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A milestone 15, a showcase of artistic talent

When Supriya Banerjee opened Galerie 88, women ruled the art world of Calcutta. Lady Ranu Mookerjee had been the czarina of this world from the 1950s. But in the late 80s, a number of very enterprising women opened galleries of their own, even if the space they could boast of was very limited. Most of those galleries have become history now.

Galerie 88, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary, has moved from strength to strength. It began as a tiny room that commanded a good view of Theatre Road. To it was added the room just above, which opened with a large Bikash Bhattacharjee exhibition in 1992. Last year, Galerie 88 acquired another room across the corridor, which, too, opened with an exhibition of sketches Bikash Bhattacharjee had done as a student. The ground-floor room has become a showroom of high quality imported paints and conservation and restoration materials. As Banerjee says: “We go step by step.”

Banerjee says she became interested in art early in life. She remembers the wonderful annual exhibitions at the Academy of Fine Arts, where artists from abroad participated. After her marriage, she went into advertising, when her husband gave her a proposal to run a gallery. Many had expressed doubts then about the practicality of such a venture. But Banerjee says it never occurred to her that she was a woman and, therefore, disadvantaged.

Since then, Galerie 88 has held many significant exhibitions. Here, Ganesh Pyne held his first solo exhibition of illustrations of a book by Sripantha, entitled Metiaburujer Nabab. The retrospective of Dharmanarayan Dasgupta organised after his death was a major triumph. It travelled to Delhi and Mumbai, and a neatly-edited volume was brought out on the occasion with the help of art historian Tapati Guha Thakurata, who also contributed an article on the artist. F.N. Souza held his first and last exhibition in Calcutta here. Mira Mukherjee, too, had displayed her sculptures here. Of the women artists, the gallery reminded us of the potential of Amina Kar.

Banerjee has enjoyed the sponsorship of Oberoi and travelled with the exhibition to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Hebbar opened the exhibition in Mumbai. That gave her an opportunity to know more people. Last year, under the sponsorship of the Union Bank of Switzerland, Galerie 88 held an exhibition of 20 artists in London. Every year, it organises a prints show. Krishna Reddy, Sanat Kar and the Glasgow Prints Studio, along with British Council, are among these.

Critic Pranabranjan Ray says its achievement has been to showcase local artists as well as to hold exhibitions in collaboration with galleries in Mumbai and Delhi. It has brought to prominence many little-known artists. So, marketability is not its only criterion.

Artist Shyamal Datta Ray says over the years, artists have learnt to repose faith in the gallery. The gallery has started collecting a body of work by various artists. Supriya Banerjee is open to suggestions, says Jayashree Chakravarti.

The gallery has to its credit several crowd-pullers. At one time, it organised a street play with Amitabh Bachchan, Pritish Nandy and Anupam Kher, when people went mad. And when M.F. Husain came with his Gajagamini, he was nearly mobbed. A Jayashree Chakravarti and a Jitish Kallat exhibition are in the pipeline.

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