Nestled in a corner of a bylane at Kala Ghoda, with its white French windows and intricate patterns, the Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) resembles the many buildings that have a similar structure and design at Pondicherry. Inside, the gallery boasts of a spacious space that is spread over four levels. As I enter the building on a Wednesday morning, owner Ashish Anand is busy supervising the workers who are putting up the paintings on display while curator Kishore Singh is attending to last-minute calls. With just two days left for its opening night, the gallery is abuzz with activity.
Since its inception in the capital in 1993, Delhi Art Gallery has gained a reputation of having a huge repository of 20th century Indian modern art. Its collection spans works that include early moderns, European artists and a wide spectrum of Indian modernism spanning from its genesis to the works of modern masters.
After two decades, it is now setting up base in Mumbai. It opened here on October 26 with an exhibition on the Progressive Artists’ Group titled Mumbai Modern. The exhibition, which will continue till end of this year, showcases 225 works created by 13 doyens of Indian art including F N Souza, M F Husain, SH Raza, Akbar Padamsee and VS Gaitonde. Kishore Singh has curated the exhibition from DAG’s internal collection built over the years.
Anand says, “The reason why we chose Mumbai Modern as the title of the exhibition is to establish the artists’ link with the city, as well as to highlight the ongoing work of these artists long after the city ceased to be Bombay and was renamed Mumbai.”
Singh elaborates the idea was to give back to the city something that had originated from the same place. “The Progressive movement, which started in 1947, was heralded by the likes of Souza, Raza, Husain and Padamsee. It generated palpable excitement among people at that time. As the country had just got independence, every field of culture such as theatre and cinema started seeing a lot of innovation. Art, too, became a part of this movement. In this exhibition, we tried to showcase the artists’ early works, as they were historically important,” adds Singh. Mumbai Modern is accompanied by a 500-page book with extensive research that gives viewers an idea about the works of the progressive artists. It has a foreword by the late Raza, essays by critic Ranjit Hoskote, writer Georgina Maddox and artist Krishen Khanna. But it’s the detailed history of each of the artists, personal hand notes, sketches and pictures of old catalogues that make the book interesting.
Anand, on his part, is not perturbed by the numerous art galleries in Kala Ghoda, popularly hailed as the city’s art district. With its spacious interiors, state-of-the-art facilities and extensive exhibitions, he hopes to make the gallery into an art adda. It’s evident that the space has been designed keeping this in mind. While the first two floors comprise the exhibition galleries, the second floor houses part of the gallery’s permanent collection. The third floor has the gallery’s sculpture courtyard cum auditorium. Private lounges on the first and second floors have a video conferencing facility that enables visitors to talk to artists present in the capital at DAG and also view the exhibition on display there. Anand says, “Special shows will be curated for DAG Mumbai, but people will also be able to view previous exhibitions shown in New Delhi. After Mumbai Modern, we are planning to showcase the works of pre-independence era artists early next year.”