The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 9, 2001

Galleries fail to draw crowds
Dinesh Rathod

FROM those ancient times when the creative aspirations of a community found magical expression on cave walls, Indian artists now have the option to exhibit their works in proper, well-equipped galleries within their immediate neighbourhood and faraway lands.

Indians donít have the habit of visiting art galleries on weekends
Indians donít have the habit of visiting art galleries on weekends

In cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Delhi, art galleries have mushroomed in busy market places, shopping malls, five-star hotels and restaurants. Forgotten godowns and garages are converted into plush "art spaces" with extensions into the Net and catalogues that come with shopping lists.

"Art has become part of the entertainment industry," declares Payal Sanyal, a Kolkata-based art dealer. "Apart from the mega bucks involved, it is providing gainful employment to bored housewives and jobless artists. In fact, running an art gallery has become a very lucrative vocation for many."

The question, however, being asked among painters and sculptors is: Where are the viewers? "Lack of communication between the artist and his people is a typically urban problem," explains Kamal Jain, an illustrator with a newspaper group. "Ways have to be found for a meaningful dialogue. In its absence, creation of facilities, resource centres and more galleries are all meaningless."


"In India, people do not have the habit of visiting art galleries with their friends during weekends," says Namita Kohli, who is just back from an exhibition of her glass paintings in Milan, Italy. Even the roadside cafes and restaurants here are closed on Sundays. The galleries are completely desolate."

Clearly, gallery owners are not overly concerned. For one, they are not in the business for the benefit of a stray office-goer or tourist who would amble in casually for the sheer pleasure of viewing art. Their clientele is drawn from business barons and reputed collectors who are invited for shows.

For another, gallery owners know the value of signatures; for at stake, is a minimum 30 per cent of the sales proceeds. Their marketing strategy is accordingly focused at the targeted customer base with appropriate champagne launches, intense networking and media blitz.

Exceptions are, of course, there like Tina Ambani, whose annual Harmony Show at Mumbaiís Nehru Centre is a major art event, largely because it showcases the works of many fledgling artists from all over the country.But the deals are subject to a commission, mainly to cover "organisational costs".

Art schools, polytechnics and colleges also indulge in such promotional exercise so that students get a feel of what it means to step into the highly competitive art world. At another level, some government institutions are offering a platform to artists, both young and old, to reach out to the masses.

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is one such state-run body out to "revive interest in the visual culture". With two branches, one in Delhi and the other in Mumbai (and yet a third coming up in Bangalore), the gallery recently pulled off a coup of sorts by hosting a retrospective on Bhabesh Sanyal.

Says Rajeev Lochan, the recently appointed director of the NGMA: "We must remember that the NGMA is not a warehouse, but a lively art environment. We do not even have a cafeteria where people interested in art can sit around and enjoy the ambience."

Apart from such basics, Lochan has plans to bring out booklets on contemporary artists, produce films to document their works and put out relevant information online to help researchers. Entry tickets are being printed as keepsake picture postcards and T-shirts with art prints would soon be up for sale.

Likewise, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) in Delhi is creating exhibition spaces out of mati ghars (mud houses), open-air amphitheaters for audio-visual shows at night and cafes for artists to interact with visitors, besides launching an ambitious publishing programme on modern art.

"The cafe or some such place of convivial congregation is assuming special significance for artists the world over," says Anjolie Ela Menon, the well-known painter and a trustee of the IGNCA. "Promotion of art does not rest with building concrete spaces, but creating the right ambience so that a place comes alive!"

Taking the cue, a private body in Kolkata has recently opened an arts resource centre that not only provides for exhibition space, but also for screening documentary films, holding workshops and a library of books and video films on contemporary art.

ó MF

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