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04.07.2017

When Rukshaan Krishna took over the second floor of the dilapidated Ali Building, it was in a shambles: not one wall ran straight, and a dumbwaiter for construction materials still occupied much of the south-western corner. 

Taken over a couple of years previously by the Dresswalas (of Maganlal fame), Ali Building is gradually coming up-to-date -- or rather, into the 20th century, which is where broad wooden staircases and names like “Dresswala Mansion” are from, of course. And above the Shantanu & Nikhil showroom and Krsna Mehta’s India Circus store, Rukshaan is reviving another old dream in a small new gallery filled with the work of new and veteran Baroda artists.  

The bones of Ali Building are still standing in Rukshaan Art’s compact display room, too angular and full of pillars to be a white cube. The works of at least a dozen artists hang together in close proximity in Rukshaan’s first, “undated” show, where pieces will be displayed until the end of August, each replaced with new work as and when it is bought. 

More than in many tightly-packed Bombay galleries, the effect of seeing dozens of pieces at once can be a little like looking at beautiful commuters in your train carriage. But many of these works are clearly chosen because of how vividly they speak for themselves, communicating in bold colours, strong materials and accomplished, crafty detailing.  

A grey stone cat sculpted by Nagji Patel is almost ready to leap off its window-sill perch, but not quite into your arms (too knowing for that); Hardik Kansara’s wide-angled painting of the concrete rooftops and greying sky above his hometown is both frank and warm, an effect familiar to those who love Sudhir Patwardhan. Sculptor Soumitra Gouri shows a broad, strong brown face, sitting on a wooden table. It has another face masked in verdigris looking out from behind it, reminiscent of the Sundarbans hunters who wear masks behind their head to hoodwink attacking tigers. 

The Gujarat Styles 

“I’ve run a studio in Baroda for about ten years now,” Rukshaan says on the phone from that town, valiantly battling a flu so that she can make it to her artist meetings later in the day. “The energy of this place is indescribable -- but what drew me most of all to its art was its simplicity.” Indeed, there’s a directness in the gaze of almost all the work here, even if they vary in form and affect. 

Rukshaan used to own and run the Strand Art Room, a Colaba gallery that showcased emerging artists for some years before it closed down. “Since then I’ve been working directly with artists, trying to promote new work and create the best shows for Baroda March” -- her annual show of contemporary art from Baroda that takes place at the CSMVS’ Coomaraswamy Hall every year. New viewers and buyers from this exercise, she says, have given her the “courage and strength for this project”.

For a few months every year, Rukshaan Art will run “undated” shows like this one to give a variety of artists more display time, and buyers more chances to find a work they love. Starting September, the gallery will begin its programme of smaller solo or two-or three-person group shows, “not necessarily stylistically, but thematically linked,” she says. 

Perhaps fittingly, before we bid goodbye, we’re transfixed by the most beautiful work in the whole gallery -- Girijesh Kumar Singh’s panels of human faces, sculpted from bricks that the artist picks up from the waste at building sites. Soft, expressive, timeless, they belong among the finest of Ballard Estate’s stony guardians, etched in relief on its sandstone walls. Not all construction has stopped at Dresswala Mansion.

Getting there: Rukshaan Art, second floor, Dresswala Mansion (above Shantanu & Nikhil and India Circus), Mint Road, Kala Ghoda. The opening show is on until the end of August 2017.

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