Kiran Nadar opened doors to her private museum in January 2010. Today, nine years and counting, she can be regarded as a champion of art in the country. Over the years the Kiran Nadar Museum of Arts (KNMA) has opened two outposts in Delhi NCR, and is India’s first ever private museum exhibiting modern and contemporary works. Wife of Shiv Nadar, the technology giant behind HCL, Mrs. Nadar is a trustee with the Shiv Nadar Foundation, which sponsors the KNMA and its endeavours to inculcate art appreciation among the people.
The opening the museum came about through a large private collection curated by this professional bridge player over the years. What started as picking up pieces of art for adorning her home graduated into a humungous reservoir of artworks that couldn’t be contained within her home of her husband’s office anymore. This resulted in Mrs. Nadar opening up her collection of Hussains, Razas, Subodh Guptas to the public, and collaterally propagating the Indian art landscape. “Though the idea of opening a private art museum occurred with the intention of sharing my art collection with the larger public, I was also acutely aware of the existing dearth of institutional spaces that could bring visibility to modern and contemporary art from India and the subcontinent”.
We speak to her about Indian contemporary art, where it stands today, and the way forward.
Recent art exhibitions and auctions have focussed on Indian art and artists rather than the international selection. What brought this shift?
It’s just that Indian contemporary art was very down, and it has started reviving a little bit. It [the focus] shifted because younger collectors are coming into the field; contemporary artists themselves have realised that in some cases they were overpriced, so they worked out their pricing better, to be more available.
You said the interest in contemporary Indian art has increased. How?
Art collectors started growing. And to afford to get the modern masters — they’re very expensive — so you can only start by buying contemporary art…It’s not yet a very big market, still very small, but it has increased.
Any specific reason why this interest has increased?
Galleries themselves are promoting contemporary art much more. They’re exporting their clients of contemporary art, hence contemporary art is growing.
Does this change in recognition of Indian art and artists reflect internationally too?
Internationally it’s still very nascent. It’s mainly Indian collectors who’re buying art from India, and where it’s increasing is with regard to modern art, not so much the upcoming artists.
What can be done to promote our indigenous art industry?
Certainly the interest has to start from the government. To promote, give more importance to art, artists, establish more museums, and create more interest in art by the people. We’re the only major country which doesn’t participate in the Venice Biennale, which is quite shocking. So all these encouraging things have to be done.
Does the lack of government support get demotivating on your path?
There has not been any support. It gets disheartening, like we were looking for land and I thought the government would be supportive, but there was no support at all. So these things are definitely disheartening, but then we have to do what we have to do.
What can artists, patrons, and the industry do to inculcate more keenness about art?
Well, artists are trying to do the best that they can. After all it is a livelihood for them apart from their creative juices, they have to find a way to exist…I think we need more motivation from government institutions.
All images: Courtesy KNMA