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Kiran Nadar on Her Art Collection and KNMA

Well-known art collector and Chairperson of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), Ms Kiran Nadar, gives an exclusive interview to artamour on her art collection, KNMA and its future plans, and her passion for the game of bridge.

I want everyone to realize that you don't have to own art to appreciate it. – Kiran Nadar

1. Can you tell us at what point of time in your life did you develop an interest in the fine arts and how you became a collector? Who were among the first few artists whose works you acquired, and for what reason?

KN: I always liked art; I would say my interest started around 1980-85. I think the first artist I bought was a young Madhur Kapoor. Then I bought a B. Prabha; I had gone to a gallery in Bombay called Gallery Chemould and Kekoo Gandhy who runs this gallery was there. They suggested that I look at a Tyeb Mehta at that time, but I was keen on a B. Prabha. There was hardly any price difference at the time. Looking back, I think I didn't have the maturity at that stage.

Saurashtra by S.H. Raza

Bhoomi by S.H. Raza

Untitled by Somnath Hore, Bronze

Untitled by Somnath Hore, Paper pulp, 1970

Untitled by V.S. Gaitonde, Oil on canvas

Untitled by V.S. Gaitonde, Oil on canvas

I think my interest in art really developed when I built my own home and started collecting for my house. I had already figured out and recognized the artists I liked and the kind of styles I was partial to. However, I think one person who had a profound effect on the development of my sensibility for art is Neville Tuli, who had started an auction house called Osian’s. He had an immense amount of knowledge about Indian art, and he brought out volumes as part of his auction catalogues. He was very charismatic and his passion for Indian art really touched a nerve with me. He explained the importance of art in its essence and he had a large role to play in getting me involved in art collection.

2. What was the genesis for the setting up of KNMA? Has it achieved its goals? And have the objectives and actions evolved during the course of the last decade?

KN: The objectives as I saw them when I started KNMA were ambivalent. I don't think I was very clear on where exactly this was going to go – it was just something I felt was needed. I never thought in terms of the scale that it has reached.

In my mind, I had thought of it (KNMA) as a boutique kind of museum, something more intimate and small. I never thought it would evolve into a drive to build India's first important private museum, and one of the largest collections of Indian art in India.

Even in terms of space, we didn't have the land or anything at that stage. It was more wanting to share the art, which was needed. There were only some government institutions and maybe one or two people who were trying to do things in the private space but it was very limited. The whole space of art was fairly nascent in India, even just a decade ago.

In the first year, we started with a space in Noida, as part of the HCL Campus. But I soon decided that I needed it to be in a more public space, something more accessible to the public. I do believe that art is for everyone, and everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy it. With this in mind, within one year of starting KNMA Noida, we started KNMA Saket.

It was a huge change because we found this space in a mall, and while we came under a lot of criticism for having it in a mall, for us, it made a lot of sense because it was making it accessible. We felt that this location allowed us to capture new audiences, in terms of tapping the overflow from the mall. It is also a fabulous location, in an extremely popular and accessible area of Delhi. It gave us a certain ‘locus standi’ in art as part of a very central part of Delhi.

In terms of validation with what I started out to do, to a large extent, I think it has been validated. For one thing, the collection has grown immensely – we started at 500-600 works and now we have more than 8000 works. I have acquired important works of the Indian masters and younger artists too. So, in terms of collection, yes there is definitely validation.

As far as driving interest in art in India, to some extent it has. We have a lot of validity in the art world, especially with the more sophisticated and knowledgeable audiences. I think where we need to focus now is to get wider footfalls. We need to capture the attention of the general public. I want everyone to realize that you don't have to own art to appreciate it. It's like the Taj Mahal; nobody owns it but you still visit it. It has a certain historical importance, and it's gorgeous and iconic so you visit it. I think it's important to build art into something iconic and beautiful that you want to visit and experience.

Our next step is the setting up of a stand-alone building that we have been trying to do for the last four to five years. We have now got the land and permissions and we have selected the renowned Sir David Adjaye as the architect. It's taking longer than expected because of Covid, but despite that, we will move forward. In the next three to four years the space should be ready and we are envisioning it as a space for both art and culture. We want to nurture other forms of art as well, be it music, performance or art. The idea is that the realms of art and culture are synonymous, and in a way feed off each other. If there are people interested in culture, they may choose to visit for the cultural aspect, but we aim to also seed interest in art and vice versa.

3. You have promoted a number of women artists. Was being a woman a major reason for this, or was it because you genuinely thought they were good and needed to be given their due? Please make a mention of a couple of women artists whose works you’ve acquired in the recent past.

KN: I don't think that the need to promote women artists has stemmed from the fact that I am a woman. Times have changed and today all over the world women artists are getting the attention and accolades that they deserve. I think the fact that there were a lot of women artists whose work appealed to me has probably been one of the main reasons. There is so much newness to the works of these women artists - they are refreshing and interesting.

Two really major women-centric shows we have done were the Nasreen Mohamadi show along with seven other contemporary women artists. The exhibition was titled 'Seven Contemporaries' and in 2013, we showcased major projects by Dayanita Singh, Sonia Khurana, Sheela Gowda, Bharti Kher, Ranjani Shettar, Anita Dube and Sheba Chhachhi. Since then we have organized a large-scale retrospective of veteran artist Arpita Singh, and more recently the Zarina Hashmi show 'A Life in Nine Lines'. Along with Zarina’s work, we promoted other women abstractionists who have taken inspiration from Zarina. Both these shows had women protagonists, Nasreen and Zarina. It shows how these two artists have contributed to a certain growth in Indian art. Today women artists are very important – I have collected many stalwarts and younger ones.

Folding House (Set of 25) by Zarina Hashmi, 2013

House on Wheels by Zarina Hashmi

Untitled by Nasreen Mohammedi, Photograph b/w, Vintage Print, ca 1972

Untitled by Nasreen Mohammedi, Photograph b/w, Vintage Print, ca 1972

One woman artist whose work I have very recently acquired is Bharti Kher, from one of her recent shows. The piece that the museum has acquired draws inspiration and meditates on artist Mrinalini Mukherjee, who was famous for her work in hemp, bronze, etc. Mrinalini passed away about four years ago and she is a very important Indian artist. Bharti bought Mrinalini’s saris from her estate and has made them into a sculpture. This work is important for me because Mrinalini was one of the artists I collected in the 1980s when she was still quite unknown. This work had a personal appeal because of my connection with Mrinalini.

4. We understand that KNMA Saket is undergoing a transformation, and the new, expanded space will be reopened to the public in February 2022 with a few large exhibitions. Please share some details about this renovation and the reason for it with our readers.

KN: The renovation started with us being able to acquire a small available space, so we decided to expand the entrance and change the location of the offices to have more light. They have now been moved to another side and it has given the museum a more spacious look. It was mostly a remodelling of the space, not a very large expansion. The renovated spaces are intended to be flexible in their use and open to reformulation of the spaces for each of the different exhibitions and innovative programming at the museum. We have been in this location for ten years, so it was important to upgrade the area. The renovation is being led by well-established architect Martand Khosla of RKDS.

KNMA Saket renovated space

We were meant to open in February and had planned some exhibitions to coincide with the India Art Fair. However, due to Covid, the Art Fair has been postponed to end April. We are now planning to open our shows around the middle of March. There will be three new shows opening at that time, including an exhibition to celebrate Somnath Hore’s centenary. The second will be focused on Atul Dodiya’s watercolours that he has painted in the two years since the first Covid lockdown. He painted more than 300 paintings during this time and we will be displaying approximately 180 works of his. The third is an extensive showcase of the reclusive genius master artist K. Ramanujam, and we will be exhibiting some very important historical works of his that I have recently acquired. It will be a collection of about 50 works.

The fourth show that will open will be along with the Frt fair around the end of April. This will be an exhibition in collaboration with the French Embassy and it will focus on 75 years of India’s independence. It is being curated by Rahaab Allana.

Apart from this, we will also be doing a retrospective of S.H. Raza to mark his centenary. This was scheduled to be done in Paris at the Center Pompidou but with the constant uncertainty surrounding Covid, this has now been postponed to 2023 most likely. However, we felt it was important to do something for Raza to mark this year and therefore we will be having this exhibition at Bikaner House, in a space that has not been seen before. It will have a lot of works from our collection, but also other important works from other Raza collections.

Finally, towards the end of May, we also have a show planned that has been in the works for two years at the Tretyakov Museum in Moscow, which will showcase a large collection of Indian modern and contemporary art.

5. We see a yawning gap between society and the visual arts in India. While KNMA has done a lot to bridge this divide through your outreach programs, what more can be done? Please share a few of your recent initiatives and your future plans in this regard.

KN: KNMA has always been a place for confluence through its curatorial initiatives, exhibitions, educational workshops, public programs and digital effort. We drove our digital effort to the forefront during the lockdown and subsequent Covid restrictions and are always looking to create an inroad for new audiences and give access to those who are interested.

Beyond our normal programming, we are always looking for new and innovative ideas to make art interesting and accessible. One of the things we hope to do is curate and create an immersive art experience, along the lines of what has been done with Van Gogh abroad. We would like to do something like this with a few Indian artists, creating a new realm for art in India and tapping into different audiences.

6. What in your view are the latest global trends in contemporary art? To what extent do you think artists in India are conversant with these trends and are following them? Could you name a couple of emerging Indian artists, especially those whose works you’ve added recently to your collection?

KN: I don't think that Indian art and artists necessarily take pointers from international art, either to change their way or their style. I don't think it comes from a leaning towards Western art, and, as such, it is not a necessary inspiration. Moreover, for a lot of Indian artists, I feel, miniatures have been a great inspiration. For example, V.S. Gaitonde who does abstract work has taken his inspiration from miniatures. I’m sure many artists are aware of what's happening in the west; in such a connected world as ours, this is only natural. However, I don't think there is any direct line of inspiration.

As far as art in the west is concerned, I feel that abstract art is a lot more a part of western art than it is in India. In India even today, figurative art is an important aspect. At one point in western art, such as during the times of the impressionist, renaissance, etc., figurative art was a very important aspect of western art. That's not to say that there are no painters who work in abstract art in India as well, but just that there are different styles that hold fort between the west and India.

Sosa Joseph is an artist I have recently acquired; she is from Kochi. I’m drawn to her works because she is a very painterly artist. What I mean by painterly is that her work really shows the depth of how painting and technique are intertwined and can be the fulcrum of an artist's work.

7. Finally, a personal question – what does your typical daily routine look like? We understand you are a keen bridge player. How and when do you find the time to participate in international bridge events?

KN: My day during Covid is different from my days without. My day with Covid starts with being at home, spending a lot of time on the computer or phone, on the internet. We play roughly a tournament every ten days online, so that takes up a lot of my time. I am in the process of playing the nationals at this time and we have qualified to be in the world championships.

Salso Maggiore in Italy will be the venue for the games. They are scheduled to kick off by the end of March or the beginning of April. We have been notified that the tournament is going to go ahead despite Covid. In Europe and now in the UK, they are trying to treat omicron as endemic rather than a pandemic and get on with life as much as possible.

(All images are courtesy of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, KNMA)


artamour presents a series of interviews with individuals, organisations and collectives working in the art ecosystem, who share their views about art, artists and their worldview in response to specially designed questions. Like, comment, share and subscribe to stay updated.

1 Comment

Very great interview with Mrs Kiran Nadar . I'm Artist Konduru Nageswar Rao from Hyderabad.

Since long time I'm hearing about Kiran mam. I'm fortunate to see her interview now. I would like to meet her once. Thank you 💐🙏

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