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Leading collectors of modern & contemporary Indian art - I
The enriching collections of established art aficionados offer the perfect opportunity to explore an interconnected and multi-layered world of fascinating creative expression that continues to bind Indian art over time and trace the common thread running through it. They indicate how premier artists from each generation including masters and their younger contemporaries crave for an independent identity.

Explaining why it is vital to seek information on the works important collectors are acquiring (as well as the ones they are avoiding), art expert Kishore Singh has mentioned in an essay: “They lend recognition to an artist. Even if the market for artists collected by them takes a downturn (as witnessed during the recent recession), chances are these artists will weather the long-term better than those whose works are not in well-known collections.”

In this context, the name of avid art collector Kiran Nadar immediately strikes you. An experienced advertising professional, philanthropist, international bridge player, communication & brand building expert, all rolled into one, she also actively promotes Indian art and artists. Having shaped the NIIT brand, which grew out of businessman Shiv Nadar's vision along with Rajendra Pawar, she also serves as the Trustee of SSN Trust and Shiv Nadar Foundation.

The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), her brainchild, aims to function as a site of mellifluous confluence rather than just a compilation. It treasures a wide array of works, which highlight the vibrant visual trajectories of modern & contemporary art, especially in the post-Independence phase. Raja Ravi Verma, FN Souza, VS Gaitonde, MF Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Arpita Singh, Akbar Padamsee, Jogen Chowdhury, Subodh Gupta, Atul Dodiya, NS Harsha and GR Iranna are among the artists whose works are housed at the museum, inaugurated earlier this year with a group show conceptualized by Roobina Karode.

With a vision based on the premise that museums today are not only sites of a static art display, but also a strong catalyst that may prompt people into ‘experiencing art’, culture and their own identities, this non-commercial, nonprofit entity is committed to displaying meaningful art from India and the subcontinent. It encompasses a stunning spectrum of styles and expressions for simultaneous engagement. Spelling out her vision, Kiran Nadar has stated in an interview: “Primary goal of KNMA is to share this private art collection and bring visibility and appreciation to Indian art, presenting it meaningfully to the art loving public and the fast-growing HCL community.” Besides curated shows, KNMA has on its agenda a host of cultural and educational programs. By sharing several excellent works of art collected by her over the last few decades, the underlying idea is to let people enjoy quality art, leading to an enhanced awareness of it.

When one is referring to top-notch Indian art collectors, mention must be made of entrepreneur Harsh Goenka for whom collecting art is an emotional response to finer aspects of life. His exquisite collection comprises abstract art, figurative works, installations, new media art and, of course, the portraits that transcend several key milestones of Indian art history.

The R.P. Goenka collection of miniatures is among the most coveted ones in India. Taking the glorious tradition ahead, Harsh Goenka launched the RPG Academy of Art & Music. It has been organizing an annual art camp in Mumbai, for almost two decades. An avid collector of self-portraits by renowned artists, Harsh Goenka mentions: “I always felt it was indeed a fascinating exercise, to see how painters looked at themselves.” For him his collection, encompassing different genres, styles, forms and themes, is simply priceless. He rightly refuses to attach any price tag to it. Summing up the essence of his proud possessions, he has stated, "I never collected art as an investment.”

Another renowned collector Lekha Poddar started collecting art in the late 1970s primarily with works of the Bengal School and the Progressive Artists Group (PAG). Her son Anupam followed suit at the beginning of the new millennium, writing a new chapter in this memorable journey. Regarding his relentless passion, he has stated. “It just took over my life. It became an obsession. The term hobby is too tame; it almost controls you.”

Their Gurgaon based contemporary art gallery displays painting, interactive installation, video, photography and sculpture by Subodh Gupta, Sudarshan Shetty, Bharti Kher, Anita Dube, Mithu Sen, and A. Balasubramaniam among others. The Devi Art Foundation has emerged as one of the most comprehensive and complete compilations of art from India and the neighboring countries. The foundation is keen to introduce contemporary art practices to public discourse through a series of exhibitions, education & outreach program, and artists' interactions.

What becomes apparent is that the established collectors invariably look for dynamic artists, keen to tread a challenging path in their respective practices and explore a plethora of concerns, themes and issues! Their precious collections reflect cross-disciplinary interests that find apt articulation through exciting works, including experimental and cutting edge art.

In the next issue, we shall highlight more niche collectors of modern & contemporary Indian art, to recognize their commitment, zest and passion towards the cause.