Madness, says Malini Gulrajani, is a prerequisite to being a gallerist.
For the past two decades, she has pioneered the only space in the UAE – perhaps the entire Gulf region – that specialises in contemporary Indian art.
Her idea to open a gallery started to form in the early 1990s, largely inspired by her collector parents and their friends, who encouraged the married mother-of-two to promote Indian artists in Dubai.
At the time, Gulrajani was a dealer, buying works for friends. She began to build her own collection and shifted the emphasis more towards modern Indian art – a lucrative genre that she continues to deal with in the secondary market.
With the inauguration of her 800-square-metre 1×1 Art Gallery at the Diyafa art centre in Satwa in 1996, she became a gallerist.
“I’d cram it with works,” says Gulrajani, with a laugh.
“I felt happy – the space gave me a certain level of confidence and motivation.”
She flew to India regularly, scouring the market for art.
“The big stars of today were just getting popular,” she says.
Over the next 20 years, Gulrajani opened other outlets: a villa in Jumeirah, and two spaces in Al Quoz, one of which was a temporary structure that she operated for just three months.
It was this transient space that would leave a lasting impression on her and her programming. She decked it out – with soundproofing, air conditioning, lighting and so on – for a solo exhibition by Chittrovanu Mazumdar that would run in parallel with the first Gulf Art Fair, now known as Art Dubai.
“I really felt the loss of that space and kept looking for something similar,” says Guljrajni.
A year later, she presented two memorable exhibitions – Imprints of India, by the late, great M F Husain, and Af-fair, curated by artist and curator Bose Krishnamachari, president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation and director of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
“Af-fair was instrumental in launching the gallery on the international platform,” says Gulrajani of the show, which featured luminaries on the Indian art circuit including Bharat Sikka, T V Santhosh, Prasad Raghavan, Riyas Komu, Shilpa Gupta and Sudarshan Shetty.
By this time, 1×1’s programming had taken a different course.
“I changed the kind of works that I showed – I now only present art that is more serious and critical,” says Gulrajani, who regularly presents shows with a tight curatorial focus and a great deal of attention to hanging.
“I’m aware that people are still looking for decorative art and, somewhere in all this, I’ve lost a connection and need to build new markets.”
Her audience is comprised predominantly of Indian collectors. Those in the UAE tend to gravitate towards the contemporary, while those in India have a greater appetite for modern, with big-ticket artworks selling between Dh2million and Dh3m.
“Non-Indians should buy Indian art,” says Gulrajani, “and that is one of the reasons why I moved to Alserkal Avenue.”
The move to the 500-square-metre space happened in November and the opening show featured works by Anju Dodiya, Bharti Kher, Mazumdar, Hema Upadhyay, Mithu Sen, Nasreen Mohamedi, Shetty and Zarina Hashimi.
“I love it, I love the energy here,” says Gulrajani. “The space feels grand.”
Indeed it is, and it will afford her the opportunity to continue to present cutting-edge contemporary Indian art, while hosting film screenings, workshops and talks.
As far as the local art scene is concerned, she says it is in dire need of collectors.
“That’s really all we need,” she says. “The galleries are great and their programming is great.”
Gulrajani isn’t fond of art fairs, preferring instead to channel money and energy towards a museum show for one of her artists, but in March, 1×1 will make its first appearance at Art Dubai.
“Doing Art Dubai is showing solidarity, and I am happy doing so,” she says.
Source: art & life