Practising the art of normalcy
With art galleries having reopened after months of lockdown, we explore what it's like to view art during a pandemic
Jhaveri Contemporary, Apollo Bunder
Priya Jhaveri, owner of Jhaveri Contemporary, personally welcomed us into her gallery and advised us against touching anything. A few months ago, from its vantage point at Apollo Bunder, it offered respite from the hustle and bustle below, while visitors took in the direct view of the Gateway of India across. Today, much like the empty roads around it, the gallery, too, has become a place of quiet, with Mrinalini Mukherjee's bronze sculptures and etchings still on display. "We're relieved we can reopen," says Jhaveri, "A gallery is a lonely place without its visitors. As gallerists, we are all in touch with each other regularly, and the opening of a few galleries in June gave us the confidence to open in July. There is always safety in numbers, and we support each other and learn from each other's experiences."
She says they first made sure that their small team could make it to work as cautiously and safely as possible a few days a week, with not more than three staffers in the office at any given time. The gallery is regularly sanitised, as well. "Once we got into the rhythm of this exercise, and the lockdown was eased in July, we knew it was time to open doors. My responsibility is equally to our team and to our visitors, so we worked through the month of June to adjust to this way of working."
For now, the gallery has been quiet with most people still reluctant to leave their homes. For the foreseeable future, Jhaveri believes in being hopeful and adapting to the digital platforms that have become the need of the hour. "The gallery has participated in three online fairs since the lockdown—Art Basel Hong Kong, Frieze New York and Art Basel in Basel—and will host some part of its programming online this year. We're working on a new website, too, that will have the facility to host online exhibitions. Meanwhile, at the gallery, if all goes as planned, we hope to host new exhibitions in September and November this year."
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Chemould Prescott Road, Fort
Once the Maharashtra government announced its plans for systematically lifting the lockdown, thereby allowing businesses to resume, we witnessed the reopening of Chemould Prescott Road live on owner Shireen Gandhy's Instagram page. As we walked into the expansive space, we met gallery manager Atyaan Jungawala. "It still doesn't feel like we've fully reopened," she explains. "We come here at our convenience because we have been working efficiently from home. We've had a smattering of people who've come to visit us. They mostly comprise our long-time patrons, and we're regularly in touch with them. Most of the time they'll ring us up asking when we'll be in the gallery, and we coordinate a visit accordingly. But in between, someone from a team member's family contracted COVID-19, and we had to go into quarantine, so it's been tough to stay consistent. At the same time, we don't want to be irresponsible and over-advertise and encourage people to get out."
The work behind the scenes is still ongoing and quite rigorous, with the team tackling things they wouldn't have the time or patience for earlier, such as stock taking and updating the technology. "At first, it felt like the doors had immediately shut on us. However, we were surprised to see the enquiries and interest we were still receiving online and over the phone for the artists we represent, which has stayed the same if not increased. The lockdown has given people a lot of personal time to explore their interests and delve into things they enjoy."
On the one hand, while art is meant to be an immersive physical experience, the recent times have brought forth a new crop of collectors and people discovering art. "Platforms such as InTouch, and even Instagram, have made art more accessible for those who had an interest but may have been intimidated," says Jungawala.
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Akara Art, Colaba
Puneet Shah, founder of Akara Art, reopened the gallery with a new exhibit, showcasing selected works by Somnath Hore
For some galleries, such as Akara Art, the option to reopen has given them the confidence to put up a new exhibit. Selected works by Somnath Hore is a small-format show," says founder Puneet Shah. "A large-scale exhibition didn't make sense at this point in time, and we're only working twice a week, right now, to take on work that can't be put off. We have also had a show online, to support smaller artists."
For art that's high in quality but lower in value—R5 lakh and below—the demand has stayed constant; but for art in the R18-25 lakh price range or higher, sales have been affected, he shares. "While we're mostly approached by our patrons, we've surprisingly had two new buyers—one of them was Hore's student, who wanted to buy a piece for his son."
The gallery still plans to go ahead with their next lineup of shows in September and November, as Shah believes seasoned patrons and collectors are open to viewing it digitally. An infectious optimist, he feels it is human nature to be resilient, saying, "Once this pandemic is behind us, people will go back to their normal lives and habits, venturing out very quickly; I don't think the world has changed forever."
For booking an appointment to visit, call 22025550
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