A CHRONICLE OF DHOOMI MAL GALLERY'S CONTRIBUTION TO ART PROMOTION....
|There could not be a better time than the Golden Jubilee
year of Independence to recall the association of Dhoomi Mal Gallery in
the historical development and promotion of Art in India.
Dhoomi Mal Gallery was started by Ram Babu, well known Art Connoisseur of Delhi, in 1936. Ram Babu was more a 'Promoter' than a 'Dealer' of Art. Dhoomi Mal Gallery set up by him was more a meeting place for Artists, Critics and Collectors, than an Art Shop. It was the first of its kind in India. No other city had the counter part of Ram Babu who loved Art and Artists for their own sake and not for the sake of saleability.
Sailoz Mukherjea, so beloved of his contemporaries, was one of the three great pioneers of the Modem Art Movement in the late thirties, the other two being Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher Gill. Universally loved, Dealer-Artist team-Ram Chand Jam and Sailoz Mukherjea-endeared themselves to the artist community not only of Delhi but of the whole country by their warmth and personal charm.
In late thirties Dhoomi Mal Gallery had also started "Kalakar" a sort of Club for Art-minded people who organised musical evenings and sponsored Art Exhibitions. Ram Babu published a series of books of half a dozen painters of the time like Chugtai, Jamini Roy, Sailoz Mukherjea and others. During the forties Art-lovers from all over India visited Dhoomi Mal Gallery whenever they visited Delhi, as this was the only gallery that gave the artists a place under the Sun.
As long ago as the early forties, Ram Babu, the founder of Dhoomi Mal Gallery, wanted the then contemporary Art of India to be popular not only with the elite but among the middle class as well. Inspired by the imported prints of paintings both Indian and Foreign, he launched a programme of publishing portfolios of colour reproductions of the works of the then well known painters like Chughtai, Jamini Roy, D. Badri, Ranee Chanda, Premoja, Sushil Sarkar, Sailoz Mukherjea, Bireshwar Sen, Basab Tagore, Damayanti Chawla, Barada and S. Ukil, the foreign painter of Indian subjects, G. Bonneti, was also included.
In course of time Ram Babu became an institution and by 1945 two things started happening at the same time. One, there emerged an art fraternity that gathered at the Dhoomi Mal Gallery and exchanged their views on topics they were concerned with in connection with their art. Two, there came into being a tiny art market-a group of individual as well as institutional collectors who delighted in partronising both the artist as well as his art. This two pronged development created the dynamics of what in the eighties came to be known as an 'Art Market'. During this long stretch of time artists like Sailoz Mukherjea, K.S. Kulkarni, Biswanath Mukerjee, Ram Kumar, Satish Gujral, Maqbool Fida Husain, F.N. Souza, Sarada Ukil, Promod Chaudhury, Basu Tagore, D. Badri, Nandlal Bose, Gopal Ghosh, Bimal Das Gupta, etc. got attached to the Dhoomi Mal Gallery and both the artists as well as the Gallery, which had taken roots during the intervening years, started looming large on the horizon of modern Indian Art.
Most Artists who were associated with the Dhoomi Mal Gallery in those days, with the passage of time became celebrities of the Indian Art world that firmed its roots and flowered in the seventies and then on never looked back.
The habitual patron of art and the proprietor of the Dhoomi Mal Gallery, Ram Babu, passed away in 1954 at an early age of just 38. The artist community not only in the capital but all over the country mourned this untimely loss to the Indian Art world, both as a warm human being as well as a committed promoter of Indian Art. - But life and history take their own course. His sons, then took up the torch and moved along the course laid down by Ram Babu, their loving father and a committed devotee of Art.
It ought to be put on record that from 1957 onwards, the unflagging art lover of the capital, M.S. Randhawa, started taking keen interest in the affairs of Dhoomi Mal Gallery and helped organise it. Also, veteran artist Manohar Kaul assisted the Gallery in its publication programme. He also penned a book entitled "Trends in Indian Painting". It was this new direction that brought artists like Jaya Appaswamy, Ram Kumar, Laxman Pai, Bhabesh Sanyal, Aswin Modi, Bikash Bhattacharya, Sultan Ah, Piraji Sagra, Amitava Banerji, Jeram Patel etc. close to the Gallery.
The heritage the Sons of Ram Babu had incurred was-the tradition of warm, personal - relationships with the artists and supporting art for arts sake-continued. To them also it was more important to keep alive an art fraternity than just carry on the business of art dealership. Times were changing and art activity was acquiring a commercial colour. A full fledged gallery had come into existence and the establishment had become costlier with the rise of costs all round-framing of art works, printing of catalogues, keeping a show on for weeks and all that was compelling the gallery management to be good businessmen as well. However, Dhoomi Mal Gallery did not allow the commercial aspect of art dealing to impinge on the personal bonds between the artists on one hand and the Gallery on the other.
This new balance allowed the gallery to promote a new generation of artists who were to replace veterans like Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Sailoz Mukherjea, Jamini Roy, Binod Bihari Mukerjea, Bishwanath Mukherjee and so on.
Ravi Jam, who had just returned after some years in America (where also he was promoting Indian Art), was firm in his commitment to both his father's vision and the artists he looked upon as friends. And so the Gallery was reactivated in the seventies towards perhaps its most active and glorious years through the next decade.
Charting out a new course was also necessitated because new trends in contemporary Indian Art were emerging. Hectic activity in the West, particularly the U.S.A., was turning the hour and the minute hands-nay, even the second hands-in the far flung areas of the world where modern art had taken roots. Gone were the days when just the British academic realism, driven by the typical English romanticism (back to the roots, or the countryside) was shaping the responses and approaches of the Indian modernists. Both French and the German art schools were radiating magnetic waves to influence art all over the world. And the American clock was moving faster than their continental brethren who were accustomed to a much easier pace in their creative endeavour. The Indian art scene too was undergoing a radical change both in qualitative and quantitative terms. And Dhoomi Mal Gallery, under Ravi Jam, had to deal with the situation in the best interest of contemporary Indian Art. Ravi Jam concentrated more on the new trends that had appeared on the contemporary art scene. He thus added the third generation of younger artists to the earlier two-the veterans and the middle generation celebrities F.N. Souza, HA Gade, M.F. Hussain, Shanti Dave, Biren De, Anjolie Ela Menon, Krishan Khanna, J. Swaminathan, Shyamal Datta Ray, Manu Pareskh, P.T. Reddy, Sunil Das, Jatin Das, O.P. Sharma, Jogen Chaudhury, Satish Gujaral, G.R. Santosh, S.R. Bhushan, Sohan Quadri, P. Mansaram, Rajendra Dhavan, Eric Bowen, Dilip Das Gupta
Painters like Umesh Varma, Jagadish Dey, K. Damodaran, Gopi Gajwani, Promod Ganapatye, A.K. Raina, M. RedeppaNaidu, Yusuf Arakkal became the new associates of the Gallery. This extended the modernist trends and thrust of the contemporary Indian Art. In fact, the addition of this 'vanguard' of the contemporary Indian Art to the gallery coincided with the rise of the art market to which the neo -rich of the contemporary social millieu with their westernised living and western sensibilities were the main entrants. Besides, the contemporary Indian modernists could also expect support from the West which had good interest in promoting modernism in Indian art.
Ravi Jam, the fourth son of the late Ram Babu, was an art-lover to the core of his heart, and was a true patron, Promoter and connoisseur of Indian Art. It would not be an exaggeration that art to Ravi Jam was more of an addiction than business. In 1979, as told by his wife Uma Jam, Ravi said, that if you want to make money, art is not the line. But this is what made him happy. That is what made me and my husband remain involved in the promotion and the business of Art, says Ms. Uma Jam.
The fast growth of the art market helped Art and the Artists and many more galleries developed. However, Ravi's commitment to Art and the Artist never changed. In the words of Souza-Dhoomi Mal Gallery was a "Mecca for Artists". Genial, warm, hospitable, great lover of Art.... to think of Ravi Jam is to recall the history of Art promotion in the country. It was he who established two more galleries-the "Collectors Gallery" and The "Open air Sculpture Court" in order to provide more scope for the contemporary sculpture and the new-generation art. According to a Mid Day correspondent "Most artists who had come in contact with the late Ravi Jam remember Dhoomi Mal Gallery as a salon rather than a commercial establishment wherein they could share both the talk and the delicacies at the table and avail of the gallery's resources during periods of crisis.
But with the untimely demise of Ravi Jam on 29th September, 1991, a chapter in the history of contemporary Indian Art appeared to have come to an end. A befitting homage was paid to him by friends in the Art world with almost 50 senior artists participating in the exhibition which was held as a tribute to the memory of a veteran art-promoter.
In the words of the late Bimal Das Gupta "And so if Dhoomi Mal Gallery kept the artist going and without exploiting them it sincerely deserves a respectable place in the history of Indian Art. Dhoomi Mal Gallery and Ravi Jam kept up the tradition of caring more for the artist than for the business aspect of the deals".
However, the Contribution of Ravi Jam to Dhoomi Mal Gallery will be incomplete if mention was not made of a grand "Sculpture Festival", shortly before his death. The festival was widely attended/participated in and thus gave birth to his brain-child-the "Open Air Sculpture Garden."
The fast growth of the art market helped the Gallery strengthen its base and after the death of the Gallery's young Director, Ravi Jam on September29, 1991 his lawyer wife, Uma Ravi Jam took over, on behalf of Ravi's young son, Uday Jam. And though this was a great emotional shock both t6 Ravi Jam's family and friends and to the art world in general, thanks to the artists affection for the family and their leanings towards the Gallery, the gatherings at the Gallery of both artists and art-lovers, did not thin out. On the contrary, the Gallery received ever more strength from the artists community and the old time patrons.
At this point of time, it was only appropriate that the family and friends of the late Ravi Jam paid a befitting tribute to his unflagging devotion to contemporary Indian Art and so was born the "Ravi Jam Memorial Trust" for the promotion of Art and the artists. The Trust started functioning from 1992 onwards with a festival of art, jointly organised by the Trust and the Dhoomi Mal Gallery, called the 'Ravi Jam Annual'. The Trust started offering scholarships to the winners of the annual competition, quite a few of whom have joined the main stream of art by now and have started doing well in commercial sense too. From 1992-1997 Ravi Jam Memorial Foundation gave scholarships to more than 15 young artists whose works later on found a place of pride in important collections all over the world.