hangar-like space, saying there was nothing quite like this in the city.

He previewed his most ambitious sculpture "Aquasaurus" here, and no other space would have done it justice. Seven meters long and dramatically lit, Kallat's one-night-only preview is still memorable.

After the claustrophobic, uninspiring spaces in New Delhi, one needs to salute the gutsy risk takers that Mumbai's gallerists are.

Battling high rents and astronomical property prices and the crunch of space in our city, they have continually made the best of what’s available. And continually negotiate the problems that come with them.

Chemould Prescott Road, two stories up an old building, has to sometimes bring in artworks through the window, as the old staircase is too small for large works.

Hoisting L N Tallur’s massive installations required an all-night operation using cranes.

The brick-lined Chatterjee & Lal lead the way in gentrifying a dodgy area, followed by Volte, The Guild and Lakeeren; all are situated in the one-time East India company warehouses on Arthur Bunder Road. Now, it’s one of the hippest addresses in South Mumbai.

Gallerie Mirchandani + Steinrucke is a charming converted old-world apartment done precisely to modern gallery specifications. As is Sakshi Gallery’s ground floor space. Both are multi-roomed, but housed in turn-of-the-century buildings with high ceilings.

Gallery Maskara"Aquasaurus" by Jitish Kallat at Gallery Maskara; Courtesy Gallery Maskara

State of the art district in Mumbai

All grouped in South Mumbai, and mainly in Colaba, we can truly claim the start of a veritable art district, like the East End of London or the Chelsea Art District in Manhattan.

Unlike New Delhi, where one drives long distances from one colony to another, or from one mall to another, the art experience here is holistic.

In the first month of the year, I took in a Sudhir Patwardhan show at Sakshi; debated the politics of his works over a machiato at Indigo deli; chatted with the charming Mort Chatterjee and Tara Lal about the restoration of artworks at the Taj Hotel post the 26/11/08 fires; caught Anita Dube at Lakeeren, Ranbir Kaleka at Volte, before Max Streicher’s monumental bobbing horses at Gallery Maskara.

With time left to buy neon yellow kolhapuri chappals on Colaba Causeway, I had a conversation over Café Samovar’s kebabs and chai, after joining the busloads that alight at Jehangir Art Gallery.

Then I headed to Christies at Dhanraj Mahal for a valuation of an artwork and caught an artist talk at the Goethe Hall at Max Mueller Bhavan.

All this while Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art in the same area, lies fallow till the powers that be in New Delhi decide on what handouts we get.

Mumbai’s private gallery spaces have stepped up admirably to keep the art scene here vibrant on their own steam. You don’t even need a car, it’s all walkable, like a living urban dream.

Having studied medicine at Bombay's oldest medical college, Deepika focuses on passions she could not study.
Read more about Deepika Sorabjee