6 Nov 2014

Interview: Renu Modi on 25th anniversary of Gallery Espace

Art Scene India interviews Renu Modi, Director, Gallery Espace on its 25th anniversary

In a discussion with Art Scene India, Renu Modi, Director, Gallery Espace reflects on her enriching journey in the world of art and reveals her plans for celebrating the gallery's 25th anniversary this year. Hosting one of the most ambitious shows ever featuring ‘Drawings’ by over hundred Indian contemporary artists spanning seven decades, the show promises to be a mega event.


1. Twenty-five years is a long time! How has the journey been?
Art Scene India interviews Renu Modi, Director, Gallery Espace on its 25th anniversary It’s been an enriching journey. It was on M F. Husain’s insistence that I started the gallery 25 years ago, but without any expectations, without any road map of how to go forward. I knew I had to just follow my instinct and the passion for art, inculcated in me by stalwarts like Manjit Bawa, Swaminathan, Laxma Goud, K K Nayar (art critic) and so many others. I remember sitting with them in their studios for hours just interacting with them and that gave me an immensely enriching world-view about the world of art. I have, by now, witnessed the changing dynamics in the art practice of three generations of artists, starting from Husain to Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh to the really young lot. The mantra has always been to readapt myself to changing times.

2. When you look back how difficult was it in the initial stages?

It was very difficult initially having no experience of the art market. Many people thought it would be a Art Scene India interviews Renu Modi, Director, Gallery Espace on its 25th anniversarypassing fancy for a corporate man’s wife but I stuck through. In fact, I remember NS Bendre telling me that it would take me three to four years to establish myself and that is what exactly happened.

3. There are so many galleries now...how does that affect you?

It doesn’t affect me at all. There is space for everyone and newer galleries bring in young energy which is very welcome.

4. When the art market crashed (and it still hasn't recovered!) what were your thoughts?

Like everyone else, it was tough for us as well. We did curb our expenses a bit and did fewer shows for a few months but that was only for a short period. As I said I have always followed my instinct and shown art which I have believed in. Monetary benefit is important but not the prime reason to hold shows.

"I feel artists bare their souls in drawings, these are like musical notes, their mental notes."

5. I remember Manjunath Kamath's show a few years ago, where he drew on the gallery walls...you do seem to have an affinity for 'drawings'...

The USP of the gallery has always been the medium based shows. The gallery has done at least five Art Scene India interviews Renu Modi, Director, Gallery Espace on its 25th anniversaryexhibitions based on drawings starting from Drawing '94, Lyric Line, The Paper Flute to name a few. And now we are ready to have another presentation in the form of Drawing 2014, due to open on November 9, 2014 at IGNCA. Similar has been the case for sculptures and even printmaking, with the gallery putting forward exhibitions like Sculpture '95 and Mini prints respectively. I feel artists bare their souls in drawings, these are like musical notes, their mental notes. Drawings are also the foundation of any art, any discipline. Also the approach to drawings has changed so much, they are no longer pen and ink works, or sketches on paper, For instance, in the 25th anniversary show, we have embroidered drawings by Rakhi Peswani, print-based scrolls by Paula Sengupta, very minimalistic works by Somnath Hore, video by Sonia Khurana, installation by Chintan Upadhyay, a sculptural drawing by Riyas Komu...and so much more – but all celebrating drawings.

6. What was the idea behind having an anniversary show exclusively around the concept of drawings?

I didn’t want to have a regular show and wanted to do one where I could contribute too. Since drawing has been one of my favourite mediums and Espace has consistently been doing exhibitions around this theme, it befits Espace to do this show. It was due to the boom in the market that people have forgotten works on paper and we want to showcase the evolution of drawings that has taken place in seven decades. I also wanted to bust the myth that one cannot invest in drawings.

7. On a personal level, what do you feel are the shifts, if any, in the use of line as a tool in contemporary art?

There has been a circular shift. From using classical lines to using material and technology, there has been a sea change. For instance, Mithu Sen has a light box in the show which lends such a tactile feel to her work. So the time of two-dimensionality in art is over, it’s now about functionality, materiality and performative aspects of drawings that are being looked at.
Art Scene India interviews Renu Modi, Director, Gallery Espace on its 25th anniversary
8. How has the perception and critical appreciation of Indian art changed - for buyers, collectors and viewers in India and abroad?

The art scene over the past 25 years in my view has undergone a 360 degrees change. From something which was unstructured, it’s becoming more structured now. Buyers’ profiles have changed, they are younger and upwardly mobile, they can explore so much over the internet, auction houses have started guiding price lines to some extent, developments in technology have also added changes. Investment in art has grown for sure, especially coming now from the NRI segment.

This interview was coordinated via e-mail.

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