MORTIMER CHATTERJEE, MUMBAI GALLERY FOUNDER

Art galleries in Mumbai? They’re not obvious bedfellows, but a quick chat with founder of avant-garde gallery, Chatterjee & Lal, reveals otherwise. They started out with a select few cutting-edge scenesters but are developing to meet demand…
 
How long have you been living in Mumbai and what made you decide to open a gallery in the city?
I have lived in Mumbai since 2001 having moved here from London. I met my wife and business partner, Tara Lal, whilst we were both working for an India-based auction house. In 2003, when we opened the gallery, we could sense a clear need in the city for a space that was focussed on work by emerging artists.

Can you tell us a little bit about your gallery, Chatterjee & Lal – who do you represent and what are your ambitions?

Over the last eight years we have maintained relationships with many of the artists who were starting out with their careers at the same time as us. As such, there has been a distinct change in the nature of the gallery programming from one specifically aimed at emerging artists to one which incorporates a number of different generations and even, on occasion, historical material.

With India’s rapid economic growth over the last two decades how have you seen the art market change?

The art market in India came of age in 2004. The subsequent four years saw amazing, explosive growth that led, inexorably, to a bubble that well and truly burst in late 2008. The market is yet to recover fully, however initiatives like India’s first serious art fair, the India Art Fair, and the Mumbai gallery initiative, the Mumbai Art District, are getting some traction in generating new interest.

As a resident of the city can you point us in the direction of a few of your favourite restaurants, and what makes them so special?

My favourite restaurants include Britannia for lunch. It is an old-world haunt, little changed since independence and their Berry Pulau is utterly unique (the berries are imported from Iran).  Since Mumbai is a port city, fish is an integral part of most people’s diet. For my money the best version of coastal cuisine is Ankur. For a super smart version of regional cuisine head to the Konkan Café at the Taj President hotel.

Marine Drive, Mumbai

Where would you send a first-time visitor to have the quintessential Mumbai experience, without being too touristy?

Go for a morning walk in the Hanging Gardens in Malabar Hill overlooking Marine Drive. Walk down to Chowpatty beach for a late morning Kulfi ice-cream at one of the many shacks which line the area. Jump in a cab and go for the best (and most hygienic) street food at Swati Snacks. In the early afternoon check out Mani Bhavan where Gandhi lived for more than two decades and which is today a lovely little museum. Head to Colaba in the late afternoon for a high tea at the Sea-Lounge of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel: sit at the window seats where generations of young Indians have met prospective spouses. Early evening head to the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) and catch some live Classical Indian music. As evening turns to night get to the bar on the top of the Four Seasons HotelAer – for the best view and great cocktails.

What are the hidden little gems that only a long-term Mumbai resident would really know about?

-       Chicken Shawarma at Modern Juice Centre in Colaba – ridiculously tasty and the only place, barring North Africa, that I have had a version that puts French fries right in with the chicken; genius. For a variation on the Shawarma get a Chicken Frankie from Colaba causeway – the Vindaloo has found its way into Indian bread.

-       Alibaug - Mumbai’s answer to the Hamptons – is an hour’s boat ride from the city but might as well be a world away. It is amazingly serene. Better to get to know someone with a house there (and a private yacht wouldn’t hurt).

-       Banganga (the city’s ancient soul) is a beautiful temple pond surrounded by a warren of medieval homes that are still lived in. The whole area is a slice of how Mumbai must have been a couple of hundred years ago.

-       Chor Bazaar, which literally translates as ‘Thieves Market’, is the place to go for antiques and early twentieth century furniture and artefacts. Go early on a Friday morning and be amazed by the deals that you can get.

What are you most excited about that is going to be happening in Mumbai in 2012?

A newly established initiative by the South Mumbai gallery scene, going under the banner of the Mumbai Art District (MAD), now organises two events a month. On the evening of every second Thursday of the month, and the afternoon of every fourth Sunday of the month, all galleries in the area remain open with special events organised in many, including seminars, lectures and previews. Major events by this group of galleries will be put on through the year with announcements expected by the end of January.

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