When Ashwin Thadani founded Galerie Isa in 2010, he had never thought that his ‘passion project’ would be successful enough for him to start looking for a bigger space. He had travelled extensively through art fairs in London, Berlin, New York and Basel and yearned to recreate a space back home that showcased international contemporary art. “No one was interested in western art shows in Mumbai, but the challenge only intrigued me further,” he says. His patience has paid off and now, the gallery has moved to the iconic Kamani Chambers in Ballard Estate. The 5000-square-feet space is as dramatic as the shows Thadani intends to host.
When he first stepped into the cavernous, dilapidated ground floor space last year, Thadani knew that this is where his hunt would end. “I had always visualised a large gallery hall with a high ceiling and a very nice, private viewing room,” he recalls. “And this space with its arched doorways and Corinthian pillars seemed just right,” he says. Interior designer Shreya Tanna was brought on board and after a gruelling-six months of planning and sourcing material from different cities, the space was finally ready for its first show in December featuring work by London-based artist duo Idris Khan and Annie Morris.
Galerie Isa is an ode to the tasteful galleries Thadani has visited on his frequent trips to Berlin. Thadani and Tanna were very clear about not restructuring the charming architecture of the space, so they polished the 100-year old marble flooring in the sweeping hallway and retained the stone arches and pillars. “We painted the entire space in white so that natural light would reflect off it, creating an overpowering sense of space and radiance,” Thadani adds. To keep the natural character of the chamber intact, the library has exposed brick walls that lend it an extra edginess. But the show-stealer is an ancient art deco chandelier, a gift from his aunt. “I had fallen in love with the chandelier when I visited my aunt in Hong Kong, 20 years ago. A year before she died, she sent it across with a note saying she wanted me to have it. I just knew this had to be a part of the décor,” he adds.
A self-proclaimed art addict, he now hopes to dream bigger with the new space. “When I started out, sales were very tough, footfall was low and I was struggling to keep the place afloat,” he says. “But I always trusted my instincts and I know there is still lot of potential in the international art market, irrespective of what the popular notion is.” With the new, unrestricted space, he believes artists will feel more invigorated to create work that’s astounding. His most triumphant moment? “When people walk into the gallery and feel like they have been transported to a foreign land. A lot of people have told me that its clearly on par with international galleries,” he beams.