Aptly, the inaugural show of Gallery BMB, the new, cavernous art space in the heart of Mumbai’s art district, is called The Dark Science of Five Continents. It presents six contemporary artists from across the world whose works are bold, spirited experiments that engage with the world outside human emotions and psyche—with ironies and conundrums related to world politics, geography, culture and the environment that are bound to appeal to all.
The British artist duo of Jake and Dinos Chapman has raised the hackles of art historians since the early 1990s. Their fibreglass mannequins of disfigured, tortured human bodies, depicting a brand of urban angst and doomsday, have evoked extreme reactions. Qingsong Wang, again a polemical artist, has critiqued almost every aspect of modern Chinese society through works that combine photography, sculpture and computer-generated images. The Brazilian artist, Tunga, is known for his surrealist installations, often complemented by provocative live performances, that straddle realms, both political and psychological.
Bose Krishnamachari (left) and Riyas Komu. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Riyas Komu, the only Indian artist in the show, derives his idiom from an uneasy alliance of Communist beliefs, Islam, and the existential tugs of being a migrant in the big city (for this show, Komu has created Ballad of the Distracted vs Cult of the Dead and Memory Loss, a mixed-media installation that forebodes a war fought for natural resources). The American artist, Jon Kessler, has examined the interactions and tensions between the East and the West; his works—known as kinetic sculptures because the mechanics used to make them move are left exposed to the viewer—took the East-West dialectic to much edgier levels after 9/11.
Gallery BMB opens with an eclectic, but meticulously curated show. The London-based curator, Shaheen Merali, wanted to assemble a global dialogue of sorts about pressing global issues—a first in the city.
(Left) Jon Kessler and untitled works by the Chapman brothers.
The four people who have helped establish the gallery—Avantika Birla, Devaunshi Mehta, Dia Mehta and artist-curator Bose Krishnamachari—agreed on a common agenda for BMB before the construction began. “It would be a truly interactive space...where artists, collectors, connoisseurs and students could meet for research, browsing and buying,” says Krishnamachari. More specifically, he envisioned it as a platform where talent from all over the world could be showcased together. “It is something like the IPL of the art world,” he says. The two young Indian names on his list of forthcoming shows are Delhi-based Prasad Raghavan and Mumbai-based Charmi Gadashah.
Located on the ground floor of the antiquated Queens Mansion (also home to the well-known Chemould Prescott gallery), BMB is spread out over 4,000 sq. ft. It is meant strictly for contemporary art and will also house a bookstore that stocks titles on the visual arts and a café. While the Jehangir Art Gallery, similar in concept, attracts the art cognoscenti as well as the hoi polloi, BMB promises to have more of a SoHo character—with stark white interiors, young, contemporary art and a minimalist architecture and design philosophy.
The decision to showcase international contemporary art alongwith Indian art is not without risks. The 15% customs duty on foreign artworks meant for sale and uncertain commercial prospects are obvious hindrances. Indian collectors have not been entirely responsive to foreign art, although some international artists have made it to Indian galleries in Delhi and Mumbai in the last couple of years.
Mumbai’s Galerie Mirchandani+Steinruecke has hosted solos by German artists Kiki Smith and Matthias Mansen. And giant floating dolls by Canadian installation artist Max Streicher were brought in by Abhay Maskara at his gallery, the Warehouse at 3rd Pasta, Colaba, Mumbai. Priced between Rs50,000 and Rs8 lakh, Streicher’s floating figures and black and white photographs were available for less than what works by many debutant Indian artists fetched in the early part of 2008, before the economic downturn began. Silenus, the bobbing giant, was in fact bought by Krishnamachari. The works in The Dark Science of Five Continents are priced between Rs5 lakh and Rs45 lakh.
Augury: Ballad of the Distracted vs Cult of the Dead and Memory Loss, by Riyas Komu.
Maskara, whose high-ceilinged, factory-like space is now undergoing renovation, feels that with growing awareness and interest, collectors are embracing contemporary art from other countries. “The buying is happening, but in small measure, and comes as a result of both intuition and knowledge,” he says. “This is a slow process but one that is inevitable as buyers will seek out the most interesting (work).”
Krishnamachari is not apprehensive. He calls BMB a “dream space” where buying and selling are not as important as educating the unacquainted eye.
The second show will showcase 15 international artists, he says. Expect some more dark, continental secrets to come to light.
The Dark Science of Five Continents will be on from 21 September to 5 November at Gallery BMB, Queens Mansion, Prescott Road, Mumbai.