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Beyond the white cube


The arterati of the city genially rub shoulders with the glitterati, but the literati and the caferati were traditionally kept at arm’s length – until the advent of gallery BMB, a brand-new commercial space designed to bring together art, books and coffee in what promises to be an ‘adda’ or cultural hub, observes Maria Louis.

For days before it officially announced its new avatar, art lovers on their way to Gallery Chemould at Prescott Road, Mumbai, would cast furtive glances at the ground floor level which was once Yash Birla’s art space Articullate and furniture store Yantra.

While the old colonial façade was retained since the building is located in the heritage Fort precinct of the city, the glass door offered tantalising glimpses of exciting interiors.

The build-up to the inauguration on September 21 was thanks to Bose Krishnamachari, one of the triumvirate who constitute BMB. Known for his ever-widening circle of friends, the artist-curator’s involvement drummed up publicity and ensured that BMB was brimming with guests on opening night.

While the landmark inaugural show ‘The Dark Science of Five Continents’ curated by Berlin/London-based Shaheen Merali was enough to arouse curiosity, it is the restructuring of the interiors by architect Nuru Karim (founder director, LIVE) that remains a talking-point.

“Gallery BMB houses a unique art bookshop with a dedicated reading area and onsite café, as the concept is for it to be a truly interactive space – a cultural hub which welcomes and connects people from different walks of life with art,” explains Karim.

The new gallery on the art block is a partnership between Krishnamachari and long-term art patrons, Yash and Avanti Birla, Devaunshi and Dia Mehta. As curator director Krishnamachari points out, the name BMB could be read as ‘Bombay Mumbai Bambaiya’ or ‘Birla, Mehta, Bose’.

What distinguishes it from the other galleries is the intent to act as a meeting-point for artists, collectors and students and to foster an approach of reading and research so as to cultivate new collectors.

Bose was looking for maximum floor and wall space in a minimalist space – a tall order indeed! The art deco pillars that the heritage space came with, were like four huge sculptures which threatened to upstage the art that would be showcased.

Despite these limitations, Karim managed to fulfill the directors’ dreams of an interactive space – a hub that welcomes and connects people from different walks of life with art through its bookshop cum reading area and onsite café.

This was largely thanks to the passionate involvement of the clients and the creative freedom they gave to their designer.

“Yash and Avanti Birla along with Devaunshi and Dia Mehta imparted their vision for a very international contemporary gallery space, one that could add a real sense of value with regard to sustainability as well. Bose Krishnamachari was very involved in the planning process, including the programming of the space measured against a truly international experience,” recalls Karim, visibly thrilled about this collaborative project. “Their involvement added a real sense of value, and the discussions were very constructive.”

Krishnamachari is equally enthusiastic about the designer. “Nuru is an old friend,” he acknowledges.

“We used to travel and see lots of art exhibitions together, and we wanted to create a few art projects. BMB was a great opportunity for us to execute our ideas.” A fluid space where interesting exhibitions could be mounted is what this director visualised, and he is satisfied that the design enables the space to look different.

“That is possible through a change of colours as well as the construction of temporary walls,” he feels.

The space that BMB inherited was a highly ornate furniture store with lots of arches and glass panels, textured walls, decorated pillars, vinyl flooring, besides an existing curvilinear mezzanine and a longish corridor-like gallery space on one side.

“The compartmentalized space within the 12’6” high ceiling was stripped open and reorganised into larger gallery spaces and smaller cells with in-built transitional, programmatic spaces that the viewer could meander through – such as the bookshop and the café,” explains Karim.

“The main gallery space is defined by a 1’6” thick ‘wall’ and a crevice-linear slit that the viewer could walk through. Smaller spaces were scripted and designed as video installation areas and galleries housing smaller art pieces. A viewing room and store facilities were embedded as well.”

The purpose of having access to the bookshop directly from the street is to create an interface between the city and the gallery space, drawing in new audiences that would otherwise not have visited an art gallery.

Once they step into the bookshop, or the café on the opposite side, glimpses of the art on display would probably arouse their interest and entice them into the gallery.

“The idea was to set up at a programmatic level a contemporary gallery space that would offer intellectual stimulation and breed conversations about art, design and relevant critiques and processes,” points out Karim.

The widely-travelled architect based his understanding of the requirements of a gallery space on his experience of the MOMA and Guggenheim in New York, the Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, amongst others.

This helped him to conceptualise such a space at the levels of design, research, culture, people and the city. The layout he arrived at in consultation with his clients could easily be adapted according to the needs of the show – be it housing larger works of art, installations, sculptures, video installations, photographs or even small prints. What was most challenging, however, was the time frame.

“The pressure was intense, but highly enjoyable,” he recalls.

Karim is quite thrilled about the overwhelming response from regular gallery hoppers as well as casual visitors lured by the books. “The user response has been very encouraging,” he discloses.

“I have seen a larger segment of the youth coming in as well, spending time reading and asking questions – thereby setting up a culture of analysis and critique. Gallery spaces sometimes have to be adaptive in nature, but there are certain galleries that evoke a site-specific response as well.”

It is evident from this project that Corian is the architect’s preferred choice, and the reasons are very clear.

“Corian by Dupont is an extremely flexible and versatile new-age material. Its ability to be thermoformed and CNC’d help digital modes of design and fabrication,” declares Karim.

Note: Gallery BMB, Mumbai, and RS&A Ltd, London, in association with the British Council, will be presenting ‘The Art of Chess’.

On view will be 16 recently-commissioned chess sets created by Maurizio Cattelan, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Oliver Clegg, Tracey Emin, Tom Friedman, Paul Fryer, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, Barbara Kruger, Paul Mc Carthy, Alastair Mackie, Matthew Ronay, Sudarshan Shetty, Tunga, Gavin Turk and Rachel Whiteread. The exhibition will be on from December 14 to January 29.

How BMB came to be
THE CONCEPT: A space that serves as a meeting-point for artists, collectors and students, and fosters an approach of reading/research to cultivate new collectors.

THE EXECUTION: Conceptually, the project literally paints layers of opacity into the gallery space, paint-brushed with pixels and bytes. Another crucial parameter in addition to the “painting layers of opacity” was the control of visibility across the porous material threshold of the system.

The clean stark display panels within the gallery space fold back into tessellated skins with differentiated perforations ranging from 5mm to 50mm.

The tessellated skins form the primary frontage of the gallery space and the tessellated panels fold back into the clean stark minimal interior-scape. The library space forms the bone structure of a similar morphological process, its inclinations serving as laying racks for books and gallery memorabilia.

One shared aspect is the way that computer aided design is instrumentalised. Rather than using representational tools for scalar geometry descriptions, the project employs a parametric associative model that enables a “systems” evolution and subsequent proliferation.

This led to digital fabrication processes such as CNC’d Corian for the tessellated pixel skin in the café space.

Information: courtesy architect Nuru Karim

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