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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  View from the gap
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View from the gap

Ranjana Steinruecke and mother Usha Mirchandani are a force in the contemporary art world

Ranjana Steinruecke and Usha Mirchandani at their gallery. In the backdrop is a video installation from the show ‘Illuminen’ by San Francisco-based artist Surabhi Saraf. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.Premium
Ranjana Steinruecke and Usha Mirchandani at their gallery. In the backdrop is a video installation from the show ‘Illuminen’ by San Francisco-based artist Surabhi Saraf. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.

Usha Mirchandani and Ranjana Steinruecke have a gap of 17 years between them, which makes them not quite mother-daughter and not quite friends. It is that from which they derive their points of view on art.

They share more than a career trajectory: Usha lives with Ranjana and her husband Bernhard Steinruecke, director general of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, and takes charge of their two children, Felix,14, and Moritz, 11. “In some families, mothers in America know what daughters in India had for lunch. We don’t need the nitty-gritty of each other’s lives. There are specific points at which we meet," says Usha.

Both came to art from advertising. Usha had moved to New York in 1968, where she worked with the J Walter Thompson agency, which had a beautiful contemporary corporate collection, for 16 years. “My exposure to art came from there," says Usha. Ranjana, who began with Lintas Advertising in Mumbai, moved to New York to join Grey Advertising.

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Within six months of her return, Deutsche Bank, which had bought the Tata Palace in Mumbai, was looking to put together a collection of Indian contemporary art. It became their first project.

They built collections for UBS and Unit Trust of India—where they commissioned three major works, one integrated into the facade of the building (Sudarshan Shetty) and two in the atrium, three-four storeys high (by Laxman Shreshtha). It was the start of Usha’s collaboration with Kamal Malik, an architect who views art as intrinsic to architectural design.

During the Deutsche Bank project, Ranjana met Bernhard. They married in 1996, and moved to Berlin, Germany, in 1997, where Ranjana opened her gallery, The Fine Art Resource. In India, Usha went on to curate a restrospective of Bhupen Khakkar’s work at the National Gallery of Modern Art in 2003.

A DEMOCRACY OF TWO: Ranjana: My husband has a saying that when two people argue, there are three points of view—the two discussing and the one listening. When we need a third vote, we call my sister Nina. The kids are also articulate about who is being ridiculous.
WIDE ANGLE, SHARP FOCUS: Ranjana handles creatives, Usha the finances. If there’s something that Ranjana won’t be able to handle, like disciplining her boys, Usha leaves her out of it.

Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke opened in 2006 in a Mumbai tenement that once housed five Parsi families.

CROSS-CURRENTS: Ranjana: We agree to disagree on artists we want to take on, for instance. But I have perfected the art of saying ‘hmmm’ when she says something to me that I don’t like. When I was younger I’d feel the need to retaliate....
DO NOT OPEN: Usha: Self-awareness and integrity in relationships is very important. You don’t leave anything buried.

Sidestepping hype has not been easy. “It’s been detrimental to us. When you have artists who are more prolific, more able to talk about their art than make convincing art, it brings attention to the gallery. Ours is a much longer process. It’s only now that I feel that this is paying off," says Ranjana.

Working and living together has allowed them to harmonize their personal and professional stances. Neither can conceive of functioning without the other. Balance is art too.

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Published: 08 Feb 2013, 06:09 PM IST
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