Galleries have been proliferating in Mumbai for some time bow. Amazingly, despite soaring real estate prices, galleries continue to open in south Bombay with large spaces. This year the city has witnessed a brave attempt by Shireen Gandhy to reopen Gallery Chemould as Chemould Prescott Road, with an astounding 6,000sq ft. Sakshi Art Gallery, too, will open on Monday in the art district with a 4,000 sq ft gallery on Nathalal Parekh Road near Regal.
“Having a 4,000 sq ft gallery at Colaba is equivalent to a 10,000 sq ft one in Lower Parel,” says Geetha Mehra of Sakshi Art Gallery. “Also, being in the art district will benefit our gallery. One always tends to benefit from patrons of the trade in a hub like this. Like a jeweller will benefit from being in, say, in Zaveri Bazaar. We expect artists to do interesting shows. We will continue to promote their art as we have earlier. But I would also like to combine sculptures, video work and all other kinds of art activities at the new space.”
“The art world has seen several changes in recent times and I realised that my responsibility towards my artists has increased,” says Shireen Gandhy. Artists today are motivated to do the impossible. They are willing to take up ambitious projects and are looking at galleries that can support them. “Doing a mixed-media show with installations, sculptures and paintings is the order of the day. I do not want to lose out on my artists who wish to do something like that,” says Gandhy.
While this can be a decisive factor, projects that require magnificent space aren’t the only reason galleries are expanding. Sree Goswami of Project 88 says, “A large space does give the gallery owner the liberty to do interesting shows, but it is primarily about the art and not just the space. At times we have just one large painting on a wall, and if it’s an interesting show, one need not worry about filling up the space.” When you walk into a gallery the size of a museum, it’s possible to feel intimidated and overwhelmed. The larger galleries tackle this well.
“When one constructs a vast space, one has to keep in mind that one big room will overwhelm. So, it’s better to have a system where one can compartmentalise for solo or small-scale shows,” says Gandhy. Geetha Mehra, who moved from Sri Ram Mills in Parel, says, “Our new space is consciously divided. You don’t see the whole picture in an instant. We have one room leading into another, to create a sense of surprise, and so that the viewer doesn’t feel bewildered.”
From an artist’s perspective, a vast space can both benefit and be disadvantageous. “Large galleries are always welcome. While it’s easy to find smaller galleries, there are few large galleries. It is definitely motivating to know that there are galleries that can support a show with large canvases,” says artist Rajesh Pullarwar. Pullarwar, who enjoys making installations, says, “A large gallery can always be compartmentalised, but a smaller one can never be expanded.”
Artist Riyas Komu says, “Large galleries help. But it’s the language that the artists wish to convey that is more important. Established artists are looking for spaces that complement their work. For example, they may want high ceilings, or that museum-like ambience. Having said that, a large space wouldn’t stop me from creating small works. Sometimes the work that I do complements the stuffy feel of a smaller space.”
Financially, galleries are taking bigger risks by investing in properties that might not give them the kind of returns they look for. “I am not a business-minded person. Things just come my way and the money gets recovered,” says Gandhy. “I know how to balance the economics by doing a money-spinner show and alternate it by doing a show with an emerging artist. But I wouldn’t avoid a show just because the artist wouldn’t sell.” Goswami echoes her views: “I have a gallery in Kolkata and by and large I do A-list artists and make profits there. But in Mumbai, I give priority to creative contentment.”
Komu has the last word: “Large galleries benefit artists by promoting cultural activity in a non-commercial space. They act as a transition space — art actually moves from an artist’s mind to a gallery and from there to people’s minds,” he says.