City Magazine 2014
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  1. Mumbai calling
City Magazine 2014

Mumbai calling

The Department of Culture & Creative Industries has been educating in the field of cultural and arts management for 40 years. Alumna Shireen Gandhy (MA Arts Administration, 1987) talks to Professor Andy Pratt of the Department about her time at City and her work as Director of Gallery Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai.

Shireen GandhyGallery Chemould was founded in 1963 by Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy and over the course of its fifty-year history, it has represented major artists in India's modernist and contemporary art movements. In 1988, following her year at City, Shireen Gandhy joined her parents at the Gallery. Under her leadership, Gallery Chemould has focused particularly on showcasing the work of young emerging artists with experimental and interdisciplinary approaches. In 2007, the Gallery moved to the expansive space shown in these images.

What is your unique quality as a gallery?

We promote art and artists, rather like agents promote writers, but more so, as galleries act as an indicator of value. It's important to stress how we place our artists more and more in significant collections: not just private the status of being purchased for the state. At the end of the day this is what counts most - "what museum collects a gallery's artist?" or "what museum exhibitions has a gallery's artist had?"

As an owner/director of a private gallery what does your job entail?

"Finding" the right artist that fits your gallery programme is the first step. Then comes the relationship between artist and gallery, which is almost as binding as a marriage contract - not just in terms of an actual paper contract, but in terms of the give-and-take that a gallery and an artist have with each other. Each artist plays a part in the development of a gallery programme. Exhibition planning, which involves a curatorial, advisory role can take a long time to develop. Then comes the actual exhibition planning - reaching out to the press,designing the brochure, designing the exhibition and finally setting up and presenting the exhibition.

On the other side you then have the "marketing" of the show: just in the way you develop and build artists and develop and work with collectors. If artists have fragile egos that need to be looked after, so do collectors. The gallery becomes a mediator between the two. Developing and communicating with a fantastic database is of essence when running a gallery - it becomes the spinal cord of the business in many ways. Apart from that, keeping the gallery global also means keeping the website active, contemporary and accessible: that is a very important part of the gallery activity. 

What were some of the highlights of your year at City and how did the MA help you?

When I was a postgraduate student, one of the advantages was the student community: there were people who were interested in dance, music, theatre. It exposed us at the start of our careers to professions were very different and yet had very similar issues. What I found to be an invaluable experience was that the course allowed and helped us to gain secondments in that year. It forced one to get out and look for internships.

Working with a private gallery in London for a month, and then in the Whitechapel Art Gallery, opened my eyes to the many options of how I could proceed. Also being in  London was the most exciting thing in the world. I took full advantage of it. I visited every show there was to see, I went to openings when it was possible, connected with people and even after 25 years I still maintain those contacts.

What are some of the challenges of running an art gallery in Mumbai? Is your work changing with growing wealth and an expanding middle class?

Our audience, regardless of social class, has not grown up in a museum-going environment: the large (and growing) middle class are not necessarily eager consumers of any form of art. The population is massive but the audience is extremely niche, extremely select and despairingly small!

That said, in a city like Mumbai, the private gallery scene is really vibrant. There are at least 11 very serious galleries that follow a programme of their own, have an identity and could exist on par with many other galleries in the world. This helps in the general cultural climate of the city: on a given Saturday afternoon an art enthusiast has several options of where to go and most of them are concentrated within a certain district.

The galleries also work closely with each other, so that we are able to draw more audiences and create an atmosphere that nurtures and enhances the prospects of art in the city. We work together in creating longer working evenings by sending joint invitations. We take on initiatives which invite scholars and speakers to educate our collectors.