Will Air India’s beautiful art collection also go to the Tatas? Here’s what we know

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October 20, 2021 11:42 AM

There are no official estimates about the worth of the collection, and it is notable that the collection expanded alongside the airline.

Just before the pandemic in 2020, Air India held a four-day exhibition in Mumbai with 7,000 artefacts and memorabilia up for display.

Air India Art Collection: National carrier Air India has now gone back to the Tata Group, under which it had been started all those years ago. The privatisation of the airlines has been long coming, and it has finally happened. But, it has also left a lot of questions in the minds of people as to what would happen to the various assets of the airlines. One among those assets is the beautiful art collection of Air India. This art collection, however, was not a part of the deal and therefore, is most likely to remain with the Government of India even after transfer of power. Here’s why the collection is important.

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The collection, according to a report in IE, is called the ‘Maharaja collection’ and includes more than a whopping 4,000 works. The works of art that are included in the collection are by the likes of MF Hussain, VS Gaitonde, Jatin Das, and Anjolie Ela Menon. The Air India offices, calendars, menu cards and posters proudly displayed pieces from this collection, which also includes posters that cartoonist Mario Miranda made, and ads that The New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno designed. Apart from this, traditional wooden and bronze artwork, paintings, sculptures and textiles are also a part of the expansive collection.

There are no official estimates about the worth of the collection, and it is notable that the collection expanded alongside the airline.

The first set of six paintings had been purchased from art school graduate B Prabha in 1956 for Rs 87.50, and since then, over the next six decades, the collection was built carefully. The collection was expanded with the aim of “putting a little bit of India” in the then Tata Airlines’ booking offices, as per the philosophy of JRD Tata.

Air India’s collection was built as the airline commissioned some of the works, and purchased some for as low as Rs 50 to Rs 500. However, sometimes, the airline also bartered paintings for offering flight tickets to artists who wished to travel abroad. This much was also revealed by late painter MF Hussain, who said that he undertook four or five trips abroad this way.

Now, though, it has been years since the works were opened, and it is believed that some of the pieces have been damaged, lost or stolen. Jatin Das found out in 2017 that Flying Apsara, the painting he made in 1991 and which had been acquired by the airline, was up for sale for Rs 25 lakh in the open market. This led to a complaint against a former Air India executive for stealing government property. Post that, it was reported that the airline began looking into other staff members as well to identify if something similar was being done by them as well.

Just before the pandemic in 2020, Air India held a four-day exhibition in Mumbai with 7,000 artefacts and memorabilia up for display. The report said that since 2016, serious efforts are being made to create a detailed inventory of the pieces included in the collection. At present, the Union Ministries of Civil Aviation and Culture are planning to transfer the collection to Delhi for display at a prominent museum.

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