News + Views
Published online: June 8, 2017
“The audience at Documenta 14 will be invited to be witness to the transformations that the performance, the intuitive act of drawing, and the intensity of the patterns in persona that will unravel as the experience of aural and visual streams blend into one’s consciousness.
At his show in London last year Nikhil gave an insight into his working: “I think drawing or making maps or taking photographs or making images of something … [is] … an act of claiming ownership over it. My take on it is to reclaim a certain kind of history, to return, in fact, [to] this orientalist discussion about the Western traveller coming to the East and making documents and taking them back home. I want to be the oriental, perhaps, that comes to the West and makes drawings… And makes chronicles and perhaps goes back home to India with… documentation of that.”
This is an apt epitaph in the land of Greeks and stoic legions of literature and the arts”.
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Published online: June 24, 2017
The Indian presence was fairly strong in Athens and Kassel, thanks, presumably, to one of the exhibition’s advisors, Natasha Ginwalla, who is the first Indian to have made it to the top echelon of international curators. Delhi artist Amar Kanwar was accorded the singular honour of being invited to documenta for the fourth consecutive exhibition.
My favourite Indian piece in Kassel was the performance artist Nikhil Chopra’s Drawing a Line Through Landscape. Chopra is known for performances that last hours or even days. For documenta, he stretched that timeline further, travelling from Athens to Kassel by road, sleeping in a tent and painting onto its canvas sides representations of the landscapes he traversed. That tent, along with a video capturing moments from his East European sojourn, and the paintings he made, now stitched together in one long panorama,were presented in an abandoned underground station in Kassel, where he ended his 28-day performance.
Not only is Chopra an unflagging performer of rare stamina and concentration, he is also an excellent draughtsman, capable of producing vigorous drawings and carefully-wrought likenesses in difficult circumstances. What do I mean by difficult? Try painting on the cloth of a tent on a windy day, or even on a still day. His performances require heaps of skill, and their meaning grows out of it. I’m heartily sick of discovering the point of a work solely through reading about the its historical context in the wall text, or through a sappy biographical back-story, and there was far too much of that in documenta 14.”
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When Terminal 2 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, operated by GVK, was opened in early 2014, the art collection was presented as one of its most compelling features. Now more than a year later, it is interesting to revisit the terminal to assess the success of the ambitious art programme.
The initial impetus to acquire art came from Sanjay Reddy, Managing Director of Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd. and his wife, Aparna (Pinky), who understood that art could be a powerful way of introducing aspects of a complex culture such as India’s. They were also aware of the fragile state of many of the traditional crafts in the country. Committed collectors themselves, the Reddys reached out to one of India’s greatest art personalities of the last half century, Rajeev Sethi.
“We met Rajeev at a time when the new terminal was yet to be constructed,” recalls Sanjay Reddy. “Art displays are a common feature at many airports around the world. We aimed for more. Our objective was to create something that would be steeped in India’s culture and stand apart from all other airports. We wanted Rajeev to conceptualise and curate an entire museum within the airport that would reflect the depth and range of Indian art, a museum so captivating that people wouldn’t mind giving their flight a miss.
Moreover the collection would need to be supported by the architectural framework of the terminal. It was a colossal task that called for crystalclear vision and creative genius and Rajeev delivered, like only he can, surpassing our expectations and possibly his own. We, and Indian art, have a lot to thank him for.”
It is difficult to overstate the impact that Sethi has had both nationally and internationally in promoting the arts of South Asia and, in particular, the dying traditions of India’s master craftsmen. His eye for quality is unparalleled and with the kind of spaces available at Terminal 2, coupled with enviable resources, the result was always going to be a significant statement as to the state of the arts in India in the first quarter of the 21st Century.
An acquisitions spree began around 2011 and would, ultimately, result in a collection numbering over 5000. These works were gradually collected together in Mumbai where art conservation consultant Anupam Sah and team were in charge of assessing items for necessary conservation work. The collection is primarily object-based and spans a vast spread of the subcontinent’s art history. The organising principle that Sethi employed was the idea of Thresholds, a potent symbol for an airport situated, as it is, at a threshold between India and the rest of the world.
In the four years that it took the terminal to be fully realised, the art team worked closely with artists and craftsmen to complete artworks that were, in many cases, very complex to produce. Full mock-ups were produced in order to assess the viability of individual pieces. Now that some time has passed since the opening of the terminal, it is heartening to note that the vast bulk of the artworks remain in perfect working order.
The first area to be completed was in the arrivals section of the Terminal and consisted of a number of large format works that run alongside the many travelators. Here contemporary artists such as Vivan Sundaram, Samit Das and Meera Devidayal have conceived of works that talk in general to the idea of India in all its heterogeneity.
In the terminal, Sethi, in the guise of a scenographer, has designed the layout of the art collection in the manner that sets are designed for the theatre. The challenge here is that vast walls, in height and width, are encountered over multiple levels. Accordingly, each of Sethi’s scenes are densely installed with works, at least some of which can be enjoyed from whatever the vantage point of the viewer. The artwork is now all but installed and a new, exciting, phase is about to begin under the stewardship of Yamini Telkar, who has recently been brought on as head of the Jaya He GVK New Museum.
This is a space inside the terminal that has already seen three exhibitions, including ones focusing on the traditional arts of Bengal and one on Gond painting from Madhya Pradesh. Telkar also oversees the art shop that sells a multitude of specially commissioned works by the craftsmen involved in the initial acquisitions period. This ongoing involvement is in the aim of providing sustainable employment for these communities.
“India is home to several old art forms, many of which have been confined to the specific communities or regions of their origin for decades,” Telkar observes. “However the country itself is opening up to international audiences on several fronts, art included, and there is a wonderful opportunity to bring talented artists into global limelight by giving contemporary expression to traditional art forms. It’s a large part of the work we do here. The underlying objective is to share this magnificent collection of art with the people of India and the world beyond this airport.”
Telkar hopes to increase awareness of the airport’s art collection and activities through bringing groups — in particular school children— to see the works. In terms of outreach, she has already organised several talks in south Mumbai around topics, and with speakers, specific to the ongoing exhibitions at the airport gallery. There are also plans afoot to present aspects of the collection in spaces connected with more local forms of transport, perhaps at bus terminals or train stations.
Underpinning all of the art related activity at Terminal 2 over the last four years is the idea of ‘reconnecting’. The team at the airport rightly believes that art has the ability to reconnect audiences with the best of a culture. They hope that this idea will appeal to Indian nationals and non-Indians alike. It is undoubtedly the case that they have been successful in the first phase of the life of the art collection. The key now is for the Jaya He GVK airport collection to reconnect with the audience that resides in the city it calls home.
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.
The RPG art collection is probably the largest privately owned repository of modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures in India. It is the outcome of three decades of collecting on the part of the company’s chairman, Harsh Goenka. Throughout this period artworks have been installed prominently in offices owned and operated by the company.
RPG is a major player in domains like power distribution, information technology, infrastructure, tyres, plantations and pharmaceuticals. Harsh has been chairman since 1988 when he took over from his father, R P Goenka. He also inherited a family passion for art, music and the scholarly world surrounding these disciplines.
Growing up in Kolkata in the early 1970s, Harsh was inducted into art by way of the outstanding miniature collection that the family had built up and which the young boy was given charge of cataloguing. Hasselblad camera at the ready, it would take up to 15 minutes to shoot a single artwork. This exacting work gave him a deep appreciation for art, even if it also left him with a lifelong aversion to miniatures.
His introduction to modern and contemporary art came when Parmeshwar Godrej agreed to undertake the interior design of his new apartment. This was in the late 1980s. He describes her as a woman of ‘impeccable taste’, and it was under her tutelage that he first encountered the few galleries that were active at this time. Beyond Mumbai, his taste for collecting soon saw him get interested in Kolkatabased artists and the school of painting known as neo-Bengal. Traversing half-hidden bylanes by foot, the romance of studio visits soon had Harsh addicted to the process of seeing and acquiring work by this group of artists.
Before long, the desire to mount exhibitions took hold. The first of these was a group show that brought together 75 artists, each producing two works, on the theme of Bombay. Held at the Jehangir Art Gallery, it was on a scale not hitherto seen in the city and attracted huge crowds. The entire exercise was not for profit and kick-started many years of hosting exhibitions, both at the NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art) and the Jehangir. In tandem with regular exhibitions, Harsh also has been holding art camps in collaboration with his friend, the gallerist Vikram Sethi. His enthusiasm for these events is evident; “Some of my best times have been in the art camps. That is the time that the artists are relaxed. You get to know them and their techniques.” It was during the first of these camps that the collector began to request artists to leave behind a small work that was either a self-portrait or, else, a portrait of another artist. This became an obsession of sorts and up to the present moment, he has assembled over 800 works of this nature.
Asked if he regrets not buying any particular works, he recalls eight important Gaitondes that were once available from the widow of a collector, at one lakh rupees each. The result is that he has no examples by one of India’s greatest abstract painters. These individual gaps are more than made up by supremely good examples of paintings by artists such as S H Raza, Ram Kumar, Jehangir Sabavala and M F Husain. From the generation of mid-career artists adorning the walls in RPG House in Worli are two fabulous Atul Dodiya canvas paintings, one of which, Dr Patel’s Clinic – Lamington Road (1995), is simply one of the most important works to have been executed in the last 30 years. In this painting, Dodiya liberally quotes from Indian art history including vignettes in the style of many luminaries that have informed his own practice (artists such as Anju Dodiya and Sudhir Patwardhan). This a painting about painting, housed amid works by the very artists that Dodiya seeks to acknowledge. There could be no better home for it.
Goenka considers himself to have a collection that is not concerned with art history but, rather, is the result of the “whims and fancies of one person”. While it is true that he does not share the standard institutional desire for completeness, what he does have in common with any great contemporary art collection, is a sense of being a part of a certain moment.
Alfred Barr, the legendary first director of MoMA, New York, once said that a museum of contemporary art should be like a comet, with its head in the present and its tail in the everreceding past. This perfectly describes the nature of Goenka’s acquisitions logic, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s. He says he would ultimately like the collection to be housed in more museum-like conditions. This space would be located centrally, as accessibility is something he is keenly aware of. Mumbai would benefit immeasurably from such a project.
Deutsche Bank is a leading global investment bank, with more than 78,000 employees in over 70 countries worldwide. Though mainly active in Germany and Europe, the bank has a significant presence in emerging markets such as India. Spread throughout 900 offices globally, the Deutsche Bank art collection is acknowledged as the largest of its kind in the world. Acquisitions have concentrated mainly in the area of works on paper: the total number of individual artworks is now an astonishing 60,000 (by around 5,000 artists).
The collection is overseen in Frankfurt by a team led by Friedhelm Huette. Its senior curator is Alistair Hicks, whose knowledge of Indian contemporary art has been critical in placing work from South Asia into the Germany-based HQ in the recent past.
The story of the bank’s relationship with art in India begins in 1993 at the same time that the Tata Palace (in the Fort area of the city) was purchased and transformed into Deutsche Bank House. A key figure in building the collection was Bernhard Steinruecke, who went on to be General Manager and Joint CEO, India, of Deutsche Bank.
His wife, Ranjana, and motherin-law Usha Mirchandani, are renowned art consultants and gallerists. In concert with the art team in Frankfurt, an ambitious art acquisitions programme evolved. In addition, existing works from the permanent collection were sent over from Germany.
The art collection was distributed to offices around India with each artwork carefully catalogued and barcoded, allowing easy identification. This became a godsend when, in 2013, the bank’s national headquarters were moved to Mumbai and it was decided to concentrate the collection in the new offices at Capital building, located at Bandra Kurla Complex.
With the return of the collection to Mumbai, the management took the wise step of instituting a wide-ranging conservation programme.
Anupam Sah, who has gained acclaim for his work with the CSMVS Museum, was given the lead of the programme. He created a temporary laboratory in an office at the Deutsche Bank HQ. Many of the 250 works in the collection are being treated with a view to restoring the paintings and drawings to their original condition: this process should be complete by the end of 2015.
Spread over two floors, the new hang was overseen by the company’s present India head, Ravneet Gill, himself a keen art lover. His appreciation of the collection is unalloyed: “The Deutsche Bank art collection is a discerning amalgam of Indian and German artworks.
The collection is a wonderful expression of our engagement with society and commitment to promoting culture. These works, spread across our headquarters, bring a unique aesthetic and vibrancy to the work space and enables colleagues not only to enjoy them, but also acquire a deeper appreciation of the vital role art plays in our lives.”
Since the period of local acquisitions is centred around the period of the 1990s, a visitor today is treated to a very specific moment in the history of Indian modern and contemporary art. Highlights include artworks by Bhupen Khakhar, Vivan Sundaram, Rekha Rodwittya, Prabhakar Barwe, Gieve Patel, Atul Dodiya, Nalini Malani and Jitish Kallat.
A work by the well-known painter Sudhir Patwardhan, entitled Chakravyuh, is one of the truly standout works in the collection. The painting is marinated in Mumbai’s chaotic street scenes. The city’s railway system is represented strongly in the multiple narrative threads embedded in the work, and speaks to the fact that trains carry with them the hopes and dreams of Mumbaikars and immigrants alike. The lot of the working class is a crucial concern of the artist, and it is all the more striking to encounter Patwardhan’s slice of gritty social realism in the context of the hallowed walkways of the Deutsche Bank office.
Much of the art on display is hung in corridors and in seating areas. One particularly successful installation includes etchings by George Baselitz, one of Germany most famous living artists. The group has been framed sympathetically with natural wood profiles and is displayed on a curved wall, set back from the building’s glass facade, that allows a vista of a huge swathe of the city. It is hard to imagine a better way to enjoy the work of any artist, let alone an acknowledged heavyweight such as Baselitz.
The Deutsche Bank collection in India is a wonderful example of how a company with a large international footprint can effectively engage with the cultural specifities of the countries in which it operates. This, without losing any of the cultural markers of its place of origin.
Sangita Jindal is determined to use her position in society for good. Each day is carved into thin precise slices, each slice devoted to one of the myriad projects that she supports.
Arts and culture has always figured prominently in her outlook, and her most recent project may well be one of her most ambitious. A significant number of works from her personal art collection have now found a permanent home at the new headquarters of the JSW Group located in Bandra Kurla. In the execution of this process she has set the standard in the region for the display of art in corporate settings.
She was first exposed to art growing up in Kolkata where her mother, Urmilla Kanoria, was an active patron of the arts (and was also responsible for the Kanoria Arts Centre in Ahmedabad). Early in her art journey Sangita had the chance to work with the legendary arts administrator Jamshed Bhabha, at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA). Out of this interaction was born the Jindal Arts Creative Interaction Centre (JACIC) in 1994. It was later established as the cultural arm of JSW Foundation, known in those days as the Jindal South West Foundation. JSW Steel is one of India’s leading private sector steel producers. It is spread over six locations in India and has a footprint that extends to the US, South America and Africa. As honorary director of JACIC, Sangita’s aim was to promote interdisciplinary arts activity with a view to support and develop appreciation of art and culture.
The next major initiative was the launch of the publication Art India in 1996. Having worked with Anupa Mehta at JACIC, Sangita invited her to become the first editor of the magazine. Over the intervening 19 years, Art India has borne witness to the changing landscape of Indian contemporary art and has been crucially important in providing a voice to art critics operating in the region. Whilst her commitment to the magazine continues unabated, Sangita is aware of the changing nature of the media and sees an inevitable switch Art India will have to make from print to the online space.
Collecting began early; some of her first purchases were works by Anjolie Ela Menon and M F Husain. As her exposure to art grew the collection began to reflect her maturing taste. When asked how she selects works, Sangita remarks, “It is mostly my personal choice. I buy art based on my instinct, how a work of art speaks to me. Most importantly, a work of art should allow me to get in touch with my inner self. If I connect with the artist, it’s great — I like them involved.”
The grand architectural statement that is the new JSW Centre (built by renowned architects Burt Hill, now Stantec) has allowed Sangita free reign over a huge space, much of which is conceived as open plan in form. To encounter an Anish Kapoor installation upon entering the building is an exercise in shock and awe. Other major statement pieces that have been installed onsite include Shilpa Gupta’s constellation of steel books, Rana Begum’s meditative installation and a massive mural canvas by Dhruvi Acharya, that occupies the entire back wall of the company’s all day dining restaurant.
Spanning an incredible 32 feet, the canvas, entitled JSW, features scenes from the typical workdays of employees across the company. These vignettes are woven together by a complex pattern of detailed drawings that portray every conceivable aspect of the JSW world — from factories, to trucks, to the component parts made from the company’s steel. Acharya’s JSW is a tour de force and must rank as one of the artist’s most significant works to date.
The floors occupied by senior management include paintings by significant artists, both modern and contemporary, including M F Husain, S H Raza, Laxman Shrestha, Atul Dodiya and Jagannath Panda. Preeti Sanghi, an architect by training, undertook much of the coordination for this herculean project. Preeti’s indefatigable spirit proved crucial in maintaining deadlines and budgets in the face of challenging circumstances. The results have been gratifying.
When asked what next for JSW’s relationship with art, Sangita dashes off an impressive list that includes architectural projects in Vijaynagar, near Hampi (which also houses Kaladham, an arts complex), as well as the start of classes for drawing and painting at SNDT Kanyashala, now named The Jindal Centre for the Arts in Mumbai. The Jindal art collection is, in this sense, one node in a much larger network. In the absence of state and union level engagement with the arts, it is patrons such as Sangita who are being called upon more than ever to plug the gaps in the cultural life of the country.
Before commercial galleries began to flourish in the early 2000s, art collectors needed to be more self-reliant than is the case today. Searching out artists and their work necessitated a dogged persistence that the present generation of collector may not recognise (bombarded, as they are, by galleries reaching out through digital marketing). In the years when the modern Indian art era gave way to the contemporary, one of the most formidable corporate art collections to have been assembled was undoubtedly that of the Associated Capsules Group (ACG) Worldwide and the Singh family.
Associated Capsules Group is one of the largest manufacturers of empty hard gelatin capsules in the world. It is today an integrated partner to the pharmaceutical industry. The founders of the company, Ajit and Jasjit Singh, along with Jasjit’s wife, the famed interior designer Kavita Singh, are responsible for building a collection that now numbers over 400 individual paintings and sculptures.
Growing up between England and Europe, the brothers had developed an appreciation for Western art and, upon their return to India in the mid-1960s, they quickly began acquiring work by Indian artists in depth. Ajit believes that artists at that time “worked with a passion, though were never fairly compensated.”
An artist whose work was acquired early was M F Husain and Ajit remembers that his paintings were “stacked on the floor in the Gita Art Gallery, at the Oberoi, New Delhi. I used to acquire them just with money left over in my pocket.” Soon many other names would be added, many of whom became the trailblazers of the decades between the 1960s and 1990s — Rameshwar Broota, Jehangir Sabavala, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Anjolie Ela Menon, Bikash Battarcharjee, S H Raza, N S Bendre, Shiavax Chavda, Arpana Caur, B Prabha, Murli Lahoti, Jatin Das and Shanti Dave.
It was not long before artworks were being hung both in ACG offices and, also, the new factories that were being built across Maharashtra. Given that Kavita Singh’s flourishing interior design firm was responsible for fitting out these spaces, the focus on high quality art was almost inevitable. At this time Kavita was gaining a reputation as a tastemaker in the city, and her signature style was, and still is, evident in many Mumbai best homes. In addition managers of offices were allowed to loan works and display them at home.
This continued until the rise in the value of individual works meant that it was safer to make reproductions for sending to managers’ homes.
During the early years of the ACG art collection, it was still fairly unusual for Indian corporates to acquire aggressively and so there was a fair bit of media attention. Ajit deftly used this platform to put forward a compelling argument for corporate collecting.
He made it clear that he and Jasjit were never concerned as to who the painter was that they were buying, rather it was the work that needed to speak to them, “We have collected many paintings which depict a management principle or capture and freeze a thought or reason for success or failure in a commercial endeavor. In such cases, the appeal of the painting for us was in the message that the painter had unwittingly put onto canvas.”
This was an entirely new way of thinking about paintings, and created a synergy between the art acquired and the context in which it was displayed. As an example he points is the magisterial canvas painting of card players by Krishen Khanna. Here huddled figures are immersed in a game, swaddled in a conspiratorial cloak of dark green. These inscrutable characters are open to a whole host of interpretations.
However, the story that Ajit weaves is one about fate and luck and the element of chance that is as much a feature of life as it is of business. Positioned above the table in his well-appointed office, Ajit’s inner sanctum, the painting functions at the level of decoration, of instruction and, not least, of a heightened aesthetic sense.
Acquisitions continue by both the brothers and there are plans afoot for a major publication on the collection. Today a large range of art advisors exists in India, but what make the ACG collection special is that the family is so involved in every aspect of acquisition and display. It is their engagement with city’s art scene over such a long span of time that marks theirs as one of the truly great corporate art collections of Mumbai.
The city’s lack of adequate institutional spaces to exhibit art is well known. Even Mumbai’s premier institution, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), was never built as a museum but, rather, as an auditorium. It is reason to cheer, therefore, that the city is getting a range of new venues courtesy of the Piramal Art Foundation.
Mr Ajay Piramal began collecting art in 2008, purely as a personal interest, whilst his wife, Dr Swati Piramal, has a longstanding interest in the arts of Persia. In more recent times their daughter, Nandini, and their son-in-law Peter, have developed an interest in contemporary Indian art. The Piramal group is a diversified conglomerate with operations in over 30 countries and a strong presence in more than 100 markets in the world.
Since the late 1980s, it has evolved from a textile-centric business to operating in sectors such as healthcare, life sciences, health care information management, financial services, specialty glass packaging and real estate. Given that the motto of the company is ‘Knowledge, Action, Care’, art acquisition seems a particularly apt endeavor. Over the last seven years, there has been an increasing focus on building a collection that will eventually be housed in public spaces associated with the family’s numerous real estate interests. The first of these venues is ready to open to the public this week at Peninsula Corporate Park in Lower Parel.
This functions as a serious statement of intent and is great news for the city that, up till now, has seen precious few new art initiatives.
The main focus of the art collection is the era of modern Indian art; that is, art produced in India in the years following close on the heels of independence. Of course, the art scene in India in the mid 20th century didn’t appear out of the blue, and so the collection has taken care to acquire work that provides a historical framework: a 300-year historical framework! The Modern art movement in India was loyal to a vigorous synthesis of styles both indigenous and Western. As such they looked to influences as diverse as Mughal and Rajput miniatures, classical sculpture, as well as major figures from 20th century European painting such as Paul Klee, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso. The art collection of the Piramal Art Foundation is keen to include works that track these influences, especially as they relate to the history of the arts in India.
The spurt of acquisitions in the recent past has been made both at auction and privately, and a handsome publication, brought out recently, details many of the most exciting purchases from the last decade.
There are a range of works representing a diverse range of styles and movements such as Bengal School artists Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose, through to the high abstraction of V S Gaitonde and, more recently, important works by Manjit Bawa.
The team working on the art collection of the Piramal Art Foundation now includes a full-time researcher and a rapidly expanding library.
Scholars will be encouraged to use the collection as source material and the office in Lower Parel has a workspace that will remain open 24 hours a day. As public displays of the collection begin to be rolled out, it becomes increasingly important to the Piramals, and their advisory team, that coherent stories be told through the artworks acquired.
At a moment when many feel that the existing history of modern Indian art is in serious need of revision, this news is particularly welcome. And it is not always the big headlining histories that are the most interesting. As an example, the team recently discovered that amongst the several views of Benares present in the collection, painted over a span of 200 years or more, the same vistas keep on popping up. To be able to trace the architecture of cities, through the visual record left by artists, is but one of many possible microhistories waiting to be told.
The future of the Piramal Art Foundation, as told by Mr Piramal, sounds promising. “I would like to organise workshops where young artists come and they get the opportunity to develop their art, and then provide them the gallery space where they can get some value out of their art”. He continues, “Art should be in everyone’s lives irrespective of what economic strata you come from. And this we hope to achieve in whatever little way we can, by supporting artists and building collections that the public can enjoy.” This sounds an engaging proposition, and something that has not been seen in India since the opening of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Delhi, in 2010.
As this column continues to trace the histories of great corporate and institutional collections of Mumbai, the Piramal Art Foundation takes its place as a ‘future great’; an exciting addition to an already illustrious group of corporate names that have taken a leap of faith and looked to art patronage in a serious and sustained manner.
Dr. Pheroza J. Godrej has played an integral role in the city’s art scene for more than forty years. She is internationally acknowledged as both a connoisseur of the arts and an art historian, with a remarkable ability to shift registers between the public and private. At the level of policy and headlining initiatives, she was, until very recently, the Chairperson of the Advisory Board of the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai. She is presently on the Executive Committee of the National Culture Fund, Ministry of Culture; a trustee of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi; the Honorary Secretary of the Museum Society of Bombay and founder of one of the city’s longest running galleries. As an enthusiastic and serious collector of art, she has built an enviable collection, The Jamshyd & Pheroza Godrej Art Collection. This collection, like others started during the first few decades after India’s Independence, reflects an individual’s taste writ large over an organization.
The initial spurt in acquisitions was due, in large measure, to Dr. Godrej’s establishment of Cymroza Art Gallery, in 1971. This was the main source for many of the paintings that came to form the collection. The philosophy that inspired her was simple; if she believed in an artist enough to select him/her to exhibit at her gallery, then she felt compelled to support this belief by personally acquiring the artist’s work.
The inevitable consequence of continued acquisitions was the loan initiative to Godrej offices around the country. Initially, this dispersal was restricted to contemporary prints (the collection represents one of the strongest in the region). The project met with much success and was subsequently broadened to include oil on canvas and works on paper. Those in charge of branch offices countrywide were encouraged to select artworks from the collection for display at their workspaces. The key factor when selecting works for display was to gauge whether a lay art-enthusiast would relate to a particular work.
Dr. Godrej’s office is located in Godrej Bhavan, in the Fort area of Mumbai (the building’s architecture is itself worthy of note). Her office walls are covered by paintings that hang, salon style, one above another. As she says apologetically, “I have not been very disciplined myself of what I put up, and don’t put up”. However in important public spaces, especially at Godrej Bhavan, Dr. Godrej takes great personal interest in the display of art works, and it is here that some of the masterpieces of the collection reside, including examples by Manjit Bawa, Jehangir Sabavala, and N. S. Bendre – as also a number of fine classical Indian sculptures.
Beyond acquiring art, there has been a long-standing attempt to engage local communities, especially those living and working at Pirojshanagar – the Godrej industrial garden township in Vikhroli. In the late 1970s Haku Shah, the famous Ahmedabad-based artist, was invited to conduct art camps for children attending the Godrej Udayachal School. Along with Dr. Godrej, this project had the support of family members Smita Vijay Crishna and the late Soonu Naval Godrej. Named ‘Creativity and Hands’, it also involved Madhubani artists as mentors. Whilst similar art camps continued, the company also took on an artist-in-residence, Mr. Mangutka from M. S. University, Baroda, and a pupil of the renowned sculptor Sanko Chaudhuri.
In 2015, the artist-in-residence program has been given a new lease of life by a team comprising Jamshyd and Pheroza Godrej’s son, Navroze Godrej, and the Godrej Innovation Centre and Godrej Archives. The first artist to be invited has been a California- based artist, Jeremy Meyer, who exclusively works with typewriters as his medium. Using the parts sourced from the classic and historic Godrej ‘Prima’ typewriter, the artist has created an extraordinary kinetic lotus that unfurls its petals at the beginning of the working day and closes them at the close of the day. An exciting program of events is now being developed for the residency, and this will roll out over the next year.
Dr. Godrej and Navroze have also put in place a coherent plan of conserving and cataloguing the existing art collection; for instance biographies are being compiled on lesser-known artists in the collection. In due course, it is intended that the collection becomes a resource for scholars, particularly those interested in the history of printmaking and pottery in India during the modern and contemporary eras.