Museums and ‘art’ somehow sound ironic. On one hand is something that has come to be regarded as state-funded and slightly academic. On the other, you have, what many believe, is an elitist ‘product’. But now, there seems to be a happy marriage between the two, as a couple of private museums in the country have shown. These museums are trying to change the traditional image of art as a preserve of the privileged, making it more accessible to
In November, Piramal Art Foundation, which works towards preserving the artistic heritage of modern and contemporary Indian art, launched the Piramal Museum of Art in Mumbai. This is for the first time that a prime space in the heart of the commercial capital of the country has been dedicated to people from all walks of life.
The 7,000-sq-ft museum, located at Peninsula Corporate Park in Lower Parel, is showcasing up to 50 artworks, including paintings by renowned artists such as Akbar Padamsee, Hemendranath Mazumdar, Gaganendranath Tagore, Jehangir Sabavala, Bikash Bhattacharjee and KG Subramanyan, among others. In addition, sculptures and installations are also on display, showcasing the historical backdrop of Indian modern art. “Private museums are the need of the hour. The Piramal Museum of Art is one step in that direction. While the government does its part in promoting the arts, we feel it is the private museums that can take quicker decisions, implement ideas faster and be more democratic in their approach to the idea of a museum. There are many private art initiatives coming up in Mumbai initiated by corporate patrons,” says Ashvin Rajagopalan, the director of the museum.
The Piramal Museum of Art is a product of the Piramal family’s passion for collecting art over the past few years, with a heavy focus on modern Indian art. “The collection has been carefully created, with each and every work being selected by the family members personally. It focuses on the works of top modern Indian masters like MF Husain, SH Raza, FN Souza, Manjit Bawa and Jehangir Sabavala, among others,” adds Rajagopalan.
The museum plans to hold about three-four major exhibitions each year. The exhibitions will be curated in a way that they introduce the audiences of Mumbai and the rest of the country to new perspectives on Indian art. “We are currently working on two exhibitions for next year—one will focus on (painter and artiste) Raja Ravi Varma and another on miniature paintings,” offers Rajagopalan.
In the national capital, however, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA)—another private museum for modern and contemporary art—has been attracting art enthusiasts for quite some time now. Started five years ago by philanthropist and art collector Kiran Nadar, wife of HCL founder Shiv Nadar, KNMA expanded and shifted into a mall (DLF Place, Saket) within a year, making art more accessible to the public. Today, it has over 1,700 works of art, including showstoppers such as Bharti Kher’s trademark installation, a bindu-studded elephant, and SH Raza’s Saurashtra, which Nadar acquired by paying a record-breaking R16.4 crore at Christie’s London in 2010.
“Though the idea of opening a private art museum occurred with the intention of sharing my art collection with the larger public, I was also acutely aware of the existing dearth of institutional spaces that could bring visibility to modern and contemporary art from India and the subcontinent,” says 61-year-old Nadar, who is also a competitive bridge player.
To attract more and more people, these museums are trying to be as inclusive as possible. Piramal Museum of Art, for instance, uses Marathi as part of its display text, so that it can cater to the local populace. “The museum can be easily accessed even though it is in a highly secure corporate park,” says Rajagopalan, adding, “It aims to educate and introduce to the audiences in Mumbai the idea of what Indian art is in a very interactive and informative format. Our current show, titled Smriti, is a display of 65 artworks from the Piramal collection. Smriti is also the title of the book published on the artworks that are in the Piramal collection. It traces a history of nearly 300 years of Indian art that lead up to what we refer to as modern Indian art.”