Turn back the clock to 1943: Kekoo Gandhy saw that Khorshed Adenwalla was looking a little bored. It was a tea-dance and he knew that she’d helped sell the tickets but something told him that she might welcome the chance to get an ice cream. She agreed, they wound up catching a film at the Metroand getting married a couple of years later. Along the way, they had five children: one son, two daughters, a gallery and then another daughter,” that’s how Shireen Gandhy begins her story about the birth of the Chemould gallery. We are intrigued and curious. So we ask her to carry on.
Chemould has always had a reputation for nurturing and giving an opportunity to young, promising artists, a space to display their work…
Yes. When Cowasji Jehangir offered Kekoo Gandhy a space on the first floor of the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1963, it became not just the iconic gallery with the curved wall; it was also a seedbed and a nursery and a confessional. Artists turned up for advice, for loans, for encouragement and inspiration. They drew from Kekoo’s enthusiasm and from Khorshed’s good sense. Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar, Bhupen Khakhar, Nasreen Mohammedi, Pilloo Pochkhanawala -- all have had their first exhibitions in this space.
You grew up not just seeing the gallery but almost living in it. What are you early memories of Chemould?
I was the fifth child (my parents had three children, (much older) and when my mother thought she was done with child rearing, she joined my father in setting up their new baby, Gallery Chemould. Mother then had baby number four, or actually make that five! She was by now a career mum, so much of my childhood was spent hanging out with my parents in the gallery, watching artists come by in this little hub that was forever full of visitors. Early memories are of Tyeb Mehta, who would come to town once every week to meet his friend Bal Chabbda. His default place of visit was Gallery Chemould, from where he would make his two calls, one to his wife Sakina to say he had reached safely (after a long train journey) and second to Bal to ask his buddy to pick him for further jaunts in the city. Tyeb would then spend an hour talking to us. He was not a man for small talk, so immediately it would become a deep conversation about art, philosophy or politics. My parents provided this platform for many an artist, where the little space provided conversations outside of the studio space. It was deeply enriching for me as a child to be part of this. Being almost like an only child by then, as my siblings had grown up, my parents world was my world, in which, to say the least, there was never a dull moment!
There were other legends who also made Chemould a second home…
Of course. SH Raza, one of the most early and loyal associates, was one of the closest friends of my parents and always stayed with us when he came from Paris. Then of course, there was Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee…the list could go on.
Fifty years later, would you say much of your parents’ dreams about Chemould have been realised?
My father’s dreams went beyond Chemould. He was the biggest dreamer and thought of much bigger things. The gallery was his adda, but the art world was his bigger comfort zone. My father’s dreams encapsulated the starting of institutions such as NGMA -- once the gallery was up and running and his capable wife had taken over (subsequently his daughter). He dreamt of art being shown abroad, travelling with shows, and much bigger things, which in those years seemed almost insurmountable. But he did achieve many of those dreams. I know he was very happy when the gallery flag was waved all over the world. With our presence today in art fairs such as Art Basel, he would have been proud. I remember, he would say “my daughter Shireen the globe-trotter,” every time I left home for an art fair (to which I would roll my eyes!).
You are hosting a series of exhibitions between September and next April. Would you like to elaborate on the first exhibit, titled: “Subject of Death”?
Subject of Death is the first show beginning on September 2. The protagonist as it were, is Bhupen Khakhar the well-known chartered accountant-turned-artist from Baroda. Khakhar’s role in contemporary art in considered gigantic. He was the artist who opened the doors to so much that happened not only in Baroda, but in contemporary Indian art from the ’70s. Khakhar in many ways is considered the cheerleader for the generations that followed. This is his 10th death anniversary. But this show is as much about death as it is about life. Death after all is a part of a life cycle and Khakhar being the artist here, it gives continuity to the theme.
We are also curious to learn about another show scheduled in October, called “Citizen Artist: Forms of Address”…
Much of contemporary art is about the artist as a citizen of the world. He is the voice of thought that cuts all boundaries. For him national borders are as important as no borders. So you think about the work of a Shilpa Gupta -- who addresses the nation, the world, borders, paranoia as her topics, or Jitish Kallat, who as a citizen of Mumbai addresses issues that deal with the city in so many ways, or Tushar Joag as artist activist. There are many who play the role of an as artist and a citizen -- thus the title!
Will you also be holding other events such as a lecture series to pay tribute to Kekoo Gandhy?
Yes, we do have plans and this is being firmed up. We have some rather big luminaries who will be speaking, but as it’s a long drawn programme, we are still working on this.