Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Alibaug’s art moment

Alibaug, a coastal town south of Mumbai in Maharashtra’s Raigad district has a new resident. Shalini Sawhney, owner and director of The Guild, a 17-year-old Mumbai gallery, recently opened a 3,500 sq. ft exhibition space there in the midst of paddy fields and palm fronds. The gallery has two rooms in the shape of an “L"—currently home to some Sudhir Patwardhan oils, Vidya Kamat montages, and Navjot Altaf sculptures. A verandah and an unending view of a large mud field that will, come monsoon, sprout paddy, runs common through all the rooms.

In the coming months, Altaf, a contemporary artist who also works in Alibaug, will use that space for a project and an exhibition.

Home to 20,743 people according to 2011 census data, the sleepy town with narrow roads, crop fields and the spine of Sahyadri mountain range that runs through it is a popular weekend destination for Mumbaiites. During the rains, however, ferries, private yacht and speed boats that dot the Gateway of India don’t ply, and Alibaug—where everyone from Vijay Mallya to Ratan Tata own property—falls lush and silent.

On 14 March, Sawhney opened the space, and the owners of several galleries who were The Guild’s neighbours in Mumbai’s tony Colaba locality, attended the do. “I received a lot of good feedback about this move," says Sawhney.

The current exhibition Outremer, on till 25 May, is a show curated by art historian, poet and curator Ranjit Hoskote and consists of works from the gallery’s private collection. The next, two films on artists Baiju Parthan and Himmat Shah, will begin on 5 June and will go on till 31 July.

Expectedly, footfall is low, but that is hardly a function of the gallery’s location, insists sculptor Anjani Khanna, who has been working out of Alibaug since the early 2000s. “All private galleries receive (serious) visitors who want to view artworks. Why else would one travel to Kochi (during the Kochi-Muziris Biennale) to see the art?" says the 50-year-old potter whose ceramic works were exhibited in Mumbai at a group show that ended on 15 May.

Though Alibaug may seem an unlikely art destination, it is home to two less-known private museums. In 2009, designer Pinakin Patel opened a museum to commemorate his mentor and National Institute of Design’s former director of education Dashrath Patel. The museum, located down the road from The Guild, showcases the late Padma Shri awardee’s works across six decades—from his ceramic sculptures to photographs, paintings and design works on textile, and dishes. Patel was a senior member of the progressive group, a contemporary of Tyeb Mehta, and is considered a visionary in the field of design.

Then there is the home of Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar, another Padma Shri awardee and renowned sculptor, where the top floor has been converted into a museum of his works, which includes sculptures of Shivaji on a horse, and portraits of famous writers and barristers who were Karmarkar’s contemporaries.

When we visited both museums mid-week, they were desolate. Around us koels chirped on the branches of mango trees, laden with ripening fruit, and bougainvilleas bloomed in the front garden.

Sawhney says the move to Alibaug makes business sense. Most of her clients wouldn’t mind a trip (some even live there, she adds), and it pays to finally own her own space that she built from scratch.

The Guild, 10am-6.30pm (Tuesdays closed). It is located at 1028, Ranjanpada, Mandwa, Alibaug Road.

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