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A brush with luxury

Art, once the domain of snooty galleries, has been getting increasingly democratic, making its way into cafes and lobbies, restaurants and bars. Photos: R. Ravindran  

Let’s spend the evening at an art gallery? To be honest, the idea doesn’t excite many people. The word ‘gallery’, they say, evokes images of silent corridors, jargon and abstract discussions. Sometimes, it even conjures up images that are gory, like The Vitruvian Man in a pool of blood, thanks to Dan Brown’s choice of the Louvre for his crime thriller.

So, while the walls of these silent buildings may host hard work, bursts of imagination and imprints of experience on clay and canvas, they rarely draw large crowds. The visitors remain the same; a cohort of critics and collectors. Is there a way to turn a niche hobby into a mass movement? As it turns out, the solution was obvious.

Art, once the domain of snooty galleries, has been getting increasingly democratic, making its way into cafes and lobbies, restaurants and bars.

It began with the hotels in Chennai. The ITC Grand Chola collaborated with Forum Art Gallery when the hotel launched in September 2012, decked in selected cartoon works by Biswajit Balasubramanian. Two months later, a series of women-centric works occupied the walls. Guests were amused. It is like entering a new space every time, they said.

Park Hyatt, for their first anniversary in 2013, joined hands with Gallery Veda, which was also turning one then, to host an exhibition of the gallery’s in-house collection. Encouraged by the success, the two one-year-olds decided to work together for the next two consecutive years. Enter the hotel today, and you will see a white bald fibreglass man with long wings, perched on a stand. Pass the chiselled guy and the lobby opens to several canvases that are part of the ongoing curated exhibition, False Alternatives by Gallery Veda.

Last year, Vivanta by Taj Connemara went beyond photographs, paintings and all things two-dimensional, to pave way for classic furniture and artefacts in its lobby. The curated show was organised by Taj Khazana, in association with The Great Eastern Home — The Grand Trunk Show. Guests drank in the beauty of trunks, and also got to investigate them closely every time they visited the hotel.

“This arrangement between the galleries and hotels works beautifully for the artistes as well,” says Meena Dadha, founder of the 13-year-old Prakrit Art Gallery, which has organised exhibitions in The Park and ITC Grand Chola. “Business and leisure travellers to the city might not locate a gallery to drop in for an evening, but with works displayed on hotel walls, they get a glimpse of the art scene in Chennai,” says Meena.

“That’s what happened with the Levitating Lady,” a representative from Park Hyatt says, pointing at the bronze sculpture by Kerala-based artist Chitra Gopi. It is placed strategically under bright yellow lights in the lobby. Every corner of it sparkles, like it has been set aflame. From afar, the horizontal figure appears to be hovering a few feet above the ground. Come closer, and a lock of bronze hair running vertically down to the base solves the mystery. “Guests kept gravitating towards this piece. Everyone had something to say about it. So we, at the hotel, thought why not place it permanently here,” she adds. Hence, The Levitating Lady was bought for a heavy price (the artist's sculpures cost about Rs 6 lakhs each) and made part of the decor.

When guests enquire about the art in hotel lobbies, they are directed to the host galleries. Gallery Veda went an extra step forward, by creating a catalogue listing the works displayed at the hotel. Shalini Biswajit, founder, Forum Art Gallery, says, “We generally have the works in the hotels for two weeks, and then we extend the show at our gallery.” This way, those who have warmed up to the idea of possessing an artwork, or simply knowing more about a certain artiste, know where to go.

Despite all that exposure, display of art in hotels cannot be extrapolated to an increase in sales, according to artist Manisha Raju, whose works have been displayed at several high-end hotels. “The crowd which comes to a gallery is different from that which goes to a hotel. Those who come to galleries have a passion for art, are educated in it, a few even serious art collectors. They follow artists and usually come with the mindset to buy their works,” she says.

Senior artist Senathipathi, whose works have found a permanent residence in five-star hotels, says that art in hotels adds glamour to the venue. Yet, he prefers the more serious gallery space. “Galleries are a platform where people can identify art, have discussions, and also auction their works,” he says.

As it turns out, even gallery owners don’t expect big returns when it comes to an exhibition at a hotel. “I will be surprised if I get an order from the hotel,” says Preeti Garg, founder, Gallery Veda, with a laugh. It’s the aesthetic appeal, which drives them to collaborate with hotels. “There is a lot of room for experimentation. In galleries, the space is restricted, whereas, you can visualise the set-up and arrange the works accordingly in hotels,” she says.

Geetha Mehra, owner of the Mumbai-based Sakshi gallery cannot agree more. The gallery will be organising a show, Art Fest on September 10, at Park Hyatt. The four-day show includes works of top artists such as F.N. Souza, N.S. Bendre and Ram Kumar alongside those of Ravinder Reddy, Surendran Nair, Dhruva Mistry and Rekha Rodwittiya.

“Opting for a hotel seemed the most feasible option. Since we are not from the city, firstly, we require quick, basic infrastructure, and in Chennai, apart from the Lalit Kala Akademi, there is no other place I can rent. So we decided to create a gallery-like atmosphere in the hotel,” says Geetha, quite candidly. “We will change the wall panels, carpets, and recreate the space. It will be air-conditioned, and with cocktails and food just a call away, it will be perfect,” she adds.


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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 12:15:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/public-art-goes-luxe-in-chennai/article7615848.ece

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