As Mumbai’s first and only private gallery exclusively for photography closes down, it opens up questions on India’s current art market
Seven years ago, curator Matthieu Foss moved to Mumbai from Paris and became closely involved with the arts in India — more specifically, photography. One of the founders of Paris Photo, an annual photography fair held in Paris, he was no stranger to this form of art. He started working with Tasveer Arts — an organisation committed to the art of photography — managing their activities in Mumbai, but went solo soon after. Thereafter, for a brief period, he organised photography exhibitions at rented venues and eventually set up his own gallery in 2010. Matthieu Foss Gallery became the first private gallery in the city, dedicated solely to photography.
But now, and all too soon, the gallery hosted its last show, which ended on January 28. It will close down shortly. The reason Foss cites is the uncertainty of the market. “The market is difficult and uncertain at the moment,” explains the 40-year-old. “It isn’t just the Indian market, though. The European market is uncertain too, so we have to rely on Indian collectors only.” The fact that the Indian photography market is still immature added to the gallery’s struggles. However, he remains hopeful that the art market will pick up in time. “There is so much being done by artists — by Indian photographers so I’m sure it will pick up,” he explains, “But this will take a few years.” Meanwhile, he plans to go back to organising and curating exhibitions independently, but at rented venues.
When it opened in January 2010, Matthieu Foss Gallery made waves in Mumbai’s art scene. In a city with more art galleries than can be counted, to have one dedicated to photography was a feat. In the last two years, Matthieu Foss Gallery had hosted exhibitions by a number of artists — Indian and international, new and established. It held solo exhibitions and group shows, introducing Mumbai audiences to the works of artists they might never have otherwise seen. It brought to India artists who, otherwise, may never have come.
For instance, last year, the gallery hosted British photographer Rachel Cunningham’s first solo in India. Having travelled the world with her camera, Cunningham’s work explores themes as varied as the Arab-Israeli conflict to The Prag Mahal in Gujarat.
The final exhibition held at the gallery was a grand group show, titled Beauty and the Beast, based on Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film adaptation of the famous fairy tale. Curated by French photographer and editor Anne Maniglier, the show featured sculptures, photographs and paintings by Indian and international artists.
By deciding to close down the gallery, Foss has had to let go of his passion project. However, the curator is not alone in thinking that the art market is still slow. “There is a market for select works by selected artists. And yes, there are new entrants and younger buyers, but these are not yet collectors. So the general spirit is low,” says Anupa Mehta, director, The Loft, an art gallery located in Lower Parel.
Photographs, she believes, “offer pleasures that are far removed from other mediums” so there is definitely a market for this newer form of art. The problem, she adds, may have to do with our approach to art as viewers and buyers. “The issue is connected with existing hierarchies and the Indian mindset that links price with value,” Mehta explains.
A contrary view also exists. Abhishek Poddar, director, Tasveer Arts, says that the market is better now than before. “The art market has been slow since recession but it has picked up in the past six months,” he says. The demand for photography, too, he adds, is rising. “Photography is not as accepted as painting, but it is now widely accepted as a form of art and there are buyers.”
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