CURATING PRIME TREASURES
Kiran Nadar, Chairperson, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art
The rst three paintings that I bought were of M.F. Husain, Manjit Bawa and Rameshwar Broota. Each one is dissimilar, but I had a different kind of eye, and so I enjoyed collecting all those artists
Acustodian demystifying art to the common man through the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, her philanthropic initiative in art, Kiran Nadar apart from being a trustee of the Shiv Foundation and Chairperson, KNMA, is also an acclaimed international Bridge player, a philanthropist and
avid art collector. She has been acknowledged as a ‘hero of philanthropy’ by Forbes Asia Magazine in 2010 for launching India’s rst philanthropic private museum.
What started as an attempt to make her home feel more lively became a fascination with art that turned Kiran Nadar into an art cognoscente. The rst piece she bought was of a male nude shown in front of a ayed carcass, The Runners (1982) by Rameshwar Broota. With growing years, Nadar has invested in the rare works of Raja Ravi Varma, Anish Kapoor, Atul Dodiya, Mithu Sen, Navjot Altaf, Ravinder Reddy, and Sudarshan Shetty, and Pushpamala N. amongst other noted artists. The entrance to KNMA is graced by contemporary artist Subodh Gupta’s famous installation, The Line of Control, a mushroomshaped work of art that appears to defy gravity with over 1000 vessels suspended in the air. The iconic ‘elephant sculpture’ by Bharti Kher titled The Skin Speaks Its Language Not Its Own, priced at ` 6.8 crore is amongst KNMA’s prized possessions.
The ever-growing collection of the museum is largely focused on signicant trajectories. Located at South Court Mall at Saket in South Delhi, its core collection highlights a magnicent generation of 20th century Indian painters from the postIndependent decades and equally engages the varied art practices of the younger contemporaries. Art afcionados can soak themselves in MF Husain’s Yatra amidst an array of his prominent artworks, to SH Raza’s Saurashtra and FN Souza’s Birth. In 2015, Kiran Nadar, bid ` 26.41 crore for this monumental 8ft x 4ft oil painting. Souza created Birth in 1955, and it is considered one of his best works. For the discerning, it would be worthwhile to note that Syed Haider Raza’s seminal work Saurashtra fetched a record ` 16.42 crore ($3,486,965) at the famous Christie’s in London in 2010. Raza’s work, done in 1983, considered a genre-dening painting, was bought by none other than Kiran Nadar.
The museum, with its multi-faceted initiatives, helps promote art in the public sphere and is working towards encouraging art appreciation. It is focused on bridging the gap between art and the public and fostering a museum-going culture in India. Through a visual intellectual dialogue, the museum aims to develop innovative programmes that seek active collaborations from artists as well as the public. The 34,000 square feet museum space has housed several critically-acclaimed exhibitions. Screenings of lms, stimulating curatorial programmes, and curated walks form an integral part of the museum’s ever-expanding itinerary. The eminent art collector, who has 4,500 artworks in her kitty, talks about her early days, her tryst with art, her vision with respect to her creative initiative and more in this exclusive tete-e tete.
Your early days and growing up years.
I went to a boarding school; the Lawrence School, Sanawar and did my college education from Miranda House in Delhi.
Throw some light on your association with NIIT?
At NIIT I got an opportunity to work with some brilliant people like Rajendra Pawar and Vijay Thadani.
When did you realise that art was your calling…can we say what started as a passion became a full-time vocation?
After working with NIIT for a while, I took a break because my daughter Roshni was very small, and didn’t have enough time to do everything. It during this time that I started playing competitive Bridge. It became an inseparable part of my life. About four or ve years later, we decided to build our home.
I was indeed interested in art, but it wasn’t a passion at that stage. I decided to buy some art for the house. I rst bought enough for our wall space. And, then I had no wall space, so I started buying and putting it in Shiv’s (Nadar, Founder and Chairman of HCL and Kiran’s husband) ofce. Given that I was still collecting, I felt that I should do something. But, it was a gradual process of realising that I wanted to build a museum. It took at least 6-7 years before I really had the thought of building a museum. The inspiration to a large extent, was looking at various collectives in America who have put their collection into public spaces. Now, most of the museums in America are private-owned. That’s how the journey started. If I had known what it entailed maybe I would not have gone in because it is a very difcult assignment in India. Its about educating people at every level… maybe in Kolkata or Mumbai there are people who are much more interested art than they are in Delhi. Therefore, it’s been quite a task.
How would you dene art?
Art is something which is in the eye of the beholder. To different people art transmits in a different way. The vocabulary is not the same for everybody. But, what I feel is, in the Indian context, we have a large heritage of antiquities, miniature paintings, rock-cut sculptures like the Ajanta, Ellora, and other signicant heritage monuments, which are absolutely phenomenal. We have a great heritage in art. It’s important that people are aware of it and that we as a museum do something to keep this knowledge owing.
Your favourite artist/s in India and abroad.
There are too many to name any one in particular. Also, because different artists have different things to give. In India, let’s say, Raja Ravi Varma and MF Husain are quite disparate but both are great artists.
Who has been your inspiration in terms of art collection?
There were a lot of people who I felt were good collectors… we have the various art galleries and then, of course, there were doyens of Indian like MF Husain. The rst three paintings that I bought were of Husain, Manjit Bawa and Rameshwar Broota. Each one is dissimilar, but I had a different kind of eye, and so I enjoyed collecting all those artists.
How did the idea of KNMA originate? How were the early days of setting up a museum?
We keep curating. We started at the HCL premises in Noida, where we have a space for artworks. We started with an exhibition called Open Doors, which was held seven years ago. Within a year of hosting the exhibition, we bought the space where KNMA, now, exists. We felt that since it was in Delhi, more so in a mall, the footfalls would be better.
If you could give us an idea of the collections that adorn your museum?
The collection ranges from the younger contemporaries to legends. It starts with Raja Ravi Varma and spans a vast spectrum of artists. We have the whole gamut of Indian art.
Can we say KNMA is a confluence of both rural and folk art as well as artworks of elite urban artists?
Unfortunately, we don’t have folk art. That is an area that we haven’t collected. We’ll see. At the moment we want to concentrate on the areas that we are involved with. Folk art is a totally different line and we haven’t ventured there. Maybe going forward, we will see.
Tell us about your tryst with biennales and also the historically important artworks acquired by you?
In India the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which just saw its third edition in 2016, is a wonderful place for art. We had an exhibition at the biennale last year. It has a collateral event where we showcased our exhibition of Kerala artists. It received a lot of appreciation. However, we have not participated in any of the biennales abroad. It is unfortunate that at the Venice Biennale, which is such a major event, India does even have a pavilion. Every small country, has a pavilion there. And, India which is such an important country, where art is so important, it has not been considered necessary to have a pavilion. This is a big issue.
KNMA has achieved the initiation of several continuums like outreach, art education, workshops and symposiums. How exactly are you engaged with such endeavours?
Well, of course we want to get people engaged with art and increase the footfalls. We have a great outreach in schools. We have workshop for kids and an outreach programme with Khirkee village. have symposiums with everybody who participates in our show. We now one talk on architectural space titled ‘Delhi: Building the Modern’ curated by Roobina Karode in collaboration with Ram Rahman and eminent architects as part of the discussion.
What purpose, according to you, does art serve in society?
Art has a great heritage which people should be aware of. Unfortunately, interest in art is very limited. In Qatar I came across an Indian couple at a museum. On being asked if they had visited any museum in Mumbai, the place they came from, they replied in the negative. I wanted to know why they were visiting a museum at Qatar whereas they had not visited any museum in Mumbai, which has so much to offer in terms of art to which they had no answer. When we go abroad, we try and visit all the museums. Whereas we have so much to see in India but don’t take same interest.
Which is your favourite artwork at KNMA?
I have 4,500 artworks and its very difficult to choose. Like Saurashtra was very important when I got it...the Birth is very important and so is the
Butcher… all my Souza collections, Husain’s Yatra is very beautiful... the village scenes are beautiful… also, I have some Ravi Varma’s collections.
What is your message for school children and youth with respect to art in India... how exactly should we look at art promote the same?
What we need to do is that rstly art should be made a part of the curriculum… they have art as part of the co-curriculum but it should actually be a part of the curricular activity. And, children should be encouraged to take up art not just as a hobby but even look at it as a profession… painting and interest in art can be something that can stay with them for the rest of their lives. We would like to encourage so that’s why we do this outreach so that some children would discover some understanding of art and do it forever.
Do you think as an art community in India, we still are far too reliant on the old masters and not discovering new ones?
I think there are a lot of younger artists being discovered. In 2008, when there was the market crash, the works of new artists, saw a great fall. Those levels have not reached anywhere near the price levels that they were before the market crash. People got their ngers burnt very badly. People who were interested in buying art, realised that something they bought for ` 100 was not worth even ` 10, resulting in a loss of interest in buying art. So, contemporary art certainly faded away as an asset. The works of masters also went down but they came back to the same levels as they were, in fact they are higher than they were 9-10 years back. So, one has to understand that the artworks of masters have come back but contemporary work hasn’t and therefore, more interest has to be put in into the contemporary artwork which is important for younger artists to grow.
The Butcher represents the apex of the raw, expressionist style. It is influenced by works of El Greco and Goya plus the Romanesque paintings and Catalonian frescos
MAQBOOL FIDA HUSAIN (1913-2011) Untitled, Oil on canvas,1956
M.F. HUSAIN IN EXHIBITION SPACE (NGMA, NEW DELHI): Black and white photograph 1992-93 Collection Parthiv Shah
PUSHPMALA N. The Navarasa Suite Sringara, Hasya, Bhibhatsya, Karuna, Shanti, Veera, Adbhuta, Raudra, Bhayanaka, From the series: Bombay Photo Studio 2003
Francis Newton Souza, Nude with a Fruit Oil on Board 1958
FRANCIS NEWTON SOUZA (four works on the left) Untitled Pen and Ink on paper 1952 Collection: DAG Modern; Untitled (Portrait of a Man before building) Pen and Ink on paper 1955 Collection: DAG Modern; Man in Tunic Pencil on paper 1954; Untitled Pen on Paper 1959; (On the right) Untitled Pen, Ink and Graphiti paper 1954-67
Man & Woman Grinding Their Teeth by Francis Newton Souza, a monumental painting from 1957
FRANCIS NEWTON SOUZA (1924-2002) THE BUTCHER OIL ON SATIN 1962