As Vadehra Art Gallery completes 25 years on the art circuit, Arun Vadehra recalls the eventful journey
In these transient times, those who withstand the pressures of time and everything else around us get noticed invariably. Vadehra Art Gallery, one such presence on the Capital’s art scene, is completing 25 years. “I can’t believe it. It has happened so fast,” says Arun Vadehra, who started the gallery in 1987. Easier said than done, really. With few players and a non-existent art market, it couldn’t have been easy for the gallery that eventually turned into one of the major art spaces in Delhi.
“Economics was not on our radar when we began. Only a few galleries like Dhoomimal and Kumar were around and the scene was very quiet except for the large groups like Tata, Birla and Air India, etc., who were essentially buying art for the sake of encouraging art. Even the diplomatic crowd that bought art then was doing it to take something back home, more as souvenirs,” recalls Vadehra, Director of Vadehra Art Gallery. It was while doing the interiors for the Taj Group of Hotels that he got enticed by the world of art.
The gallery started with a small group of artists but within three years it had all the big names. Today, from the masters — with a focus on modernists like M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, S.H. Raza, Ram Kumar, Arpita Singh, A. Ramachandran, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Paramjit Singh, Ganesh Pyne, Jogen Chowdhury and Mrinalini Mukherjee — to some of the leading lights of contemporary art world like Atul and Anju Dodiya, Sumedh Rajendran, Hema Upadhyay, B.V. Suresh, Shibu Natesan, Prajakta Palav and Shilpa Gupta, the gallery has an impressive list of names. In no time it turned into a hub of art, a meeting place for artists. “Any given day, we would have the likes of Tyeb Mehta or J.Swaminathan having debates and discussions in the gallery.”
Travelling very often to the West, Vadehra realised the differences between the art scenarios there and back home, one of them being the disconnect between the indigenous market and the international platform. Getting Christie’s to organise an auction of Indian art in 1995 was part of the efforts undertaken by Vadehra to give international exposure to Indian art. An India consultant for the auction house, he cites the development as one of the milestones in the journey of the art gallery.
In its other activities of exchange, the first exhibition of Pablo Picasso in a private gallery in India in 2006 and Yoko Ono’s exhibition and visit to Delhi in 2012, were noteworthy.
Another accomplishment of the gallery, according to Vadehra, is in the field of documentation — starting with the book on Ram Kumar “Ram Kumar, A Journey Within” in 1996. “We have brought out 25 to 30 books related to the art world, and they are available at all major museums across the world. Books on Ram Kumar and Gulammohammed Sheikh are my personal favourites.”
Yet another highpoint in the gallery’s journey is beginning the chapter of private-public partnerships in the arena of culture. It started with M.F.Husain’s exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art when a private gallery collaborated with a government-owned space to exhibit a collection of paintings. “Raza (S.H.Raza), Ramachandran (A. Ramachandran) and Husain (M.F. Husain) were some of our landmark exhibitions,” he says.
It was with a work of M.F. Husain — a female form with an elephant and tiger rendered in acrylic — that Vadehra opened his personal collection, and the work stays with him to date. “I told Husain that I will pay him in instalments, and he agreed. He told me not to sell this work and I never did. It is not one of his best works but certainly quite valuable. It hangs in my office.” This deal was the beginning of a lifelong relationship. “He was at the gallery all the time. The gallery converted into his studio when he came. We kept buying all his work but the bond wasn’t commercial in nature.”
The gallery is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a major exhibition at Lalit Kala Akademi from April 5 to 10 . Divided into two, while the contemporary lot are being shown in ‘Ideas of the Sublime’, the modernists are part of ‘The Drawing Wall’. Artist talks, walkthroughs and a children’s workshop are some of the other activities to be carried out in this duration.