Monday, October 26, 2015

Digging a Well in Desert: Determination and Hope of a New Art Gallery in Delhi

(Manu Narayanan- founder director of Neuhous art gallery)

Neuhous art gallery is the latest addition in the breaking and making series of gallery stories in Delhi. Fortunately, amidst the many breaking and breaking away stories, this one is about making a gallery. Neuhous is a neo-nym for New House. Located in Shahpur Jat, in the locality of the historical Siri Fort, this gallery was formally inaugurated on 24th October 2015 with a show of nine artists from all over India, culled, presented and curated by artist and art jurist, Veer Munshi. Before I go further to talk about the merit of the show titled ‘Quest of Mind’, it is pertinent to take a quick look at the gallery scene in Delhi.

 (curator artist Veer Munshi at Neuhous with veteran artist Manu Parekh)

The gallery scene in Delhi has been not so bright during the last few years. Hauz Khas was the destination point for the small scale galleries at one point of time because it was the upcoming fashionable market then for food, haute couture, craft, tattoo stores, simple hang out and then morning or evening walk. With ample space for parking just outside the village and a deer park, lake side and the ruins of Sultanate and Mughal time structures Hauz Khas was one of the haunting grounds for the rich and cultivated in Delhi in late 1980s and early 1990s and some of the galleries chose to operate from this village frozen in time but altered by modernity and upper middle class aspirations. With the art boom in the new millennium it became important for the startup galleries to find new avenues to set up their shops for the sheer lack of space in Hauz Khas. While the big galleries branched out to industrial areas (Okhla and Noida), small galleries migrated to another village, Lado Sarai. Located near Saket in South Delhi, Lado Sarai was a clone of Hauz Khas but with more art galleries. It was Anant Art Gallery that played the role of Columbus though it later on shifted to Noida. Then a came a series of galleries from elsewhere and roosted in the every nook and cranny of Lado Sarai. Last two years saw a spate of shutting downs of galleries here too due to the rising rents and above all the falling number of foot falls. The biggest Tuglaquian move was of Siddharth Tagore who set up around four spaces in Lado Sarai and then closed them one by one only to go back to his alma mater, Hauz Khas village.

In the days of ‘virality’, that is anything goes viral for not so explained reasons (a child falling from a bed could be one of the most watched videos for the same unknown reasons of virality) opening and closing of a gallery also could be viral. Leo Tolstoy famously opens his novel, Anna Karenina with this prophetic sentence: All happy families are alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ All gallery openings were alike but each gallery closed in its own way in Lado Sarai, I am tempted to say. The search for an alternative space is still on in Delhi. Neb Sarai was touted for this slot as the NIV Art Centre has been functioning from there for a decade. But never ending traffic jams and the lack of sophistication must be the reasons that big art shops are not attracted to this place. At this juncture if someone finds Shahput Jat attractive then the reason for it should be attributed to Delhi’s perennial need for the trendy but cheap places.

(Janarthanan's work)

Shapur Jat is another replica of Hauz Khas village. If Hauz Khas village reminds you of Georges Suerat’s pointillistic paitings, Shahpur Jat brings Georgio De Chirico’s paintings to mind. Lado Sarai has the gloominess of Edward Hopper’s works. Hauz Khas is packed and Shahpur Jat is like a film set with the shops of the local designers and their brands. It was Prima Kurien, cook, curator, consultant and cool operator in art who had played the role of Columbus in Shahpur Jat. It was in mid 1990s. She set up her gallery Art Inc at Shahpur Jat. Big names of today were small names then. Art people went there because there was Prima’s gallery. She displayed good and cutting edge art of those times; served homemade snacks and Mohan Nagar made Old Monk rum. Due to some tragedies caused by climate Prima had to shut the shop and move on in life. Surprisingly I do not know whether our art stars of today have given Prima her due for really showcasing before our Khoj, Devi Art foundation and KNMA and all came into being. Today Myna Mukherjee and team operate their ‘Engendered’ gallery for showcasing the works on third gender and alternative sexuality from Shapur Jat. Neuhous Art Gallery is the second contemporary gallery of recent times to start from this place.

 (Deepjyoti Kalita's work)

Manu Narayanan is the young entrepreneur who would like to call himself the founder director, behind Neuhous gallery. Hailing from Kerala, Manu Narayanan worked in the IT Industry as a computer engineer, generated wealth for himself before giving the industry a slip in order to pursue his passion; art. Manu is not an artist but an art lover. I do not know whether he has an eye for gold or not and I cannot doubt his intentions. If he was looking for money, then he would not have started an art gallery in these days of ‘art market’ recession (the rest of the market has come out of it). Manu came to meet me one and half year back. He came as an admirer and then later as a documentary maker. He was making a documentary on various art people; short videos about their views on art. It was a good ploy adopted by Manu to be in the good books of the artists and the art people. He relentlessly travelled to other cities to catch up with major exhibitions and to meet artists personally. He befriended a lot of young and senior artists. A year back he had decided that he would find a place in Delhi and he did find one. Mukesh Panika, after he came from the US, spent almost a year travelling and visiting shows without projecting himself as anybody and learnt the pulse of the scene and came with a big bang as the director of the Religare Art. The difference between Mukesh and Manu is this: Mukesh had Religare money to back him up but Manu has only his hard earned money. With market Mukesh went down still waiting to stage a comeback.  When there is no market for art, here is a young man, Manu Narayanan, for his sheer madness and love for art has taken the plunge. Would he make it or break himself in the process? I would like to wish him all the best and pray for all success.

 (Subir Hati's work)

‘Quest of Mind’ curated by Veer Munshi is the launching show for Manu’s gallery, Neuhous. Veer Munshi has taken an interesting curatorial line for this show. The nine artists who feature in this show are those artists who he had seen at various art award/fellowship/scholarship platforms and he had adjudged them as winners in different occasions. They are namely, Subir Hati, R.Janarthanan, Aninidita Bhattacharya, Arun KS, Deepjyoti Kalita, Dilip Chobisa, Kalidas Mhmal, Sumantra Mukherjee and Yuvan Bodhisathuvar. Subit Hati’s sculptures are the minimal but comical takes on the object orientation of the contemporary societies. His sculptures invite associative thinking but at the same time reject the possibilities of it, throwing the viewer in a sort of indecision. Interesting they are while I have suggestion to him; he should not paint what he wants to bring out through this sculptures on canvases. The canvas looks absolutely out of place. Janarthanan is an artist who makes the shape of the objects, using carefully crafted iron tapes and welding them together. Reminding the rusted sculptures of Antony Carro (and at times like a critique of Anish Kapoor) Janarthanan employs his creative thinking around the old idea that says body is a nest and soul is a bird. While I am impressed by the works, I am repelled by the explanation of it. Yuvan Bodhisathuvar uses plywood board as his surface to ‘build’ his illusionistic works using selective images from world history and contemporary popular history. Paper is his main medium and approached from different directions his works give a different feel about them. In their strong materiality too they exude the feel of their absence.

(Arun KS's work)

Arun KS has done a series of paintings which I did not quite understand though the artist explains in the catalogue as his critique on religious intolerance and his religious upbringing etc. Either me or the artist, one of us is not really in the field of comprehension. It should be me, I feel to believe so. Deepjyoti Kalita’s installation is interesting in its concept. It is a water stain on a large circular cloth fitted with a water dripping and drying system. The sexual encounter that the artist had once haunts him and the stain of water resembling a vulva dries up and again comes back in a different shape.But the artist has to see whether this idea is really conveyed through this work or not. Dilip Chobisa is always a pleasure to look at. He takes us to a world inside the familiar objects. It is a three dimensional walk into time and memories. Kalidas Mahmal uses notary papers, letters and small water colours to document and critique the lives of the young boys who lead a lazy life by becoming a part of tourism in Goa. Sumantra Mukherjee’s expressionistic work ‘Bhooka, Nanga, Pyasa’ takes us to a different time frame not only in our debate on social disparities but also in art making itself.

Neuhous has presented its first show and it is a challenging show for Manu. He has to continuously improvise his strategies to wade through these troubled times in art. Veer Munshi has given a very impressive curatorial push to Manu’s endeavour. Let’s hope he has a great future in Indian art scene.

1 comment:

johns said...

well written, presented description of an art lover/enthusiast's attempt to run a gallery in the times of 'gallery recession'. I wish all the very best to go on.

johns Mathew