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Given that the major private art galleries in India incline towards working with established artists, a venture like Mumbai Art Room has been a blessing for the burgeoning Indian art scene. Founded in 2011 as an exhibition space by American curator Susan Hapgood, it will now assume the new avatar of a ‘curatorial lab’, a space which aims to nurture emerging Indian and international curators with an interest in Indian art. The curators, nominated by a committee comprising leading academics and other curators, will be invited to submit proposals for the four annual exhibitions to be held in the lab.

The lab’s strong suit is its eschewal of the world of commerce, focusing solely on art and education. “It is important for Mumbai to have a network of not-for-profit art spaces. Mumbai Art Room is one of the few, and now it becomes the first space where emerging curators can experiment and explore their ideas with a structured support system from a team of mentors," says Eve Lemesle, the new managing director of the lab and the founder of ‘What About Art?’, an arts management agency that provides services in art projects management, creative direction, installation and art conservation.

Diana Campbell Betancourt, an American curator and artistic director of Dhaka Art Summit, is the chairwoman of the trust managing the lab. Betancourt feels a non-commercial, independent space is vital for artistic and curatorial experimentation. “With a wave of young curators receiving curatorial training both in India and abroad over the last 5 years, we felt it was a good time to shift our focus to supporting the next generation of curators, to express their voices and visions to the public in Mumbai," she says.

Untitled (2017), Printed ceramic plate, Subodh Gupta.
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Untitled (2017), Printed ceramic plate, Subodh Gupta.

To get the new venture off the ground, the Art Room has organized the Mumbai launch and sale of Dayanita Singh’s Museum Bhavan (described by her as a ‘Pocket Museum’), and a limited edition of ceramic plates designed and donated by Subodh Gupta. Gupta hopes that, “India will soon have more spaces like the Art Room, that foster the creation of and discussion around world-class contemporary art." With limited options to study curation and museology in the country, non-profit organizations such as the Mumbai Art Room, along with KHOJ Studios and Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) in Delhi, prove invaluable for the Indian arts ecosystem.

Museum Bhavan (2017), Softcover in slipcase, Dayanita Singh.
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Museum Bhavan (2017), Softcover in slipcase, Dayanita Singh.

In the past, artists such as Jitish Kallat, Asim Waqif and Seher Shah have donated their works for the annual benefit with the funds from the sale contributing towards the programming and operating expenses of the lab. Gupta has created the ceramic plates specifically for the sale. While Dayanita Singh’s book-exhibition Museum Bhavan, is a delightful miniature version of her travelling exhibition of the same name— it contains nine books and each one opens up like an accordion to reveal a set of photographs, around 30 in each. Its flexible structure allows one to become a curator by trying out different permutations, imagining one’s own story with the available material and creating new meanings—not unlike the many fertile possibilities waiting to come to fruition in the new Mumbai Art Room.

Mumbai Art Room: Annual Benefit will be held on 20 September, 6-9pm in Colaba, Mumbai. Click here for details.

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