Recently, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi invited art aficionados to visit its permanent galleries for a rare viewing of a copy of the Constitution of India. But with the number of COVID-19 positive cases in India on the rise, Adwaita Gadanayak, Director General, NGMA, has decided to temporarily shut the doors of the institution starting today. Gadanayak stated, “All branches of the NGMA across India will be shut. The galleries are visited by several tourists and it is wise not to have gatherings at a time like this.”
With several state governments banning social gatherings and shutting schools, theaters, malls and colleges, museums and art institutions are following suit. In Mumbai, the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum has closed down on orders from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. The museum had already recorded a fall in visitor numbers. A comparison of mid-March 2019 and mid-March 2020 showed a drop in 696 footfalls.
In Delhi, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) also announced its closure on the weekend. “By reducing large gatherings, we aim to make sure that the museum visitors and community in general are protected and remain in best of health,” read a statement issued by KNMA. The Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum Complex, National Museum, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Rabindra Bhavan Museum at Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan, and Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial Hall and Indian Museum have closed as well.
While world over several art events have either been postponed or cancelled — including Paris Photo New York and Venice Biennale of Architecture — art gatherings in India too are being gradually called off. Delhi’s Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) has cancelled “all internal events”. Lalit Kala Akademi has postponed the second edition of Print Biennale. The first edition of the Bihar Museum Biennale has been postponed from March 25 to June 29. Anjani Kumar Singh, chairman of Bihar Museum’s advisory committee, said the decision was taken as a safety measure and the difficulty foreseen in many international museum directors visiting India.
Private galleries, on the other hand, have adopted a wait-and-watch policy. Mortimer Chatterjee of Chatterjee & Lal, which opened Mark Prime’s solo ‘Heavy to Light | Light to Heavy’, said that instead of the standard preview evening, they had a day-long preview on March 12, which saw a good turnout without ever having too many people congregating. However, not all artists want to risk an opening in the days that follow. Delhi-based artist Dhanur Goyal’s exhibition ‘Measuring Volume of Perspective’ that was to open at Visual Arts Gallery, Delhi, on April 7, has been postponed, as is octogenarian Lalu Prasad Shaw’s exhibition at Bikaner House.
While most galleries expect lesser visitors, it’s likely that they may not face a problem with their sales. Most establishments have a well-established collector base, with some of the best works usually sold before the preview night itself. Mumbai-based art consultant and curator Farah Siddiqui says, “Social media tools like Instagram are connecting artists and collectors by exploring current and upcoming exhibitions online. This worldwide health crisis is definitely going to impact sales but collectors are still in the market for exquisite quality works and great provenance.”
Online sales may be the way to go for gallerists and art fairs, depending on how long the pandemic lasts. The announcement that Art Basel will be launching Online Viewing Rooms has been received with optimism, especially by galleries who had signed up to participate at the prestigious fair’s eighth edition in Hong Kong that was to be held from March 25 to 27. “While nothing can replace the experience of seeing art in person, we hope that this initiative can bring some support and visibility to all the galleries and their artists affected by the cancellation of our March show,” said Adeline Ooi, Director Art Basel Asia, in a statement.
The virtual viewing platform, on the fair’s website and app, will begin with a preview on March 18 and open to a larger audience on March 20. It will see the participation of more than 200 galleries, including five from India — Jhaveri Contemporary, Gallery Espace, Vadehra Art Gallery, Chemould Prescott Road and Experimenter. Gallerist Priya Jhaveri, who runs Jhaveri Contemporary, said the Online Viewing Rooms is free, at least for participants of the fair.
Shireen Gandhy, gallerist of Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road, said that if the model is a success, it can be replicated in the years to come. “We can reduce our carbon footprint and the expenses of shipping and crating this way,” Gandhy said. She added that Art Basel has refunded 75 per cent of the booth charges after cancelling the on-ground event. Booths can cost about Rs 40 lakh, depending on the carpet area and the walls required for display, which means the remainder is still a major loss for galleries. However, the sales through the free Online Viewing Rooms are expected to compensate for this loss.
When art is just a click away
Much of the model’s success depends on how good the viewing software is. “Moreover, when you walk into an art fair, you get a chance to meet collectors, who introduce other collectors to you. This time, we have to see if collectors are in a mood to buy, given the economy,” Gandhy said.
Art lovers can view works online as international museums offer virtual tours. Among the exhibitors is Google Arts & Culture. Their collection includes British Museum, London; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; and Guggenheim in New York City. There are 79 collections from India as well. Among them, NGMA, National Museum, CSMVS and Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has Instagram posts that run with a #MetAnywhere hashtag, and convey a sense of peace and hope. Among them are Albert Bierstadt’s tranquil Sunrise on the Matterhorn (after 1875) and Vincent van Gogh’s life-affirming, joyous Oleanders (1888 – pictured)
n The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has initiated an Instagram series called #MuseumFromHome. The series includes Henri Matisse’s Goldfish and Sculpture (1912) and Yoko Ono’s Instructions for Paintings (1960)
n The Frick Collection in New York offers virtual tours and encourages followers on Instagram to enjoy #MuseumMomentOfZen. They recently posted a serene landscape by James Whitney Fosburgh, asking followers to “imagine the soothing sound of waves”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines