3 Unusual Collectors of Indian Art

From Norway to New York, Indian artists have found patrons around the world. We look at three collectors whose travels led them on a journey of collecting. Paintings from their collections feature in our upcoming September auction.

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4 “Blue” Chip Works of Art

In our forthcoming Evening Sale, four renowned Modernists explore the potential of the colour blue—each envisioning an imagined, real or metaphorical landscape—in their own unique way.

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An Evening with Krishen Khanna

Vidhita Raina reports on Krishen Khanna’s lecture on “The Progressives” at London’s Courtauld Institute

Krishen Khanna (centre), Prof. Deborah Swallow (right) and Zehra Jumabhoy (left). Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

Krishen Khanna (centre), Prof. Deborah Swallow (right) and Zehra Jumabhoy (left). Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

“Is the artist only interested in being a unique individual? If I had considered my work to be unique, then I would have continued trying to be unique… and that is not what art is about,” said Krishen Khanna at a talk held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London on June 8, 2015. This sagacious insight into his artistic motivations was one of the many gemstones that Khanna—a leading Indian Modernist painter—showered upon a rapt audience, eager in attendance to witness one of the stalwarts of Indian art reminiscing about its heydays.

With Deborah Swallow and Zehra Jumabhoy from the Courtauld Institute, and Conor Macklin from Grosvenor Gallery also on the panel, this debate was conducted as part of the “Contemporaneity in South Asian Art” seminar series.

The symposium was full of anecdotes as Khanna brought out his personal archive of letters exchanged between him and his many associates. Khanna’s nostalgic stories about his Bombay Progressive peers were unequivocally the highlights; particularly those involving his erstwhile roommate and one of the most celebrated Indian artists, the late Maqbool Fida Husain. It is common knowledge that Husain introduced Khanna into the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (or “PAG”, as they were generally called). But the evening revealed one more nugget of information—Husain, during one of his visits to Khanna’s then home in Churchgate, Mumbai, borrowed his copy of the English art critic Clive Bell’s 1914 seminal text Art, only to eventually lose it. This incident, according to Khanna, was a result of “certain forces which operate at the right time”.

Khanna’s association with the PAG, which was formed right on the heels of India’s independence in 1947, led to several accomplishments in his trajectory as an artist. He held major exhibitions in Mumbai and New Delhi in the late ’50s. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research showed great interest in his work, and its founding director—the esteemed nuclear physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha—bought his very first painting. In 1960, Khanna had his first solo show with Leicester Galleries of London. Here Khanna drew upon a letter written by renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, gloriously calling one of his major abstract artworks a “masterpiece”.

Khanna spoke at length about Francis Newton Souza’s role as the driving force behind the PAG, including calling the group as “Progressives”. However, the term was subsequently dropped as many of its members—which also included artists like S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, K.H. Ara, among others—felt that it had political connotations. It was a suggestion that rankled with Khanna, as the PAG never saw itself as a political group.

But even as the PAG was beginning to emerge as a new wave of artists in post-independent India unfettered by their political climate—and dissociating themselves from the nationalist spirit of the preceding Bengal School artists in the process—their art, Khanna’s in particular, couldn’t avoid resonating with social, economic and political undertones of a changing nation state.

Born in the city of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad of modern day Pakistan) in 1925, Khanna was, and is, no stranger to political turmoil. Following the Partition of India in 1947, his family moved to Shimla in northern India. Khanna himself accepted a job at Grindlays Bank in Bombay, a position he would hold for 14 years, before finally resigning to focus on his art completely.

Krishen Khanna on the 'Progressives' at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art. Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

Krishen Khanna on the ‘Progressives’ at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art. Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

A self-taught artist, Khanna created works that showed a strong preoccupation with the historical background of his time. For him, the humanistic element in a painting was a paramount. Khanna was deeply concerned with the condition of the individual. It’s an artistic anxiety highly evident in his paintings of tired workers piled in trucks, dhaba owners in twilight moments, and the uniformed “bandwallas”—the last vestiges of long-dead British imperial legacy. In her biography Krishen Khanna: The Embrace of Love, critic Gayatri Sinha has said: “the paintings constitute a powerful psychological engagement, one that also serves as a document of the passage of time in modern India.”

Another aspect of the debate, raised by Conor Macklin and Zehra Jumabhoy, was India’s relationship with Britain, and the impact of the European Avant-garde Movement on the PAG. Just as the modern art of Europe rose from the trenches of the World War I, the trauma resulting from the Partition of India also stimulated a new language of art production in its wake. In an effort to locate a new identity and language for Indian art, many of the modern artists such as Souza, Raza, and Padamsee—having studied or spent time in Paris—inevitably found themselves looking towards Western styles of art.

Khanna himself was a well-travelled and worldly artist: he was the first Indian painter to be awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship by New York’s prestigious Rockefeller Foundation in1962. As part of this fellowship, Khanna spent time in Japan where he found inspiration in the Sumi-e (Suibokuga) calligraphic style of paintings, practiced by Zen Buddhists during the 14th century. This led to a number of experiments in abstraction during the ’60s and ’70s, which Khanna reflected upon as “a series of events which formulate or assist in formulating the kind of action you have to take”. In the following year, he was invited as the artist-in-residence at the American University, Washington D.C., and exhibited at various museums and galleries throughout the United States.

Besides being a riveting trip down memory lane, the symposium was mainly a precursor to Krishen Khanna’s ongoing retrospective at the Grosvenor Gallery titled “when the band began to play he packed up his troubles and marched away”. A certain homage was paid to the presence of the seminar being held at the Kenneth Clark lecture theatre, named after the eponymous art historian and an old associate of the artist.

Khanna’s talk was one for the history books—significant moments during the early Indian Modernist phase were brought up, including when artist Bal Chhabda opened Gallery 59. It was Mumbai’s first, short-lived art gallery to showcase artworks by the PAG members in 1959. The group may be long gone, but they left an undeniable legacy for India and the world to treasure.

Gaitonde Retrospective coming to Guggenheim NY

Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart  announces an upcoming Gaitonde retrospective in New York.

New York: Coming next Fall (November 2014) the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City will be producing an exhibition of the late Vasudeo S. Gaitonde’s work.

This retrospective of Gaitonde is showing a new trend in the recent programming at the Guggenheim. Having just concluded a premiere retrospective of Zarina Hashimi, the Guggenheim Museum is showing modern and contemporary Indian artists more than ever.

For this upcoming retrospective, the first exhibition of the artist’s work since Saffronart’s show in 2011, Associate Curator of Asian Art, Sandhini Poddar hopes to gather forty pieces of Gaitonde’s work ranging in various mediums including oil and pencil.

These pieces will be borrowed from both private and public collections from all around the world.

Gaitonde’s work is considered non-representational and experimental and he is often referred to as India’s foremost abstractionist. However, prior to his death in 2001, the artist was quick to dismiss the term “abstract art” and preferred “non objective” to describe his subliminal imagery.

Throughout his career his work was included in premiere exhibitions, and is part of the permanent collections of institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Gaitonde was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri Award in 1971.

The Guggenheim hopes this expansive retrospective will tour to other institutions such as the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi and their international sister institution Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, scheduled to open in 2017.

No matter the institution, a retrospective of Gaitonde’s work is sure to offer a collection of exceptional and pivotal paintings.

Art+Auction’s Power Collectors 2012: Kiran Nadar

Medha Kapur of Saffronart shares a note on Art+Auction’s 2012 Power Collectors List which features Indian collector Kiran Nadar

Art+Auction's Power 2012Every year, Art+Auction publishes its ‘Power’ list, spotlighting those individuals who have stood out in the art world over the year. This year, the nine-part list, which was released last week, includes experts from all corners of the arts: Auction Power, the Power of TraditionPower CollectorsDesign PowerPower DealersPower PatronsPower PlayersPower to Watch, and Power Personalities.

Being on Art+Auction’s Power 100 list, an individual shares only one characteristic with the fellow listees: distinction! So,how is who does and doesn’t make the list determined?

ARTINFO, under whose banner Art+Auction is published, canvas widely, soliciting contributions from all over the world to make sure the list is comprehensive. They aim to strike a balance between equally valid yet frequently competing areas of influence —weighing curatorial prominence against the character, agency, and the clout of individuals. Connections, magnetism, and leadership also play a role, especially when it comes to private collectors. A candidate’s future potential or ascendancy is also a quality they try to assess when considering for potential inclusion on the list.

The third of nine installments published by Art+Auction this year includes a list of individuals who are putting together groundbreaking collections: ‘Power Collectors.’ Among the top power collectors of 2012 is one well known name in India – one of the most important collectors of modern and contemporary Indian art – Kiran Nadar. Other collectors on the list include François Pinault, George Economou, Leon Black (who recently acquired Edvard Munch’s 1895 pastel version of The Scream for $120 million, the most expensive work of art sold at auction to date), and Len Blavatnik.

Kiran Nadar

Kiran Nadar with an installation by Subodh Gupta.
Image Courtesy: http://www.artinfo.com

Nadar established the KNMA (Kiran Nadar Museum of Art), India’s first privately owned museum, which has an illustrious collection of about 700 modern and contemporary works. In 2010, Nadar bought S.H. Raza’s 1983 painting Saurashtra for a record-breaking £2,393,250 ($3.5 million) at an auction house in London. In April 2012, Nadar unveiled her most ambitious acquisition yet — Subodh Gupta’s 26-ton, 30-foot-high Line of Control, first displayed at the 2009 Tate Triennial. Line of Control was installed at the central foyer of the DLF South Court Mall in Saket, Delhi. It took 80 man hours, about 3 dozen people, unimaginable logistical effort, and superb execution to erect one of the largest public sculptures in the country.

Saurashtra | S H Raza 1983

Saurashtra | S H Raza
1983
Image Courtesy: http://www.knma.in/

Line of Control | Subodh Gupta 2008

Line of Control | Subodh Gupta
2008
Image Courtesy: http://www.knma.in/

The KNMA possesses works by other artists including Tyeb MehtaNasreen MohamediM.F. HusainAnish KapoorArpita Singh, F.N. SouzaJamini RoyA. Ramachandran , S.H. RazaSubodh GuptaJogen Chowdhury, Krishen KhannaManjit BawaN. S. HarshaRam KumarRameshwar Broota, and V.S. Gaitonde among others. Some of the more noteworthy ones include Bharti Kher’s The Skin Speaks A Language Not Its Own, Rina Banerjee’s The world as burnt fruit and Akbar Padamsee’s Grey Nude.

The Skin, Speaks a Language Not Its Own | Bharti Kher 2006

The Skin, Speaks a Language Not Its Own | Bharti Kher
2006
Image Courtesy: http://www.knma.in/

Grey Nude | Akbar Padamsee 1960

Grey Nude | Akbar Padamsee
1960
Image Courtesy: http://www.knma.in/

The World as Burnt Fruit | Rina Banerjee 2009

The World as Burnt Fruit | Rina Banerjee
2009
Image Courtesy: http://www.knma.in/

Kiran Nadar is married to Shiv Nadar, founder chairman of HCL Technologies and the Shiv Nadar Foundation.

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