Luxe

The heart collectors

Blessy Augustine | Updated on March 10, 2018
The reel chronicler Madhusudhanan — archaeology of cinema. Photo: Vadehra Art Gallery

The reel chronicler Madhusudhanan — archaeology of cinema. Photo: Vadehra Art Gallery

Breaking new ground: A part of Mithu Sen’s series ‘Touchstone’, which Sawhney acquired as she found it of a ‘happy and whimsical’ nature. Photo: Kamal Narang

Breaking new ground: A part of Mithu Sen’s series ‘Touchstone’, which Sawhney acquired as she found it of a ‘happy and whimsical’ nature. Photo: Kamal Narang   -  BusinessLine

Art lover: Arjun Sharma has been collecting art for three decades

Art lover: Arjun Sharma has been collecting art for three decades

The strategic collector: Feroze Gujral runs two philanthropic institutions , The Gujral Foundation and Outset India. Photo: Saurabh Dua

The strategic collector: Feroze Gujral runs two philanthropic institutions , The Gujral Foundation and Outset India. Photo: Saurabh Dua

Moving beyond investment, contemporary collectors make art a part of their lifestyle

The first edition of the India Art Fair (IAF), then called the India Art Summit, was held in August 2008 — a month before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, making the economic recession official. While the North American and European art markets felt the impact of the recession immediately, the Indian art market tottered on. In the fifth edition of the IAF held in February 2013, a record 3,000 artworks were sold by the 105 participating galleries. Sales and gallery participation have dwindled since then. This year’s edition, held from February 2 to 5, had only 72 exhibiting galleries.

But the calming down of the frenzy of five years ago has allowed the IAF to grow into something more than a marketplace. Those looking at art as an “investment” seem to have realised that the term means something else, and their slow exit has allowed for more intimate relationships between artist, collector and gallerist to flourish. “The Indian art market is growing slowly, steadily and honestly,” said Noelle Kadar, Director at the IAF. “Things began turning around last year and, this year, even with demonetisation, contemporary art did incredibly well. It’s because people are beginning to trust the world that revolves around art again.”

This year saw the highest number of international collectors flock to the IAF. Almost 60 per cent sales were made to new and international collectors and over 30 per cent were made to collectors under 40. As contemporary art continues to be the flavour of the season, we ask some of India’s experienced collectors about their latest buys, which happened to be from the India Art Fair.

Collector: Feroze Gujral

Artist: Madhusudhanan

Gallery: Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi

An artist and celebrated filmmaker, KM Madhusudhanan’s practice revolves around India’s film history, colonial period and contemporary war politics. His set of 90 charcoal drawings titled ‘The Marx Archive — Logic of Disappearance’ was exhibited at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, where curator Okwui Enwezor saw it and included a selection of 30 in the 56th Venice Biennale. At the IAF, Madhusudhanan’s 12-foot-long triptych titled ‘Archaeology of Cinema’ was exhibited by Vadehra Art Gallery and bought by Feroze Gujral. “I have been following Madhusudhanan’s work ever since I saw his drawings in Kochi but didn’t have the space to accommodate it. When I saw the triptych ‘Archaeology of Cinema’ at IAF, I instantly bought it. Much of his work is political and often morbid. But this one is different since it has to do with his love for cinema.”

Gujral, who started her career as a fashion model, now runs two art philanthropic organisations—The Gujral Foundation and Outset India. Recently, she organised an exhibition, The Open Hand, which brought to Delhi some international projects by Indian and Pakistani artists that the foundation has been supporting at the 56th Venice Biennale, 11th Shanghai Biennale, The British Museum, and Contour Biennale 8. Being actively involved in such projects gives Gujral an edge when it comes to collecting contemporary art. Her other recent purchase is a work by 27-year-old Ayesha Singh, who is currently studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “I make it a point to visit college art fairs, so I end up buying very young artists as well.” Gujral maintains that even though she is strategic about the projects she supports, her private collection is completely whimsical. “Mohit (her husband) and I buy on the basis of what we like. ‘Collecting’ is not a separate activity that we pursue.” Gujral, however, does keep an eye out for her father-in-law Satish Gujral’s works that turn up in the market.

Collector: Arjun Sharma

Artist: Puja Puri

Gallery: Shrine Empire, New Delhi

Arjun Sharma, the chairman of Select Group, has been collecting art for almost three decades now. This time frame has allowed him to appreciate and collect both modern masters such as FN Souza and prominent contemporary artists such as Subodh Gupta. But, lately, he finds himself drawn to emerging, lesser-known artists. At the India Art Fair, he discovered and bought the works of Mumbai-based artist Puja Puri from Shrine Empire Gallery. Titled ‘Between Ruth and Javed’, Puri’s work is a set of 24 drawings based on Shyam Benegal’s film Junoon (1978), which itself is based on Ruskin Bond’s novella A Flight of Pigeons. “I was very young when I watched Junoon but it had an impact on me. When I saw Puja’s work at the art fair, I felt the same impact. Her lines were so simple yet powerful.”

Sharma has been promoting public art by hosting exhibitions and displays at Select CITYWALK Saket in New Delhi, which is owned by the Select Group. Around the time of the art fair, CITYWALK hosted a group exhibition titled ArtWalk showcasing works by Arunkumar HG, Khalil Chishtee and others.

Sharma owns close to 500 artworks and says that he has very little wall space left in his life. And yet, this has not stopped impulsive buys. “I have never looked at art as an investment. For me, it’s something that I find invigorating in my fast-paced corporate life, something that opens more than my normal senses.”

Collector: Tarana Sawhney

Artist: Mithu Sen

Gallery: Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai

Tarana Sawhney, who has been actively collecting art since 2006, had two firsts at the IAF this year. It was the first time that she bought from the art fair itself and her first Mithu Sen. “Over the years, I have matured as a collector. I always found Mithu’s work fascinating but too dark to live with. Now I get her practice and ‘Touchstone’ had something happy and whimsical about it which I instantly connected with.”

Sawhney is a member of the South Asian Acquisitions Committee of the Tate Modern London, an advisor to the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), and a founding member of the NGO Khushii. Art, for her, is a way of life.

Sawhney supported the artist duo Thukral and Tagra’s interactive art project ‘Memoir Bar’ through FICA at the IAF, and at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale she has been supporting the Student Biennale and Slovenian poet Aleš Šteger’s massive art installation ‘The Pyramid of Exiled Poets’.

Even though Sawhney promotes and supports a wide range of contemporary artists, she loyally collects the works of three — Atul Dodiya, Rana Begum and Ayesha Sultan. “I collect them vertically, making sure I have something from each growth spurt of theirs.”

Blessy Augustine is a Delhi-based art critic

Published on April 20, 2017

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