Among the better known—and better—art galleries in Delhi, Gallery Espace will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this week. Lounge spoke with Renu Modi, who is the director of the gallery she established in 1989—over the years, it has shown artists such as M.F. Husain, Jagdish Swaminathan, Manjit Bawa, Krishen Khanna, Bhupen Khakhar and Subodh Gupta. Among contemporary artists who show at Espace are Chintan Upadhyay, Manjunath Kamath, and Sunil Gawde.
You established Gallery Espace 20 years ago. What do you feel has been the single most important change in the field of art in India?
It has become professional. The relationship between the artist and the art gallery used to be very informal—there were no contracts and no formal structure to sales, etc. In part this was because the (monetary) value of artworks was less as there was no investment angle to buying art then. There has been a 180-degree change in that. There used to be more friendly relations and bonhomie between artists, critics, galleries and writers.
Now it is looked at as a business.
Who buys art in India?
There used to be only private buyers, families such as the Godrejs, for instance, and not institutional buyers. But the new buyer is younger—many professionals such as bankers and stockbrokers. The younger lot likes contemporary works—cutting-edge installations, photographs. The collector base has widened so much. But there is a lack of sense of collecting, people go just by auction lists.
Should art gallery owners be art lovers or businesspersons?
Both, but there has to be passion for art. Or else you can’t survive.
What qualities do you look for when deciding to show a new artist?
I can’t answer that. Over the years you develop an intuitive eye, or a gut feeling. I talk to the artist, see if his ideas are original and where he is coming from. There was this young artist from Baroda whose show at the Lalit Kala Akademi featured these photo-realist works. I wasn’t sure about the works and asked him why he was doing them. Because they sell, he replied. I promptly lost all interest in him. Then there is someone like Saroj Singh, who I love to show. It is a joy listening to him explain his approach to work and life.
Are there two kinds of artists—those who are good and those who sell?
Yes. Those who are good often take time to show their mettle. And as far as those who sell go—after a while people don’t want to keep their works. As a gallery owner, you have to be convinced about what you are showing. It’s easy to put together a show with six big names that will be successful—but what’s the point?
Which other Indian art gallery do you like?
My role model was Ibrahim Alkazi, who runs the Art Heritage gallery at the Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi.
Which artist has been the best for you in terms of business?
A group art show, Lo Real Maravilloso: Marvellous Reality, celebrating 20 years of Gallery Espace will be held at the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, from the 10-18 December. For details, please log on to www.galleryespace.com