Sharon Apparao says only two types of people drop in at her three galleries across the country in the summer months—those who are madly devoted to art and those who are seeking air-conditioned relief from the blaze outside. Hardly surprising, then, that with the heat keeping the average art lover off the shows, Indian galleries are packing up their paintings and heading West.
At least half a dozen galleries are hosting art shows abroad. This is particularly true of galleries in New Delhi, where temperatures have been hovering over 40°C. Coincidentally, this is also the time when the art season peaks in the West. This year, Vadehra, Bodhi, Sakshi, Art Alive, Gallery Threshold and Apparao are taking ambitious solo shows to Europe and the US. London particularly, with a vibrant summer art season, is a favourite destination.
“Delhi, for one, is absolutely dead in summers. To ensure continuing high visibility for our artists, we take our shows abroad,” says Tunty Chauhan, director of Gallery Threshold. The gallery will take a new solo show by Chandra Bhattacharjee, a billboard artist and graphic designer, whose reputation for expressionistic portraiture is growing steadily, to London in July.
Bodhi is holding a show of its artist, Jayashree Chakravarty, at its New York gallery this month. The Kolkata-based artist is known for working on interesting media such as rice paper, tissue and cellophane. Vadehra has wound up its one-month show of the works of Hema Upadhyay at its London gallery and is currently exhibiting 24 landscapes by veteran artist Ram Kumar. Sakshi will start its second round of a summer show by Rekha Rodwittiya, Second Skin, in London next Monday. And Art Alive is showcasing a newly curated exhibition of 20 paintings by Yusuf Arakkal, titled The Street, at Palo Alto, California.
Most galleries primarily target the Indian art lover abroad. Chauhan says the expatriate community watches the art market in India quite closely. So, for most galleries, the shows abroad are an extension of their promotions at home. “Indian art lovers abroad track the popularity of artists back home. So, exhibitions by artists who are rated highly here always draw big crowds abroad too,” says Chauhan. Vadehra, for instance, strategizes its art promotions abroad along the same lines as its local exhibitions. This is also true of Bodhi. Both these galleries, incidentally, have their own outlets abroad.
Galleries that have branches abroad say they put uniform price tags on their works in India and abroad. Those that need to hire space, hike the prices to cover rental costs. In both cases, summer shows abroad bring in a large number of buyers and window shoppers.
“Summers are good for galleries exhibiting in the West because the atmosphere is generally relaxed; people are in a more casual mood. There is a greater influx of NRIs. For the rest of the year, there are visitors, NRIs, tourists and those travelling on work, but not to the same extent,” says Sharmistha Roy, director of Bodhi, which wrapped up its show of Probir Gupta’s works, To Whomsoever it Might Concern, last week in New York.
It was Gupta’s first show with Bodhi and the paintings, which were political in nature, received a good response.
“The show has taken Gupta to a new level. And sales always follow good shows,” says Roy. The gallery gave the works of Natraj Sharma, titled STRETCH, the same push by exhibiting him first in Singapore, then bringing him to Mumbai and finally taking him to New York in May.
Sharon Apparao was among the first Indian gallery owners to take artists abroad in the early 1990s. In those years, the artists would show primarily in the London-New York-Birmingham belt. Apparao recalls that she was doing a course at Harvard University when she realized the growing interest in Indian art in the West. The interest, she says, eased up in the late 1990s, but resumed around 2001 when a contemporary Indian art show she organized with Saffronart in Los Angeles drew good crowds.
“Now, we do at least two to three shows a year in France. We pitch artists through the year but, in the summer, when there is little happening, it helps to take the shows abroad. And in the last 15 years, the awareness about Indian artists has grown tremendously,” says Apparao, who showed the works of Bhavna Sonawane last April in Paris.
Vadehra Art Gallery: Works of Ram Kumar, till 29 June, Grosvenor Vadehra, London.
Sakshi Gallery: ‘Second Skin’, Rekha Rodwittiya, 25 June-21 July, Gallery Maya, London, and ‘Each One Teach One’, Shibu Natesan, till 29 June, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Art Alive: ‘The Street, Yusuf Arakkal, till 29 June, Aicon Gallery, Palo Alto, California.’
Gallery Threshold: Works of Chandra Bhattacharjee, 23 July-28 July, The Gallery, London.
Bodhi Art: Works of Jayashree Bhattacharjee, 27 June-31 July, Bodhi Art, New York.