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Spreading art appreciation and viewing culture, The KNMA way
Visiting a dazzling Delhi shopping mall, one gets to see some masterpieces - SH Raza’s monumental painting ‘Saurashtra’ and Jitish Kallat’s skeletal car sculpture, for example. Until now functioning out of the HCL campus in Noida, Kiran Nadar has just unveiled the new sizzling showcase at DLF Place in Saket, New Delhi. A complete museum shop has on offer prints, books and a range of art memorabilia. The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), which incorporates the diverse range of modern & contemporary art from India, has become broader and bigger. What sets apart the new eclectic initiative is the location - a shopping complex visited by thousands of people daily - that works to serve her vision. The passionate collector has been acquiring art for close to two decades, which she now has made accessible to the masses with a show, entitled ‘Time Unfolded’.

An experienced advertising professional, philanthropist, international bridge player, communication & brand building expert, all rolled into one (She launched her career in the Ad agency MCM followed by a stint at NIIT), she also actively promotes Indian art and artists. When she herself started collecting art sometime in the mid 1980s, Kiran Nadar had no specific objective in mind. When the walls of her home were full, she turned to the HCL office space as a repository of her art treasure. It was around 2003 that the collector decided to do something specific with her growing collection.

Putting her precious works into storage didn’t seem a reasonable idea as she has stated in an interview: “I thought if I’m going to continue acquiring art, I should do something more substantial. “It began as a need to get adornment for my home and then transformed along the way. I also had more works that I could display in my home so I thought I should do something in a public space.” What largely was a conundrum of space, to start with, gradually expanded into a broader philanthropic vision. Once the multi-faceted art lover decided to set up the museum, she has been going to several auctions across the globe to bid and buy.

Already, her ambitious private venture is probably the largest showcase of contemporary & modern art in India. It goes to show how one individual collector’s showpieces can make for an ambitious repository of contemporary art easily accessible to all. Open six days a week, it gives a peek into a passionate collector’s impulses and gives an opportunity to check excellent works like Sudarshan Shetty’s Taj Mahal installation, an Anish Kapoor sculpture and an enameled jewel-studded canvas by Raqib Shaw, all handpicked from her collection. It presents a visual trajectory of the Indian contemporary & modern art. It features nearly 70 paintings sculptures and other works by early Bengal School artists like Jamini Roy to innovative contemporary multimedia practitioners like Vishal Dar.

The museum is one of the Shiv Nadar Foundation’s several philanthropic ventures aimed at public good. It’s broad more than being deep, with rather buzzy works of art by a host of talented artists. While it does revolve around thematics, spread across categories like ‘the body’ and ‘landscapes in the city’, they largely string together the major works that Kiran Nadar has acquired over the years. There’s no such distinction between what is there in the museum and what belongs to her, though she has a special bond with some of the works. Elaborating on the idea, her public statement mentions: “Given what museums such as the Guggenheim have done for Bilbao or what the Museum of Islamic Art is doing for Doha, Qatar, we hope to build a definitive world-class museum that will add to the splendor of New Delhi.”

Its inaugural show ‘Open Doors’ included several masterpieces on basis of their rarity and relevance, ‘to initiate unpredictable dialogue and a critical appreciation between them’. According to Roobina Karode, the director of KNMA, the private art museum is a rather recent phenomenon in India. The potential of such a space and opportunity will be fully explored to make this a globally active museum in order to bring the rich art heritage its deserved acclaim, she adds. The KNMA’s vision is based on the belief that museums today are not sites of art display alone but more of a vital platform to initiate masses into experiencing it. The aim is to inspire a wider interest by sharing the collection with diverse audiences. Kiran Nadar elaborates: “Making a modest beginning with this social responsibility, our goal is to share this private art collection and bring visibility as well as appreciation to modern & contemporary Indian art by presenting it meaningfully.”

A non-profit entity, the KNMA functions as a space for exhibiting quality art that highlights the visual trajectories of modern & contemporary Indian art of the post-independent phase. It covers a wide range of styles and expressions for simultaneous engagement through wonderful works by artists like A Ramachandran, Arpita Singh, FN Souza, Jogen Chowdhury, Krishen Khanna, MF Husain, Manjit Bawa, NS Harsha, Ram Kumar, Rameshwar Broota, Subodh Gupta, Tyeb Mehta and VS Gaitonde, among others. Apart from well-curated exhibitions, it will focus on cultural and educational programs. Its mission is to serve as a site of confluence than mere collection.

By sharing several excellent works of art collected by Kiran Nadar over the last few decades, the underlying idea is to let people enjoy quality art, leading to an enhanced awareness of it. She is also looking to fill the gaps in her collection. For example, she would like to enhance the representation of the Bengal School. Also, she wants the collection to indicate the growth of a particular artist, certain periods in his or her life and career. She cites how families visit museums in the New York city and how experiencing art there is a weekend activity. According to her, we in India must reacquaint ourselves with the art that we are producing, but there are sadly few avenues for that.

Hoping that other prime collectors will take a cue and take up similar projects, Kiran Nadar explains that she wants the museum to turn into more of a centre of art education. “We want to organize more workshops, fund learning initiatives, and basically engage a public, looking for opportunities like this. I hope people will come, and our museum will be at the forefront of such activities that really need to be done,” she concludes.