According to the International Herald Tribune India has its first museum of contemporary art in the Devi Art Foundation, while the claim feels wrong, it is somewhere we’ll want to visit on our next trip to India.
Spread over two floors and about 700 square meters in an office tower in Gurgaon the Devi Art Foundation has just opened with an inaugural show of photography and video called Still Moving Image. The gallery is what was the private collection of Anupam Poddar (whose day job is running an up scale hotel company) and his mother Lekha. In a similar way to the Saatchi brothers and their gallery in London, Poddar has now opened his collection to the public as a non-commercial, non-profit exhibition space for contemporary art from India and the subcontinent.
In nearby Delhi there is the National Gallery of Modern Art, which also has branches in Mumbai and Bangalore (none of which we have – yet – visited) but according to the IHT this doesn’t count as it “only rarely shows contemporary work”. Clearly there are important differences between “modern” and “contemporary” art which elude me, but for some examples there is the Contempoary Indian Art on-line gallery and an article by John Elliott written to support the Made in India: contemporary art in India exhibition in 2006 at the Royal Academy of Arts.
There are plans for India to have its own equivalent to the Tate Modern, the Guggenheim and MoMA, with the creation of the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art, to be designed by Basel-based Herzog & de Meuron, who designed the Tate Modern in London and the Beijing Olympic stadium. If it all goes to plan it is due to open around 2012.
Our first real experience with contemporary art in India came during a visit to Fort Cochin early in 2006 and it is from this trip that the photographs here are taken. We stopped for refreshments at the Kashi Art Café, described in an article in The Hindu as:
set in a restored Dutch Heritage house on Burgher Street near the picturesque Fort Kochi beach. Kashi is known for two reasons. The first one of course, is the quality paintings which are on display and the other, well, the exotic coffee served there. Established in 1997, Kashi exhibits paintings by Indian and international artists. “The idea behind this venture was to put Kochi in the art map” says Anoop Skaria, the younger of the two brothers who own the cafe. Ananda Surya, the poet-activist’s elder brother wants to get “art to the public”.
We were served coffee and home-made cakes and left alone in a large room full of paintings. It was just impossible not to look through them and, predictably, we found two pieces we really wanted. After very civilised discussions between us, the cafe owner and – by phone – the artist, we purchased the paintings, extracts of which can be seen above. Later, walking out of town, a local family insisted on showing us not only their home but the building next door used as a studio by a local artist, who we accidentally disturbed from a nap. We were shown Amin’s large, mixed media canvasses – he was working with paint, digital printing, and some T-shirt transfer processes – being preparing for an exhibition in the USA, sponsored ‘by the brother of the Art Café owner’ (Ananda Surya?).
— words by Paul
— pictures by Paul and Elizabeth