Women behind Mumbai’s Tao Art Gallery talk business, art collection and contemporary art

by Aarti Bahl
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Behind every great artist is a great curator and behind every good show is a sensible collector and curator. Kalpana Shah, Director and Founder of Tao Art Gallery in Mumbai, is a unique combination of all three: artist, collector and curator. A well-known figure in the Mumbai art circuit, she shares her passion with her daughter Sanjana, the Creative Director at Tao. As the gallery inched one more step closer to completing two successful decades in the world of art, the duo looked back at the journey and peeped into the future while celebrating the 19th anniversary with the show “Red, Blue and Yellow”.

What are you first – an artist, a collector or a curator?

KS: You can’t separate any of these. How everything got woven into my life comes as a surprise to me too. I am a self-taught artist with natural flair for sketching and painting since my childhood. I have had multiple solo shows all over India. Driven by a strong curiosity and passion for art, I became a collector ever since I started looking deeply at artworks and admiring them. The gallery took shape much later when I became a curator. I am a very serious art collector and Tao gave me the opportunity to think boldly with original ideas and display art collections I am proud of.

What do you feel when Indian artworks are valued so high in auctions all over the world?

KS: I feel very proud when Indian artists get recognition on international platform and their work is sold at record prices at par with international artists.

SS: It makes me very happy to see Sotheby’s inaugural auction in India as a big success. It’s a very good platform to showcase Indian and South Asian Art internationally.

What are the challenges you face while curating small artworks?

SS: It has been fun working on my recent exhibition, “Cohesion Within Chaos”. It’s a challenge deciding their placement on the walls but they shape up well at the end. For these shows I have hunted for artworks mainly in our existing collection of around 2,000 pieces of the masters, next generation and upcoming artists. I have also got in work of newer artists, which target younger audiences. They are looking for quirky and unique pieces which are more affordable. This was the first unconventional show at Tao.

Do you work with familiar established artists or with new artists?

KS: I have worked with a lot of master artists like Hussain, who was a very close friend.

SS: My mom has worked with a lot of artists one on one. I have brought in younger and newer artists who are breaking the mould.

Where do you see art market going in the next five years?

KS: In the past decade, I have witnessed real maturing of a generation of art lovers. I can see sensible buying. People are buying art more for aesthetics than for investment. With the increasing global exposure, there is more awareness and need for art in smaller cities too. TheaArt market has evolved completely in India and all over the world.

SS: In the western world contemporary art has started declining. Whereas in India contemporary art is starting to grow now and art is being pushed to break boundaries.

What is your approach while selecting an artist to work with?

SS: It is very important to meet the artist although it does vary. It helps to interact with the artist and understand the inspiration behind the created artwork. Sometimes it helps to dive deeper into the work and know the thought process behind its creation. But at the same time we ensure that our personal relationship with the artist does not influence our choice. I have inherited this trait from my mother. The art world thrives on good and fair relationships.

Do you think your tastes have changed since you started collecting and how has it affected your choice in selecting the artworks?

KS: I have been a witness to changing market trends for more than 30 years now. My taste keeps developing and evolving over the years. I started my collection with abstract works and they are still my favourite. My decisions are normally based on my intuition.

What influences the present day art buyers?

SS: Each person connects differently to an artwork: aesthetically, emotionally, philosophically or intellectually. I want art to be more accessible intellectually to the audience. That’s one of the reasons we have started conducting art appreciation workshops regularly at our gallery.

Ever since you both have been working together, have you stumbled upon any differences?

KS: We have similar tastes, and as of today we have not had any differences in opinion. I feel very happy when Sanjana takes the lead to make decisions regarding the new shows. I admire her energy and fresh ideas. Working together has been dream coming true. I see a younger me in Sanjana.

SS: (laughs) My Mom is crazy creatively. She is also very pure and unbiased. It is an absolute pleasure to work with her.

What’s the best piece of advice you have been given and by whom?

KS: I have been very lucky to learn a lot from M.F. Hussain. I have adopted his approach to be open to all kinds of ideas and art.

SS: My Mom says – When calculation begins, creativity ends. She advises me to think from the creative angle and build relationships with good work ethics.

What are your future plans for Tao Gallery?

KS: Looking forward to great shows at Tao.

SS: I want Tao to grow internationally and with a multifaceted approach.

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