Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Exhibit Brings Indian Art Scene to Diaspora in U.S.

Quality contemporary pieces like this one will be available for sale to the rich and not-so-rich collector.

The South Asian avant-garde will invade a psychologist's house in Saratoga this weekend. Thanks to Gallery Metropolis in Mumbai, India, along with some local co-conspirators on the curating and marketing ends, a provocative exhibition, Master Strokes: Unique Contemporary Art from India, will present works from some of the most cutting edge artists currently working in that country.

This will not be a showcase of antiquities or "exotic" miniatures. The gallery has shipped a variety of paintings and visual works from its extensive collection straight to the house of Saratoga resident Anu Singh (no relation to me). A clinical psychologist and executive coach with a passion for collecting visual art, Singh aims to introduce members of the Bay Area Indian diaspora to the contemporary art scene of their original country.

San Jose resident Uma Subramaniam, who originally came to the U.S. from Kerala in 1981, helped curate the show. By day a marketing executive, she partnered with with Gallery Metropolis owner Ashish Balram Nagpal to ensure the exhibit was not just for high rollers or seasoned investors. Newbie collectors are welcome. All of the artwork is available for purchase, with prices ranging from $500 to $75,000, with both longtime masters and emerging artists represented.

"Obviously, investing in original artwork, you attract the high-net-worth individuals, but [Nagpal's] thing is, let's try and make it more appealing to everybody, or more people," Subramaniam said, adding that although the show contains authentic, good quality art, not everything is at stratospheric prices.

In previous generations, India barely had an equivalent for what we in the West know as the artist-collector relationship, gallery representation or any of the traditional dynamics of the profession. When Nagpal opened Gallery Metropolis in Mumbai (then known as Bombay) in 1990, he was charting new territory. He nurtured, promoted and represented unusual artists, giving them a platform to get their art out in front of people who might purchase the work. Nowadays, he is considered a serious player on the world stage, often referred to as an "art investment guru" regularly launching the careers of diverse, unconventional artists in India. His vast collection includes some of the country's most avant-garde and sought-after artists. Gallery Metropolis has previously exhibited work in New York, where the collector market is more mature for those of the Indian diaspora, but since more and more Indians are living throughout the country, the gallery wants to make forays into other markets, especially the Bay Area.

Enter Anu Singh. Although her professional career has nothing to do with art, Singh has been collecting work through Gallery Metropolis for 15 years. She views Nagpal as a venture capitalist for young artists in India. Last year, Singh hosted a smaller exhibit from the gallery's collection to major success, but Master Strokes looks to be a much bigger show. Included in the exhibition will be a painting of the Legend of Kamakhya by Anjolie Ela Menon, several iconic works by Laxma Goud, Francis Newton Souza, and Chintan Upadhayay, as well as rare and early paintings by Raghava KK. A collection of signed archival prints of M.F. Husain's Mother Teresa series will also be featured.

Although India's contemporary art scene is growing, the artists still don't register among the diaspora, especially in the Bay Area. Collecting or investing in art is still a relatively new concept to most South Asians who immigrate to the U.S. Subramaniam says she wants to change all of that.

"When I went to school in India, I went to a boarding school, so you're very much exposed to the Western art scene and really not to the Indian art scene. It would be nice to get greater awareness and get people more involved in supporting the contemporary Indian art scene. I think there's a lot going for it."

In my view, only one issue remains. If Indian millionaires in Silicon Valley can bankroll painters back home, I would also like to see them supporting native artists who actually live here. Local artists need money, too.

Master Strokes: Unique Contemporary Art from India
6-8pm, May 4; 10am to 6pm, May 5-6.
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