EXHIBITION - Modern Indian Art from the 1930s to the 2000s | Dhoomimal Gallery (Oct 17, 2020-Jan 21, 2021) :

Among the oldest galleries in India, Dhoomimal Gallery has played a significant role in supporting and promoting the careers of modern and contemporary Indian artists. This exhibition provides a vignette of the gallery's journey over the decades, from the 1930s to the early 2000s, through works by artists including Jamini Roy, F N Souza, Jagdish Swaminathan, Krishen Khanna, Bimal Dasgupta and Anjolie Ela Menon.


It is hard to imagine that Delhi had only one art gallery until not so long ago. This is, however, understandable, as nobody bought paintings or sculptures. Middle class parents would not dream of educating their children to be artists. They were all headed to become government servants. The only art which was considered worth seeing was ancient, safely lodged in museums. Job satisfaction meant having the satisfaction of having a job. That, briefly, was the atmosphere of the times. It is therefore quite remarkable that Ram Babu, as he was respectfully called, should have shown such an appetite for art. Judging by what he left behind, nor was his taste for painting timid or comfortable.

It amazes me to think of how a straight and upright man observing all the ethical norms laid down by his religion should have been attracted to someone like Sailoz Mookherjea, who was, in a sense, his very opposite. Sailoz was a liberated being, a truly free man who had no need to display his independence. He had two passions – painting and alcohol. He pursued both with intensity. Ram Babu did not share in the latter passion, but he became a vivid collector of Sailoz’s paintings, and left behind a large number of these. Sailoz did not often ask for money. Belief has it that he would come to the gallery with a painting he had just completed, and would leave with a bottle under his arm. Many self-righteous people (who never bought a work themselves) are critical of these transactions which they consider as exploitation of the artist. The fact is that Sailoz never entertained such thoughts. He was very happy with what he got, and I believe Ram Babu must have been equally so. There was no great art market at that time and one must infer that he collected these works because he liked both the artist and the work.

This love for art and dealing with painting and sculpture was inherited by his sons, and tradition continued. Ravi, who gave quite the wrong impression of being easy-going and casual, had the same sharp eye and a sense of dissemination which his ancestor had shown. To his undisputed credit goes his support to J Swaminathan. At a very difficult time in his career as an artist, Ravi came to Swami’s assistance. It is a sad fact that Swami, like some others, did not live long enough to see the great wealth which his work is yielding today. And while we are on this financial subject of dividends, Ravi too died factually young, leaving behind a wife and a son and a large collection of paintings, some really great ones.

Uday shows the same brand of enthusiasm that his forebears did. He could have quite easily settled down to an easy and comfortable life, like so many landlords in Connaught Place. He could have rented out the entire property, or even a part of it, at a very lucrative rate. He chose not to. Instead, he has expanded, making a sculpture court in the heart of Connaught Place, another gallery at ground level, and plans for making a museum. He is blessed with a son who will grow in this rich atmosphere of art and of the things which ultimately matter. The lifeline of this institution seems assured. May they continue and multiply.