Art from the heart?

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI | The Hindu | 4th April 2016

Glitzy art openings in five star hotels are trending in Bengaluru. The writer asks if art has become elitist in the process

I always go in a little early for art openings. It allows for an unhindered exchange with the artist, the curator or seeing the art in peace. For “Artworks from Vietnam” at the charmingly Victorian, ITC Windsor, on Golf Course Road, I did the same. But the place was already abuzz. Guests had started to trickle in and a mezze bar, antipasti, artisan cheese board, breads and snacks sat on a table looking like an installations… I tucked into a fancy Dutch cucumber rollatini with balsamic caviar as I waited for Radhika Mitra of Asian Art House to make time for conversation with me.

Around the same time, at Vidhan Souda — which is not far from Golf Course Road — prominent artists like Gurudas Shenoy, Rekha Rao, Suresh Kumar and Kishore Setty, Sheela Gowda and other members of VAG Forum were emphatically debating the needs and the rights of visual arts fraternity of Karnataka with the State tourism minister R.V. Deshpande. The Government has signed a MoU with Tasveer Foundation for the renovation and adoption of Venkatappa Art Gallery which has led the artist community protesting against this privatisation.

But there’s nothing unusual about art exhibitions in five star hotels in Bengaluru. There are options galore for those who prefer to exhibit in swish locations like Taj West End’s Art Corridor or ITC Windsor’s WelcomArt Gallery, Ritz-Carlton or the luxurious jewellery store, Ganjam.

When Chennai-based photographer Sharad Haksar decided to have his first solo in Bengaluru, he chose Taj West End. More footfalls and sales guided him to choose a location like that. “In Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, (CKP) I wouldn’t have been able to get this kind of footfalls unlike in India Habitat Centre in Delhi where anybody and everybody walks in. I wouldn’t have necessarily shown in a five star hotel in Mumbai or Delhi. So the choice of venue depends on the city you are showing in,” says Sharad.

Out of his 40 picturesque images of Japan and Iceland, on display, Sharad sold 14 large prints priced at Rs.55,000. Enthused by the response, now Sharad is planning to have another exhibition in the city soon, which again, would be a plush five star hotel in South Bengaluru. While this was an independent show without a gallery in between, a lot of times exhibitions at five star hotels result from tie-ups with galleries, curators and NGOs. Taj West End partners with Concern India Foundation and the Rotary Club of Bangalore for their charity art events. And though these spaces host a mix of artists — both established and upcoming — they end up showcasing emerging artists.

The exhibitions typically last from 3 to 5 days for which invites are sent to the friends of gallery/curator/artist/. In addition to this are hotel’s own clients and the guests staying there. “We are a business hotel and there are guests who are short on time but they are interested in art and have deep pockets. For them it is so easy to go, see and buy. For the hotel this is not an exercise to make revenue but to engage with guests and our regular clients,” says Bhavana Shah of Ritz-Carlton which is deeply interested in art. The country’s first Ritz-Carlton which opened in 2013 is home of some 1,280 contemporary art works by the likes of Satish Gupta, Paresh Maity. The sculpture of Pablo Picasso by American sculptor Robert St Croix placed at the entrance is the hottest photo spot in the hotel. ITC Windsor counts “Quintessential Bangalore – Once Upon A Time”, a retrospective by well-known cartoonist Paul Fernandes hosted recently at WelcomArt Gallery, amongst one of its most successful exhibitions.

Art in white cubes seems inaccessible and intimidating to the uninitiated. In five star hotels and posh locations like these, doesn’t this gap widen even more? Sharad doesn’t think that art when displayed in five star hotels becomes elitist. “I like to eat in a dhaba, a posh restaurant and five star hotel. So if someone can go a gallery, that person can also come here if genuinely interested,” expresses Haksar.

But artists like HA Anil Kumar, art historian and teacher at CKP feel that it is mostly decorative pleasing art which is exhibited in these spaces. “If it is thought provoking, I can’t say…and I also feel that lack of good professional galleries too have contributed to this trend in a way.”