Monday, February 18, 2019

Loving Art With All Her Heart

Kiran Nadar, one of India’s leading art collectors, talks about her experiences while on a recent visit to the Kochi Muziris Biennale

Photos: Kiran Nadar; FN Souza's 'Birth' 

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, several years ago, art collector Kiran Nadar went to see the artist Rameshwar Broota at his studio in New Delhi. He received her warmly. Thereafter, he showed a work. It was a triptych of male nudes. She loved the work and agreed quickly to buy it. Thereafter, Kiran took some images on her mobile.

At home, she showed the photos to her husband, Shiv Nadar, the billionaire chairperson at HCL Technologies. He was horrified and told Kiran, “How can you buy it? Our daughter is only five years old. My mother lives with us for six months of the year. What will she think?”

Kiran replied, “I had told Rameshwar that I would buy it. But now if we are not, we have to show the courtesy to go back and say, ‘Sorry, we are unable to take it forward’.”

Shiv agreed. One evening, the couple went to Rameshwar’s gallery. But when Shiv saw the painting, he said, “You are right, Kiran. We have to get it.”

And today, the painting hangs in the study of Shiv’s house.

This was the story that Kiran immediately remembered when asked about her experiences as one of India’s leading art collectors, as she sipped a glass of watermelon juice at the Taj Malabar. She had recently come to see the fourth edition of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, curated by the Delhi artist Anita Dube.

And Kiran enjoyed what she saw. “I liked the way Anita placed an emphasis on women artists,” she says. “Her approach is very humane. The earlier curators, like Bose [Krishnamachari] and Riyas [Komu], Jitish [Kallat] and Sudarshan [Shetty] all brought a different and unique sensibility.”

The artwork that impressed her the most at this year’s edition was South African artist William Kentridge’s eight-video installation called ‘More Sweetly Play The Dance’, as well as the four-wall installation by Gond artists Subhash Singh Vyam and his wife Durga Bai.

As to whether awareness of art has increased among the common people, Kiran says, “To some extent, it has increased among the public in Kochi, Mumbai and Kolkata. But in Delhi, it is still very low.”

However, that did not prevent her from putting up a state-of-the-art institution called the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, at Noida, which completed nine years last month. Sponsored by the Shiv Nadar Foundation, it is spread over an area of 40,000 sq feet, and houses more than 400 artworks. But the Foundation has about 5500 artworks stored in an air-conditioned facility. Incidentally, the most expensive artwork that Kiran bought, at a Christie’s auction, in 2015, was for FN Souza’s ‘Birth’. It was priced at Rs 30 crore.

Kiran selects works based on her intuition and emotional reactions. “Also, over the years, I have developed an eye for a good work,” she says. “Having said that, I am also open to somebody who wants to convince me about a particular work.”

Works are got through an auction, art galleries, or bought directly from the artist. “Some dealers show me the earlier works of an artist who has made a mark,” she says. “I might buy such a painting.”

As someone who interacts with artists, she has a good sense of their personalities. “Artists are complex people, because they have so many sides to them,” says Kiran. “But all of them are magnetic and charismatic, innately gifted, and have some sort of idiosyncrasy. Take MF Husain, for instance. On one level he was very generous and gracious. On another, he could be very calculating. On the third level, he would forget easily. He would leave a painting with you and completely forget about it. Yet he would express a thought that a particular painting was given away way too cheap.”

Asked to list her favourite artworks, Kiran says, “There is a painting by Raja Ravi Varma called Shakuntala. It is of Shakuntala writing a letter to a beloved in a forest, surrounded by two friends. It is very soothing to watch as there is a tenderness in the scene.”

Another favourite is an untitled painting by Manjit Bawa. “It’s about our world -- there is Kuberan, Hanuman, Krishnan, and the cows. The work has all the things that he was important for. He had done some black and white sketches for a national magazine. I had seen that and asked him to adapt it. I keep this at my home, but I do lend it to to the museum for Manjit Bawa shows.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvfananthapuram and Kozhikode)

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