Kochi's Best Contemporary Art Galleries and Museums
Kochi was once just a popular tourist destination, but is now becoming one of India’s thriving art hubs, thanks to events like the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. During Biennale time, the whole city is abuzz with anticipation over the artistic surprises in store. But even on a normal day, there are many art studios and galleries nurturing the city’s talent. Here are the 10 best art galleries and museums to visit in this beautiful seaside town.
A timeworn Dutch home was transformed 12 years ago into one of Kochi’s most visionary art spaces. Since then the Kashi Art Gallery has constantly reinvented itself and become the cultural home of the contemporary art crowd of Kochi. In 2012, the gallery was restored by the new director Edgar Pinto and curator-director Tanya Abraham. The gallery has since seen important art exhibitions by prolific contemporary artists like GR Iranna, Sosa Joseph, Zakkir Hussein, Anoli Perera and Bose Krishnamachari. The gallery has also hosted several events for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The adjoining café quells hunger pangs by providing tasty treats and excellent coffee to fuel artistic conversations.
Like Kashi Art Gallery, David Hall is also steeped in colonial history. Constructed in 1695 by the Dutch East India Company, the majestic bungalow is named after its last inhabitant, the Jewish businessman David Koder. Today, the building houses an art gallery where a number of exhibitions, talks, live performances, film screenings and artistic workshops take place. Besides being an art gallery, the space serves as a cultural centre for Kochi: it supports contemporary visual practice and helps to build cultural dialogue between different forms of creative expression.
Tucked away in the historic Jewish Quarter of Mattancherry, Vancasso Art Gallery is a must for those who want to buy masterpieces at affordable prices. The gallery specialises in museum quality oil paintings, which are expertly rendered by highly talented artists. The gallery has stunning replicas of famous artworks, both Indian and European, which are guaranteed to brighten up any blank wall. The ardent attention to detail and unwavering faithfulness to the original painting technique guarantee that these works come as close to the masterpiece as possible. The gallery also features a collection of contemporary art that include cityscapes of Kochi.
This beautiful architectural marvel, situated by the waterside, is another one of Kochi’s gems impregnated with colonial history. Formerly this dockside warehouse was used to store goods that were loaded onto waiting ships. Now, after undergoing restoration and renewal, the Dutch style heritage building accommodates a courtyard café, an art gallery, artist studios and serves as an event space for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Pepper House also runs an artist residency programme, which is an initiative lead by the Biennale team. The residency aims to create cultural discourse through artistic collaboration between artists, cultural institutions and the local community. Eventually there are plans to transform Pepper House into a versatile cultural space where various artistic activities will be promoted.
Aspinwall House is named after John H. Aspinwall, an English trader who made Kochi his home. The sea-facing building served as the headquarters of his company Aspinwall & Company Ltd., which traded in different products from the arable state of Kerala, such as pepper, ginger, spices, coir, coffee and tea. Today, the building has been transformed into a cultural hub by serving as the primary venue for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The building has given itself to the production of artistic creativity. The formerly austere clinical spaces now throb and pulsate with colour and vivacity. Some very promising artists have displayed their art works here, including the tuk-tuk by Giuseppe Stampone and site-specific installations by Subodh Gupta, Vivan Sundaram and Shreyas Karle.
Besides Aspinwall House, the other venue at the centre stage of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is Moidu’s Heritage Plaza. This former warehouse of Allepey Company (a coir trading business) is rundown and dingy, but it is this very quality that becomes the strength of the venue, thus making it a fascinating place to exhibit art. Ernesto Neto’s installation with spices, from the 2012-13 biennale, evoked the image of Kerala at its most abundant, something that the gallery’s history also reflects. The conversation that ensued between the venue and the displayed work provided the entire visual experience with an evocative air. It is the rustic nature of Moidu’s Heritage that has made it one of Kochi’s most experimental and innovative contemporary art venues.
Chaithanya Art Gallery has consistently endeavoured to build an artistic platform that promotes established and contemporary trends in Indian art. It showcases art that challenges and provokes existing trends and gives way to more groundbreaking forms of creative expression. The gallery features many talented Indian artists, both established as well as upcoming ones. Some of these are Zakkir Hussain, Bose Krishnamachari, P. Gopinath and George Martin PJ. Cultural enrichment and accessibility of art being the primary goal of the gallery, it comes as no surprise that the gallery also enables art enthusiasts to view their art exhibitions online via their Online Art Gallery.
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At every turn in the city of Kochi, the grandeur and splendour of Kerala’s rich heritage comes to play. But to witness its full cultural impact, one needs to head to Kerala Museum. The façade of the museum is imposing and grand, the gardens are well manicured and the wide display of art and artifacts are eclectic and pay homage to the state’s visual history. Spread over three floors, the art gallery in the museum has a collection of over 200 Indian masterpieces. Works by virtuosos such as Raja Ravi Varma, MF Hussain, Francis Souza, Jamini Roy and Krishen Khanna adorn the walls and give an indication of India in all its artistic glory.