Mumbai has an unassailable link with the arts. This is where one of India’s oldest art schools, the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art, or the Sir J.J. School of Art as it is popularly known, was founded in 1857. The Indian Institute of Architects, founded in 1929, laid the groundwork for Mumbai’s Art Deco buildings at the ‘The Ideal Home’ fair in 1937. The city also bore witness to a pivotal moment in Indian art history when the Progressive Artists’ Group came together to create a new vocabulary of Indian modernism.
Though Mumbai is home to noted galleries, which regularly organise contemporary art weeks, it is only now that it is getting its first prominent art fair. Titled, Art Mumbai, it will be held from 16-19 November at the Mahalaxmi Race Course. The event has been envisioned by Minal and Dinesh Vazirani of Saffronart, Conor Macklin, director, Grosvenor Gallery, London, and Nakul Dev Chawla of the Chawla Art Gallery, New Delhi.
The four-day event will see participation of 53 galleries from different cities of India, the Middle East, London and New York. Art enthusiasts will get to see the length and breadth of Indian art, from the works of modern masters such as M.F. Husain and Amrita Sher-Gil to mammoth installations by the likes of Paresh Maity.
Besides showcasing the different facets of the art ecosystem, Art Mumbai will include a host of events such as heritage walks to Koliwada, dinners at art collectors’ homes, a discussion on Indian cinema and culture with Karan Johar, and walk-throughs at the sculpture garden.
Art Mumbai comes 15 years after Delhi’s India Art Fair. “We had been thinking of organising a fair in Mumbai even before the covid-19 outbreak, but put it on hold because of the pandemic,” says Dinesh Vazirani. “Though now feels the right time as the art market has gained quite a momentum.”
According to him, both individual and institutional collectors are buying art for consumption and not necessarily for investments. “It’s not a speculative market, which is great,” adds Vazirani.
The galleries are trying to add an element that spotlights the Maximum City in some way. For instance, Chemould Prescott Road will be displaying “Bombay-centric photos,” says Shireen Gandhy, director of one of the oldest galleries in the city. At the centre of the showcase is Pushpamala N’s Phantom Lady -2, a series of pictures in which she poses as two protagonists—a stunt woman and a lead actor. “The entire series was shot in the old drive-in theatre in Bandra before it was demolished,” says Gandhy. Also on display will be Shakuntala Kulkarni’s works, which were shot in parts of the city, and Gigi Scaria’s photographs with the Bandra-Worli Sealink in the background before it was completed.
At the Saffronart Foundation booth, one will get to see works of Rajyashri Goody, Farah Mulla, Prajakta Potnis, Ayesha Singh and Prarthna Singh, chosen for the Women to Watch (NMWA) exhibition programme, to be held from 14 April to 11 August next year at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington. The programme is designed to increase the visibility of, and critical response to, promising women artists at any stage of their career. The five artists shortlisted by the Indian committee for the Women to Watch programme will be in conversation with NMWA committee member, Ilene Gutman, and the India committee chair, Minal Vazirani.
At the same booth, visitors can browse through the ‘The Fantasy Collection’ curated by Mortimer Chatterjee of Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai. The selection explores M. F. Husain’s early creative genius during the 1940s while working for Fantasy, a pioneering nursery furniture company based in Bombay. The collection comprises hundreds of artefacts preserved by the Moizuddin family, the founders of the business, including drawings, painted renderings, wooden cut-outs and advertisements for which Husain was responsible.
Among these is the Lotus Suite of nursery furniture commissioned by the Late Rani Savita Kumari Devi of Katesar. The book on the collection, to be launched at the fair, will also delve into the development of an aesthetic deeply rooted in Indian village life, which would later become an integral part of Husain’s illustrious career.
The moderns and pre-moderns will be seen at various other gallery booths as well. For instance, DAG will be showing the works of Raja Ravi Varma, Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose, Thomas Daniell, GR Santosh, Meera Mukherjee and Akara Modern will exhibit works by Amrita Sher-Gil.
It’s heartwarming to see galleries and institutions pay a tribute to the late Vivan Sundaram. Akara Modern will be showing an Untitled painting from the early phase of his career—from 1962. The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art has put together a dynamic body of work, spanning drawings, photographs, assemblage and installations, to showcase the artist’s prolific journey.
Another highlight of the fair is Paresh Maity’s 30-feet-tall steel installation Utopian Dream City, by Delhi’s Art Alive Gallery, which is an ode to the maximum city. For those interested in Indian contemporary art, visit Experimenter’s booth to view works of Kallol Datta, Bhasha Chakrabarti and Sohrab Hura.
Another interesting element of the fair is the Art Mumbai Sculpture Garden featuring Harsha Durugadda’s seven-foot sandstone sculpture titled Pyramidal Love. Carved in sandstone, it resembles a close-knit stack of pyramids. The forms seem to emerge from the ground intersecting and overlapping with each other to reach a union at their pinnacles implying growth and metamorphosis.
If all goes well, the fair might just become an annual fixture, adding to the art ecosystem in Southeast Asia.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based art and culture writer.