Citi is an American multinational banking and financial services corporation. It has a long and venerable relationship with India, beginning operations in the subcontinent in 1902, and today it operates in 28 cities nationally. The art collection has been built up over the last 40 years or so. It is painting-specific and is marked by an eclecticism that is as much a function of the Indian art scene, as it is of the successive generations of Citi senior management who have been involved in acquiring art for the company.
Pramit Jhaveri, the CEO of Citi India since 2010, has worked with the company since 1987. Together with his wife, Mukeeta, he has developed a keen interest in art and has been key to the wide-ranging initiatives related to the collection since 2011.
The earliest paintings owned by Citi were executed in the early 1970s and the most recent are from around the beginning of the millennium. There are representative works by the majority of prominent artists of that era, including Anjolie Ela Menon, Badri Narayan, Manu Parekh and Prabhakar Kolte.
There are also significant works by artists of the modern era who were still very active through into the 1980s, including Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar and M F Husain.
Citi owns four works by V S Gaitonde; one lithograph and three canvases. The print dates from 1958 and is an extremely rare work, both in terms of its subject matter and medium. The canvas paintings are from a later point in the artist’s career, when he had moved to abstract compositions, and each is important in its own right. In totality, the Citi Gaitondes represent a very significant holding of one of India’s greatest painters of the 20th century. Interestingly, it was Jhaveri’s encounter with one of the artist’s works in a colleague’s cabin in the Delhi office, that set in train many of the recent art related activities at the group. It occurred to him that such magnificent works should be recognised as such, rather than be used only in the service of decorating spaces. This project was executed by the Realty Services Team, and supported by Shahin Dastur from Corporate Affairs, which is headed up by Debasis Ghosh.
With the move of Citi’s India HQ to the First International Financial Centre, in BKC, the team initiated a wholesale art programme that sought to understand and itemise the totality of the collection and, once done, bring to Mumbai all significant works.
Shireen Gandhy of Chemould Prescott Road was engaged to undertake this process and, together with Mukeeta, 250 paintings were identified and an extensive conservation programme then swung into gear on this group. Pune-based restorer S Girikumar was tasked with this job and was given a temporary lab in an erstwhile squash court on campus.
The Citi India Art Project grew out of the completion of this first phase of consolidation and conservation. In 2012 around 30 works from the collection were displayed at the Jehangir Art Gallery during its diamond jubilee celebrations, which coincided with the Citi 200-year celebrations.
The display of the artworks over the six floors of Citi’s BKC office has been a labour of love on the part of the Jhaveri couple.
There are a host of curated areas that focus on the various strengths of the collection including boardrooms devoted solely to artists such as Ram Kumar and B Prabha. The trading floor pays homage to works in monochrome, with paintings ranged around a room teaming with monitors and hi tech gadgetry. There is also a corridor devoted to watercolours. A label with basic information accompanies each of the works on display. There is also a comprehensive list of all the works available to view online at Citi’s India website.
One of the results of this concerted action has been to instill pride in employees in regard to the collection. Indeed during the move to new offices, an opportunity was given to actually choose works for cabins.
Additionally, Citi displays and shares some of the works at its annual Citi-NCPA Aadi Anant Festival of Indian Music — in partnership with the NCPA. Works have also been loaned and exhibited nationally.
Other art related initiatives include sponsoring a past edition of Mumbai Gallery Weekend and a recent partnership with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) to conserve 150 art objects in the museum’s collection that span a 4,000 year history.
The seriousness with which Citi treat their art, and the visibility that they are keen to give it, could serve as a template for any number of corporate art collections. It is one thing to have acquired artworks, it is quite another to make it a talking point amongst employees, alumni and the art community at large. This is what marks out the Citi art collection as very special.