The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A fine space for displaying art

An unusually nice space has opened in Hindustan Park for holding exhibitions of paintings and other works of art. The alternative space was, and still is, the furniture shop Akar Prakar run by a Jaipur-based family of collectors of objets díart.

It is housed in a low rise with a striking-looking white gate. Next to it is a tiny but heavily ornamented old building. Thus, unembellished Akar Prakar stands out in contrast.

Akar Prakar is open plan, which allows one end of the space to be viewed from another remote point. This is particularly advantageous when works being exhibited are hung on the walls of basically two large halls and a smaller room, and another open-air space beyond, opposite a kerchief-sized but well-tended lawn.

Strategically-placed mirrors enhance the sense of spaciousness. The patch of green boasts a flower tree and a sliver of water. During exhibitions, one can catch glimpses of paintings right from the street through the two gateways. The open-air space is actually the boundary wall, canopied and lit with rows of lamps that evenly illuminate the paintings. This is something one can hardly say about most galleries that have opened of late in Calcutta.

The house, constructed in the 50s, belongs to the Lath family, and the shop is run by Abhijit, 36, who has come to live here recently with his family. The shop opened in 2001.

Since they are in the interiors business and the family is known for its connoisseurship, Abhijit decided to hold art exhibitions here. He has plans of starting a coffee-and-tea shop soon, where the beverages will be sold at rates much lower than what prevail in new-fangled coffee shops. Later, he says, classical concerts could be held in the lawn.

Coming from Lath this is believable for the works of Susmit Biswas, displayed at the first exhibition, are being sold for a song. Abhijit says he wants to encourage people to buy art, and buy more often, and not to be put off by prohibitive prices. So tiny sketches are priced at Rs 500 each. Abhijit says even when he holds exhibitions of better-known artists he will keep a few items that people can buy without burning a hole in their pocket.

This is in keeping with Akar Prakarís strategy of keeping the prices of furniture reasonable, if not low. The emphasis of the furniture designs is on comfort and simplicity. Mostly made of wood, the lines of the furniture are modern without being starkly Scandinavian. This makes them easy to live with in Indian homes.

Some of the designs are borrowed straight from their traditional Indian counterparts, such as the low chairs (beginning at Rs 500) and seats. The racks are practical. They require low maintenance and are made of high quality materials with a matt melamine finish.

All the furniture is designed by Abhijitís mother Neerja keeping modern flats in mind. She started the business in 1980. The furniture is manufactured in Jaipur.

Abhijit says he is committed to promoting the kind of art he likes, and that does not include Rajasthani art. Given the fact that he has chosen Susmit Biswas, he obviously prefers the contemporary idiom. Apart from exhibitions, book readings could be held.

Already, a small Bengali publishing house has shown some interest in the space. A shelf will be kept for displaying the Bengali books the publisher has brought out.

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