Frames from the 50-year-old-canvas

Sep 03, 2013, 01:47 IST | Kanika Sharma

Chemould Prescott Road will celebrate its semi centennial anniversary starting tomorrow with Aesthetic Bind: Subject of Death, an exhibition on continuity and longevity by eminent artist and close friend of the Gandhys, Bhupen Khakhar. Shireen Gandhy reminisces to Kanika Sharma about the iconic Mumbai institution

“My father dreamt, my mother did”
My mother was not only a mother to me — but was beginning to be a mother to a much larger unit. To a bunch of artists that she was beginning to make deep ties with, and collectors who began to trust her judgements and integrity. To say I was influenced by her taste in art would sound pretentious because that is something that you develop over time. When I was a young school going kid, I knew my mother dressed differently from other mothers. I always thought she had the most exquisite taste in sarees — simple, cotton printed sarees — she always stood out in a crowd! Our home, an old traditional Parsi house, was never typical.

Atul Dodiya, Khorshed Gandhy, Shireen Gandhy, Kekoo Gandhy, Anju Dodiya at the opening of the exhibition Crossing Generations— Diverge Forty Years of Gallery Chemould at the NGMA

 It was a traditional aesthetic mixed with contemporary — today more commonly termed as “ethnic chic” was something that defined our home. Again, with music — we were brought up on the ragas of Bhimsen Joshi and Hari Prasad Chaurasia, instead of Mozart and Chopin... my mother even sang Indian Classical and had her guruji visit every Thursday. This was all my mother’s stamp! It was no wonder, that this person who had a strong personality, was beginning to make important decisions in the gallery. While my father dreamt, my mother did. The two made for a unique and wonderful partnership — at home and at work.

Challenge behind the Golden Jubilee
Imagine a scenario — a handful of artists, two promotional galleries and almost no collectors. That was as far as the “art-scene” went! Yet from all the stories my father narrated, these were exciting times. It was the beginning of an era, and they were at the start of it! For him the “adjustment” (from moving on from a framing business to being an art connoisseur) was something that he longed for!

Renowned poet Nissim Ezekiel with the founder of Chemould Prescott Road Gallery, Kekoo Gandhy

There was a time (prior to the starting of the actual gallery at Jehangir), when he was forced to tear himself away from the art circuit and get back to concentrating on framing. It was an “order” from his board of directors of the framing business. It was difficult, but he went back to the framing business, only to get back to starting a gallery 10 years later.

My start, on the other hand, was a “heady” time. There was not only an existing art scene but the late 1980s had a surge of new collectors. Never before had art reached a six-digit number as far as sales went. The moment money talks — heads turn. If one had to make a graph of collectors from the early 80s to the late 80s, the upward slant would be distinct!

A centre of the artistic universe
We had this wonderful exhibition called Artists for Gadhyaparva. Gadhyaparva was a Gujarati poetry magazine that was widely read and supported by artists like Bhupen Khakhar, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh and Atul Dodiya. Many artists had one foot in the world of poetry.

An earlier work of artist Bhupen Khakhar

The magazine was in need of money to survive, and a larger group of artists were called in to help and keeping it going. It received an enormous response and the show was held at Chemould. In the context of ruminations, this was an example of a space that became pivotal for some wonderful poetry and classical music evenings, and readings from prose.

Not only artists, but poets, filmmakers and writers would flock here with the added attraction of Samovar or Wayside Inn nearby. We thought we lived in the centre of the universe those days!

The road ahead
To have sustained in this one stream over all these years is an achievement in itself: galleries open and close before one blinks an eye. In these difficult days (not only financial, but also restrictive thanks to government policies) art is seen as nothing but a luxury, several galleries in this city should be lauded for just staying open.

Did you know?
Walter Langhammer — mentor to greats like MF Husain, KH Ara, FN Souza and SH Raza was an important figure in the art world. An Austrian artist, he introduced my father to artists. He would help design frames that were vastly different from the everyday “picture frames” that my father was making. One of the artists he introduced to my father was Hebbar, He went on to become one of my father's close friends. Hebbar helped design the iconic Hebbar frame. It went on to become the most useful profile for framing works on paper! For years after, if one wanted to play safe and never be sorry, one reverted to the ever-reliable, ‘Hebbar Frame’ — whether it was an artist framing his/her work, or a collector framing theirs! 

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