One of India’s premier shopping galleries, Kolkata-based Experimenter, will open a site in September in Mumbai, the country’s largest city and financial capital. It will occupy a 3,000 square foot space in a 19th century building in the South Gallery District of Colaba.
This move is unusual, but not unheard of, in India, where dealerships tend to expand into a single city, rather than multiple cities. “It’s not something that galleries tend to do here, but other retail formats have certainly managed to do it,” said Experimenter co-founder Priyanka Raja. She created the gallery with her husband Prateek in 2009.
Logistically, she adds, the expansion is necessitated in part by India’s vastness. “It’s not the same as a gallery in Cologne opening a second space in Berlin. Mumbai is almost a three-hour flight from Kolkata. At the moment, if we have to resolve something at the other end of the country, we can’t do it immediately.”
The Mumbai gallery joins two Experimenter spaces in Kolkata, the second of which was established in 2018. “We wanted something close enough to home and somewhere where we know our program has an audience. We often have clients from Mumbai who tell us that they would like to see local performances from our artists like Naeem Mohaeimen,” says Prateek Raja. He adds that Experimenter “does its best” to limit the number of its artists who share the performance with other other galleries, which means that, so far, Kolkata is often the only city in which people on the gallery’s list can hold solo sales exhibitions.
They will open the space with an exhibition of new works by Dhaka-based artist Ayesha Sultana, best known for her monochrome drawings and graphite sculptures. Additionally, they will stage a series of performances across the city in non-art spaces, such as a repurposed former ice factory, which will host a sound and sculptural installation by Bani Abidi. This is a natural extension of their Kolkata program which involves a number of institutional partnerships and non-commercial initiatives focused on local communities.
“We have always sought to distinguish ourselves from the white cube, the model of the Western gallery”, explains Prateek Raja, who describes Experimenter as “an incubator of contemporary practices” – a function that arises “as much from necessity as from anything else”. , he adds. “In India, commercial galleries make up for the lack of kunsthalles, institutions and inadequate government funding for the arts. Many of our decisions are not made with the same commercial considerations as a gallery following a Western model”, says Priyanka Raja. “That being said, obviously we’d like to find a new collector base in Mumbai and sell well, and unless we go there, we won’t know.”
The two gallerists admit that moving west is something of a test for their program, which they say is one of the most conceptually rigorous and multifaceted on the subcontinent. Now it remains to be seen whether he will find a home in a city better known for commerce than for intellectualism. “Kolkata is rooted in the gallery’s DNA, it will always be with us. We opened up there because of its long academic history, which we believe would fit in with our discursive program,” says Prateek Raja. “Our openings are jam-packed and full of debates, and our galleries are always full. Now we’ll see if Mumbai will welcome us in the same way,” he adds.
But while its program may promise a new flavor in Mumbai, Experimenter’s new space will be familiar to gallery-goers in the city. These are the current premises of Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke which, after 16 years, will move to a larger 5,000 square foot space in the Ballard Estate sector of the Fort district.
The move also comes with a change in the management of the gallery, which until recently was run by mother-daughter duo Usha Mirchandani and Ranjana Steinruecke. Mirchandani recently resigned; according to Steinruecke, who is now sole proprietor, the gallery’s name will not change as her mother was “pivotal in the establishment and the fabric of the operation”.