Please call the collectors

It's a busy day for Kiran Nadar as she is overseeing the mounting of India's largest public art installation - 'Line of Control' by Subodh Gupta - at the foyer of the DLF South Court Mall, Saket, where her museum is also located. It's a 36 feet X 36 feet stainless steel mushroom cloud bought from Europe's leading gallery, Hauser & Wirth, at a price that she would rather not disclose.

In the middle of all this, she takes a break to answer an important phone call. After a quick conversation, she says, smiling, "My tickets for the IPL matches have been confirmed ." Cricket is a passion Nadar is known for. But she doesn't have plans to give herself an IPL team as her hands are full with something that she is more passionate about than cricket - art.

That's not surprising. She is, in fact, now the single most important, and biggest, collector of contemporary Indian art, displaying her highprofile buys for free at the two branches of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Noida and Saket, New Delhi. Though she has been consistently buying modern and contemporary Indian art, even at record-breaking prices, not all is right with the Indian art world, she confesses.

"Indian art is not booming any longer," says the aficionado, who also happens to be the wife of Shiv Nadar, founder chairman of HCL Technologies . "There aren't enough collectors, and that makes it hard to sustain the market."

That perhaps explains the poor showing that Indian art has had at the first lot of the year's auctions which concluded in March. SH Raza's canvas 'Village With Church' , for instance , pegged at Rs 7.6 crore-Rs 12.7 crore before the Sotheby's auction of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art in New York on March 19, didn't find any buyers. The work that fetched the highest price in that auction was MF Husain's portrait of a scientist that went for Rs 1.2 crore, way below the boom time figures.

The latest world art market figures, which have just arrived, crown China as the leader with a 30% share. India is not even a blip on the radar with a meager 1%. Not too long ago, however, the two markets were compared with gusto as they had both shared the same ascending curve on the economic front.

Nadar feels that Indian and Chinese art markets shouldn't be compared because the latter is solidly supported by its government. "Chinese government has supported its art in a big way. Both Beijing and Shanghai have nearly a hundred private museums. Here, the state institutions are stultified, and are not buying any contemporary art. Only private museums like the Devi Art Foundation, us and a few others are buying," she adds.

"Besides an active role by the government, high net worth individuals of India would also have to promote art actively. How much art would new buyers purchase? It's the high net worth individuals who would have to pitch in.

Also, the Indian psyche towards art has to change as a lot of good work by younger artists is coming to the field," she reiterates.

Nadar has industriously devoted herself to building up her museums as she feels that art is the country's heritage and needs to be cared for. "We need more people to get into museums. Abroad, it's common to see kids with parents in museums. But we prefer to take children to malls. Delhi is the worst as far as sensitivity towards art is concerned; Mumbai is better and Kolkata is the best. We are trying to get schools to send children to our museum and spend a day - we would even provide snacks - but it's not easy getting the schools involved," she rues. The entry to KNMA, therefore, is not ticketed in keeping with Nadar's philosophy.

She says she owes the success of her museum to her husband, who only has "peripheral knowledge" of art. "I wouldn't have been able to do anything for art without my husband's support as it is an expensive proposition." That support has given the country a very fine private museum which can give lessons to many state museums across the country.

Sunday, April 8, 2012