After more than two months, Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi this week opened two new physical exhibitions in its modern and contemporary galleries in Defence Colony. Though visits are only by appointment, it is an attempt to enable in-person viewing of art.
“Even during the absolute lockdown, we had shows online regularly. The response has been amazing… But art is to be seen, it talks to people and that will never change. It has a lot to do with the social milieu, and the digital world cannot replace that,” says Arun Vadehra, director of the gallery.
While at art institutions operating under the government a decision on reopening is still awaited, private art galleries in the capital that were closed after the lockdown are now cautiously opening their doors to visitors with new mandates, that include wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent sanitisation. “Several precautions are being taken. We don’t want to put the health of our staff or those visiting us under threat,” says Sunaina Anand, director of Art Alive Gallery in Panchsheel Park. She is currently opening the gallery twice a week, and by appointment. “Most people are seeing works online. Only when they are keen on buying is when they come to the gallery. At times, we are also sending the works home for viewing,” says Anand.
Bhavna Kakar’s gallery in Lado Sarai, Latitude 28, is also allowing restricted visitors by appointment, and some of the collectors interested in viewing the works physically are being shown works at their home. She was in the midst of dismantling and installing a monumental exhibition when she decided to shut the gallery in mid-March, a week before the lockdown was announced. “We had thought we’d shut for a few days, did not know it would be months,” says Kakar.
In March, she was to participate in Art Dubai, an annual art fair that was eventually held online this year. “It’s our tenth year and we had a number of events planned that are now postponed; instead of fretting, we spent the lockdown reevaluating our programme, focussing on improving the virtual experience both for the magazine (Take on Art) and the gallery, since virtual seems to be the way forward,” says Kakar.
Though most galleries are being approached, especially by their regular patrons, for purchases, how art will be impacted by the pandemic and the consequent economic volatility can probably be assessed only a few months later. “As with many industries, there is likely going to be an impact on the art market in the short term, with a gradual recovery — it is difficult to predict timelines in this regard, but a one-two year recovery period appears to be on the cards as of now. Events such as art fairs and museum viewership are likely to be impacted the most, since they rely on patrons visiting a physical space. For commercial galleries, though exhibition viewership may be impacted, there are alternatives such as appointment-only visitations, spread out openings or virtual exhibitions, that can be made to work when social distancing is a necessity. The biggest impact of the lockdown and coronavirus, however, is the inability to truly experience an artwork, and for art to bring a family or group of friends together to visit a show,” says Amal Allana, director, Art Heritage.
The gallery is open by appointment and virtual initiatives have been launched, including a WhatsApp business portal and audio and video series.
While for Bikaner House, the Rajasthan state government will take a decision on reopening, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is awaiting central government orders. “Some of the staff has re-joined and we are working on sanitisation of spaces, but the Ministry will decide when to open to the public. Meanwhile, we are preparing for our next exhibition, which will feature works by artists who are ‘National Treasures’,” says Adwaita Gadanayak, director general, NGMA.
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