IN CONVERSATION WITH THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER DUO BEHIND TAO ART GALLERY
Right opposite the Arabian Sea stretch at Worli is Tao Art Gallery, which gives a glimpse of itself to the passersby through its huge glass facades – a conscious design decision by its founder/director Kalpana Shah. It opened in 2000 and has since featured solo and group shows of India’s most widely-known artists like M.F. Husain, V.S. Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, and S.H. Raza. As Kalpana takes us back in time to the gallery’s glorious past, her daughter, Sanjana, who recently joined as Tao’s creative director, discusses building on her mother’s legacy by digitising, curating challenging/unconventional shows, and creating an education series about contemporary art.
Tao Art Gallery, 165, The View, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli, Mumbai 400 018. Tel: 022 2491 8585
WORDS BY PAYAL KHANDELWAL
The City Story: What inspired you to start Tao?
Kalpana Shah: Post the 1992 riots in Mumbai, some of the artists expressed themselves through open canvases, and that’s when I spotted M.F. Husain spontaneously painting at the footpath at Marine Drive [in 1992]. I was so touched to see artists express themselves in a situation where the rest of the city was so disturbed. My friend Sangita Jindal, who had accompanied me to see this, suggested I open an art gallery since I have so much passion for art. I couldn’t fathom it that time since our family had no art legacy. But somewhere, the idea stuck with me.
Since we are into real estate, my husband [the late Pankaj Shah] was working on a new building’s plan in Worli at that time. So, like a spoilt wife, I asked him to get me a gallery space [laughs]. And that’s how it all started. Tao was a dream come true since I love to be around culture, and with a gallery, you can express so much. We have done a lot in the last 18 years.
TCS: Could you tell us a bit about the gallery space and its open structure?
KS: I had always wanted the gallery to be this open, transparent space, as I was fascinated with foreign galleries where you can see the art from outside. It feels so welcoming. Sometimes, people don’t know how much they enjoy art till they come inside and interact with it.
Sanjana Shah: The architecture and interior design of Tao works beautifully for an art gallery, with the open spaces and large white walls allowing the art to breathe and truly stand out. The original Atrium Gallery from the year 2000 has a skylight that beautiful enhances the natural lighting of the space, while the newer Window Gallery is more clean and simplistic in design, allowing the contemporary to shine through.
TCS: You opened the gallery 18 years ago. How have you been reinventing it?
KS: Till about 2017, we had organic growth based on my passion for art and relationships with the art world. I had no social media knowledge and no support system to do anything else till then. But when Sanjana joined, she changed the whole social media scene. We have a lovely young team now.
SS: I want to build on the 18 years of legacy that Mom has created. We are looking to digitise ourselves completely. We want to be like an online magazine, create a digital gallery, start online sales, etc. As a long-term vision, we want to be known internationally.
We have also started this new series called #EducateForArt about art. It hopes to bring together and build a like-minded community of people passionate about art, be it young students yearning to learn more, earning professionals looking to start their own collection, or veterans just looking for some creative food-for-thought! We hope to create workshops and programs for people at all levels of exposure and our specific workshops for children are designed to inculcate and maintain an eye for art from a young age itself.
TCS: What’s the most fun and the most boring part of running a gallery?
KS: Running a gallery can never feel like a 9-to-5 stressful, boring job. I love working on all the shows, and hanging the artworks before a show is my most favourite part, because it allows me complete creative freedom to visualise and explore the art in synergy with the space. This not only aids in the curation process but also allows me to plan the show experience from the viewers’ perspective.
Every day is a new day at a gallery, and you get to meet so many people. There is a constant flow of energy.
SS: It truly is amazing. However, since I am from a slightly cynical generation, I feel there are slight hiccups along the way. The whole artist-gallerist-collector network is not quite clear. It’s all based on trust and word of mouth, and the gallerist’s role can get confusing sometimes. We need more clarity and transparency in this.
TCS: What’s been your most memorable exhibition so far?
KS: I cherish a couple of exhibitions – M.F. Husain’s (2002) and S.H. Raza’s solo shows (2002, 2005, 2006, and 2008). Then there was a master show with artists like Husain, Raza, Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde, etc. I really miss that era. All these artists expressed themselves individually, without being influenced by each other.
SS: For me, it was mom’s solo show, which she did as a breakthrough artist. I was very young then, but I remember giving a speech at the opening. Then our recent 18-year anniversary show “No Corners” was our most contemporary show till now.
TO MAKE A DAY OF A VISIT TO TAO, KALPANA AND SANJANA RECOMMEND:
- A visit to the Haji Ali Dargah
- Catching shows/performances at the Nehru Centre
- Checking out the Nehru Planetarium
- Heading to Lower Parel for food and shopping