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April 03, 2020

Method Gallery’s Sahil Arora On COVID-19’s Impact On The Art World

Words by Anandita Bhalerao

The founder of the experimental space in Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda speaks to Verve about how COVID-19’s lockdown measures are affecting private galleries and artists across the country.

Sahil Arora is the founder of Method Gallery, a contemporary art space that opened its doors early last year with an exhibition by visual artist Anirudh Mehta. In the year since, Method has showcased the work of young and talented artists and photographers including Rema Chaudhary, Avani Rai, and Amonwan Mirpuri. As art institutions the world over struggle to stay afloat in the midst of a global pandemic, we spoke to Arora about how the government’s 21-day lockdown will affect the art world in India.

How will the COVID-19 lockdown impact the business of art in India?
The entire economy has already been and will continue to be significantly impacted during and post the lockdown. I have always looked at art as a premium purchase and that is going to be effected by this significantly. At the same time, art consumers and collectors in India are usually the elite and the real question in a situation like this is whether they’re deeply impacted by these fluctuations other than in a notional sense.

How are you finding your way around the events you had lined up during this time?
We had a show lined up in the first week of April with a local artist that is pushed. After that, we were scheduled to open one of our most exciting shows with Maya Vara, a New York based artist, that we have now decided to push to Jan 2021. It’s unfortunate that in our first year we’re experiencing a shutdown of operations that could last indefinitely, just at a time when things were picking up. Of course, it’s something that’s out of our control. There’s a deep level of empathy among people in this situation and that’s enough to tide us by.

How do you think the lockdown is affecting the art practices of the artists you know?
Artists work in isolation but don’t exist in isolation. There are several artists who thrive on social interaction to find inspiration. The lockdown however does allow for a period of more secluded introspection and creation which artists are embracing as an opportunity to explore different facets of how and what they create. However, for at least some of them, the mental stress of not having a steady income, as well as the general unknown the entire world is facing, can have detrimental effects on productivity even if they have the time.

You recently launched the Method Magazine. What role do you envision it playing during this time?
A lot of people are hyper-focused on the pandemic, which can be overwhelming. It’s not even possible for a lot of people to conceive of reading a book right now. But, perhaps they can read an article about something interesting, and walk away feeling slightly better than they did before. But, we didn’t create the Magazine just for the pandemic. The Method Magazine is something that we’ve wanted to do since we opened. The lockdown allowed us a little more time to focus on it. Just like the gallery, the magazine exists to share stories of creatives that others in the mainstream would tend to explore. We’ll be sharing our views on art, music, film and literature. During this period, we hope people will take a little time out to read slightly more in depth articles about artists instead of just glancing through headlines. We’ve made a conscious decision to feature artists that are unfamiliar not just with the Indian mainstream, but also with the Indian underground. Method has, and will continue, to be global in its perspective, discovery, curation and communication.

An increasing number of global museums and galleries going online in the wake of the crisis and are able to provide virtual tours and experiences. How do you think this bodes for the future of having physical art spaces? Do you have plans for a virtual space for Method in the future?
Experiencing art in a physical space will never be replaced by virtual experiences. At least not until significant improvements are made in the augmented and virtual reality fields. Digital experiences are important but until the gap between a digital and physical experience is reduced, galleries and museums will continue to have their audience. My background for the last 10 years has been in the digital space, so for us the digital medium has been important since the outset. Currently, our focus with digital will be on communication and brand building. We aren’t looking to substitute the gallery experience with a virtual one. In fact, Method was started because we felt a void caused by overwhelming reliance on the digital experience. We wanted to see some of our favourite artists’ works up close and in person as opposed to a 6″ screen.

 

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