Gallery Espace was established in New Delhi in 1989 by Renu Modi with the encouragement of M F Husain who also designed its distinctive galloping horse logo. The legendary painter was a friend of the Modis, one of India’s foremost industrialists with a rich history of contribution in nation-building; in the mid-1980s, he also designed the Modi family home in New Delhi, which remains his only sculptural installation*. Spurred by her friendship with Husain, Manjit Bawa and other artists, Mrs Modi found herself drawn into the world of Indian art. And when Husain spoke of the need for professionally run galleries in the then rapidly growing Indian art market, she decided to take the plunge.
Gallery Espace opened its doors in October 1989 with a show of autobiographical works* by Husain. It was located in a small boardroom of a corporate office in New Delhi’s upscale New Friends Colony market. Three decades on, it continues to occupy the same address though it is now a two tiered space with state-of-the-art lighting and display systems.
Though she had no formal training in art or art history, Mrs Modi charted a singular path for Gallery Espace. In just a few years, the Gallery had gained a reputation for innovative programming with a succession of large-scale exhibitions dedicated to a single medium or material – Drawing’94, Sculpture’95, Miniprint’96, and later Bronze (2006). These were landmark shows as they turned the spotlight on these artwork categories which had traditionally lacked exhibition patronage.
Over the decades, the Gallery cemented its reputation by supporting fresh talent and experimental art practices with shows such as Self & The World (1997), a group show of 15 women artists; In Conversation (2001), a show of sketch books and works on paper; Kitsch Kitsch Hota Hai (2001); Dots & Pixels (2003), a show of computer graphics; Leela (2003), which brought together Bhupen Khakar, Amit Ambalal, Atul and Anju Dodiya; The Margi and the Desi (2004); Lo Real Maravilloso (2009) and two editions of Video Wednesday (2008-09 & 2011-12), a festival of video art which turned the spotlight on new media practices. Among other important shows at the Gallery were Nilima Sheikh’s Drawing Trails , A Cry from the Narrow Between , Drawing Show , Drawings from 1960-2000 , Diary Entries , the India-Sri Lanka joint project A Tale of Two Cities (2016), and five solo shows by Zarina, among them Weaving Darkness and Silence .
The gallery has worked with several generations of artists down the years – from the Bombay Progressives such as Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar and Krishen Khanna, to J Swaminathan, Manjit Bawa, Krishna Reddy, Bhupen Khakar, Laxma Gaud, Jogen Choudhury, Jeram Patel, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Manu Parekh, and Anupam Sud, and also Subodh Gupta, Sudarshan Shetty, Ravinder Reddy, and Kishnamachari Bose, among the Contemporaries. The Gallery has also served as a launch pad for emerging artists of promise, several of whom such as B. Manjunath Kamath and G.R. Iranna are now established names. It continues to promote fresh talent, with recent additions to its roster such as the Nepali artist Harendra Kushwaha whose practice involves cutting and weaving paper, and Ishita Chakraborty, recipient of the 2020-21 Visiting Artist Fellowship of the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University. Kushwaha and Chakraborty join the distinguished list of artists represented by Gallery Espace that includes Zarina, Nilima Sheikh, Kamath, Iranna, Chitra Ganesh, Shambhavi and Ravi Agarwal, to name a few.
The Gallery has also come out with several critical publications which include: Weaving Darkness—Zarina Hashmi, Trace-Retrace—Nilima Sheikh, Flux—Ravi Agarwal, Confessions of an Evil Orientalist by Waswo X Waswo, Bronze—Celebrating Centenary of Ramkinker Baij. It is a regular at the India Art Fair, and also participates in fairs abroad such as Art Basel Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi Art, Armory Show and Art Dubai.
Today Gallery Espace is a well-known brand recognised and respected in India and abroad for its nuanced aesthetic, bringing together Indian and contemporary sensibilities, its inter-disciplinary approach to programming and professional probity.