A decade in Indian art: 2010s saw rise of private collectors, emergent relationship between between sector and CSR
The emergence of a wealth of private museums as part of the Indian art scene has been the consequence of another trend that has held serious sway over the last decade — foundation-building. Whether such a sizeable swell in institution-building has actually enabled ethical philanthropy, remains debatable.
The trends that marked the beginning of the last decade in Indian art not only continue to hold sway, but are now deeply entrenched as norms.
The emergence of a wealth of private museums has been the consequence of another trend that has held serious sway over the last decade: foundation-building.
Whether such a sizeable swell in institution-building has actually enabled ethical philanthropy, remains debatable.
This is part one of a column on the decade that was in Indian contemporary art
The Indian art world could have ushered in the 2020s with the gusto of a sector that was presented with the opportunity for ethical transformation through the momentum gained by the #MeToo movement that acknowledged its oppressive patriarchal core. But its structural commitment to capitalism continues to hold sway, facilitated as it is by governmental apathy.
Many trends that marked the beginning of the last decade continue to hold sway and are now deeply entrenched as norms, not all of which are negative developments. For instance, the rise of the private collector either as a direct consequence of the rise and crash of the art boom of the noughties or as an incidental blessing, has most definitely helped sustain the still nascent Indian art market. In January 2010, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art opened its expansive space within a South Delhi mall, heralding the mushrooming of private art museums across the country by others of her ilk as a corrective to the lacunae of healthy public art institutions.
Some of these include the Dashrath Patel Museum in Alibaug, off the Mumbai coast, housing paintings, ceramic pottery, photography, and design-related work by the late Dashrath Patel, set up by his friend, Pinakin Patel around 2012; the Swaraj Art Archive, Noida, established in 2013 to document, preserve and showcase Vijay Kumar Aggarwal’s family collection; Piramal Museum of Art, which opened to the public on 15 November, and is housed within the campus of the Peninsula Corporate Park in Mumbai’s lower Parel across 7,000 square feet and was conceived as a repository for important, historic and rare pieces of Indian contemporary and modern art within the larger collection of the Piramal Art Foundation.
In Kolkata, the Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC), founded by the Emami group very recently opened its sprawling 70,000 square feet space. The delayed Rakhi Sarkar-led Kolkata Museum of Modern Art, a tripartite venture between the Government of West Bengal, the Government of India and the private sector, estimated to cost a total of Rs 410 crores, slated as the celebrated architectural firm, Herzog & De Meuron’s first India commission over 10 acres should open soon, as will the MAP—Museum of Art and Photography in Bengaluru, the brainchild of Abhishek Poddar, which will house a growing collection of over 18,000 artworks from the Indian subcontinent dating from the 10th century to the present, alongside a robust outreach programme.
Such initiatives by private collectors have not been confined to metropolitan hubs, they extended to various off-centre locations and two-tier cities. In Jaipur, the Gyan Museum, set up in 2015 and designed by Paul Mathieu, hosts the assorted collection of the late Gyan Chand Ji Dhaddha that boasts textiles, paintings, metal art, silver hookahs, antique jewellery, vintage spectacles, 17th Century paintings, and rare inscriptions. Although it is accessible by appointment only, the museum personnel make themselves approachable over phone or email, and the museum director, Akhil Dhaddha, has expressed an openness to collaborations with contemporary artists.
In Goa, Subodh Kerkar’s Museum of Goa (MOG) was opened in 2015 as “not just a repository of objects, but as a laboratory of ideas where all forms of art are in constant dialogue with each other.” When Kerkar isn’t preoccupied with brandishing his own art for public viewing, alongside work by members of his family, he actually does encourage some interesting shows and offers a platform for local Goan artists to meet their counterparts from other parts of the country.
Such a wealth of private museums is the impact of another trend that has held serious sway over the last decade — foundation-building. Whether to facilitate tax benefits or to further the cause of their own vanity, or, in some cases out of genuine passion for promoting the arts, private collectors and galleries, too, have been busy setting up their unique foundations to fund a plethora of activities from art awards to handing out curatorial grants to key players from the West to fund their India research trips to financing multi-disciplinary art festivals, signalling the emergent relationship between contemporary art and corporate social responsibility (CSR). More recent such outfits include Shalini Passi Foundation, Piramal Art Foundation, the Godrej India Culture Lab, Serendipity Arts Foundation, Saat Saath Arts, Prameya Art Foundation, to list a few.
Whether or not such a sizeable swell in institution-building has actually enabled ethical philanthropy, remains debatable. One’s position on the subject depends entirely on where one locates oneself within the rigid power hierarchies that continue to dominate the Indian art world. For instance, many foundations now offer art awards to young and needy art practitioners as well as curators to enable their work on select projects, but there is always either a covert or transparent insistence on quid pro quo, where artists, such as photographers, are contractually obligated to hand over one set of prints of an entire edition to the allegedly philanthropic institution in exchange for the grant money, which, one might argue, doesn’t quite conform to the fairly established standard of what constitutes a philanthropic gesture.
Many so-called ‘not-for-profit’ foundations are offshoots of commercial galleries and almost no effort is made by them to steer clear of conflicts of interest. Similarly, while more publications exist for art criticism, magazine editors continue to seek nominations from curators of shows and gallery directors for writers to review their shows, again, with no regard for potential conflicts of interest, thus compromising the reviewing enterprise.