Art News & Views

Mumbai for Cutting Edge


by Shubhalakshmi Shukla

Shubhalakshmi Shukla speaks to a few gallerists in Mumbai to know how and why they promote cutting edge art and comes up with a series of interesting observations.

Mumbai has always been in the forefront to promote new media art and recently the kind of art qualified as 'cutting edge' art. With galleries like Volte, Gallery Maskara and so on focusing totally on extremely daring and new works, debates on cutting edge art have become a part of the cultural discourse in the city. Major galleries in Mumbai, while playing host to conventional and traditional mediums like paintings and sculpture, equally show their interest to showcase the new media and cutting edge art. While some galleries invite artists to do cutting edge projects in their gallery space, some other galleries offer seasonal and off-season residencies for the young and mid-career artists so that they could produce works that are different with a 'cutting edge' nature.

The Guild Gallery started inviting young artists to spend the summer months within the gallery space itself and produce works that challenged even the very idea of a white cube space. Such mentoring has become almost a norm in Mumbai and it helps a lot of youngsters to give shape and voice to their ideas. Though during the boom years, most of the artists dared to do works that challenged the conditioned aesthetical approaches of the audience and the collectors, the recession seems to have taught the movers and the shakers of the art scene to redefine their priorities and activities as per the growing demand for 'distinct' art from India internationally. Increased virtual mobility of the young generation has boosted up the production of cutting edge art in India mainly because such art forms do not necessarily 'demand' a client base. The 'new media' itself has helped many artists to produce cutting edge works without thinking much about the financial outcomes of such works.

Though new media art is often taken for cutting edge art, Abhay Maskara, the director of the Maskara Gallery, Mumbai begs to differ. According to him, video projection could be boring while an oil on canvas could excite with cutting edge ideas. Even when he holds such a different position, his gallery is known for its daring and cutting edge presentation of absolutely unconventional art and artists.

“The discussion around “cutting edge” is typically focused on artists that employ new media in their art practice,” says Abhay Maskara. “While the use of new technology can and does play a role in determining art that is cutting edge, the role is very small. In fact it is a grave mistake to think that all new media art is cutting edge. Multiple channel videos can be tedious and dull while oil on canvas can be inspired and edgy or vice-versa. I don't think there are any rules and it certainly should not be a discussion only about the material,” he observes.

“Based on this core belief, Gallery Maskara has worked with mediums as 'mainstream' as painting, drawing, and sculpture to video, film and performance. I am much more interested in how artists transform their preferred medium of choice rather than get distracted by the medium itself,” Abhay concludes.

The wind of change has touched most of the galleries in Mumbai for good. Project 88 has been doing alternative art project for quite sometimes though its activities were not 'qualified' as cutting edge. But the new art environment has helped everyone to take a re-look at the cutting edge art practices. Agreeing with the pragmatic views of Abhay Maskara, most of the major galleries have recognized their activities within the nascent discourse of cutting edge art.

“Our gallery has been showing the latest of all times,” says Geetha Mehra of Sakshi Gallery. “Though we have not termed it as cutting edge, our artists have always been leading the changes in the art scene. Now, the mediums of art making have changed in a big way and even the very senior artists are open to the ideas provided by the changed mediums. I do not say that using new medium makes cutting edge art but artists with a very vigorous mind and plan of action could come up with very interesting works. Sakshi Gallery has been promoting such art forms without disowning its own declared philosophy of presenting the very best art of all mediums from the modern, traditional and folk streams,” Geetha says.

Sakshi Gallery's views are substantiated by its recent exhibitions with The gallery has recently shown works of Manjunath Kamath, Remen Chopra, Sujith, N.S. Harsha and Shilpa Gupta to mention a few. Sakshi Art Gallery is also a space where new artists get introduced to aspiring curators and writers.

Chemould Gallery, one of the galleries in Mumbai with a long history of promoting modern and contemporary art, also showcases cutting edge art practices. When Shireen Gandhi, the director of Chemould Gallery took over the charge from her father, Kekoo Gandhi, almost two decades back, her idea was to carry forward the legacy of her father. “It was a learning experience for me and I was lucky to have worked with so many interesting and very daring artists,” says Shireen Gandhi.

“Nalini Malani, Vivan Sundaram, Rummana Hussain, Pushpamala were breaking new ground with the work they were doing. The privilege of these associations began to give me a renewed role and focus in understanding where we were heading as a gallery.

For the lack of contemporary museums in the city at the time, our little gallery and other hired spaces became a site for large scale installations. Vivan Sundaram played the role of both curator and artist within a single exhibition. For the first time a gallery was used as a site-specific space for Nalini Malani's City of Desire.

“Artists like Rummana Hussain's work, Home Nation was a direct reference to Ayodhya and the site of Ram's birthplace. It was also the start of video art. Once again the gallery became a site not only to view video art that was being made but also a site to create as in Nalini Malani's video Stains -  a simple glass door became the surface on which the first version of this video was shot. I note these as important moments in my development of my role as a gallerist. Not only was the moment exciting in what it entailed but the whole making and process was unfolding before my eyes!” says Shireen Gandhi.

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