From September 22, 2015 to January 5, 2016 the Kiran Nadar Museum will collaborate with Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York to present the largest exhibition of Nasreen Mohamedi till date. It brings together more than 200 works comprising of her paintings, drawings, photographs and some of her diary pages. In a freewheeling interview, Kiran Nadar speaks of this upcoming event, her collection, and the piquant position of being India’s leading, if not only significant collector. With inputs from Roobina Karode, Director of KNMA and curator of the exhibition.
CC: At present you have been been working out of your own space in NOIDA since 2010 and since 2012, from the Kiran Nadar Museum that you established in the South City Mall.The museum in a mall was in itself a fairly radical step. In December, KNMA will also host Dayanita Singh’s Museum Bhavan, a collection of seven museums. For an institution that is barely five years old, the KNMA has set up the most visible and active program among private museums in south Asia. Can we start by talking about your forthcoming project for a stand alone museum, where will it be located, and how does your collection anticipate this move ?
KN: We haven’t settled on the land as yet, but it will be in the National Capital Region. The museum needs not only a collection, and I have been acquiring across the board, but also an iconic building. This has not been done since post-Independence, in fact nothing has been done for the arts across the country in terms of an architectural site that is truly iconic. We would like to commit our collection to such an iconic building.
Over the last few years, as the idea of the museum has grown, the collection has changed tremendously, earlier one would not look at works for their historic importance or monumental works that could not be housed. Since establishing a museum, we have worked to give our collection depth, to acquire works of significance, wherever they are available.
CC: At one point between 2005 and 2010, a boom in private museums and collections was anticipated, but that hope seems to have been belied, and you stand alone as India’s principal collector. What are the reasons for this?
KN: I must confess I’m quite disappointed in the paucity of collectors, that no one else has shown the inclination to build collections, especially in the public domain. It’s a very lonely feeling, and it creates a feeling of pressure. That’s a disappointing aspect …...
I think the idea of art as an asset class has just not caught on. With the crash of the art market in 2008 people got their hands badly burnt, and they never went back to collecting actively. I too burnt my fingers very badly with the prices that one paid for contemporary art, and those prices are not likely to be achieved again.
CC: What is the core of the KNMA collection, and does the museum have a specific intention? Going forward, what kind of dialogue do you have, or anticipate, with state institutions? In your museum programming and curating what one misses perhaps is the historical or thematic address, in which major events in India could be addressed.
KN: I have been collecting where I could but developing a collection can be quite haphazard. The core of our collection is the Moderns, we would have about 150 to 200 very significant works. I have been quite ambivalent in not collecting any set group, but have bought young, contemporary and the modernists. If there is a goal post of where the collection starts that would be Ravi Varma at one end of the spectrum, but I have also been collecting the Bengal school. As far as thematic or histoic exhibtions are concerned, that takes time, and we will have the strength in our collection to have those soon.
CC: What are the numbers of works in the forthcoming exhibition, and who is contributing to the catalogue?
RK: There would be a total of 204 works, of which 34 are from the KNMA Collection. The exhibition investigates in-depth Nasreen’s practice and her singular vision that gets cultivated and refined through her pursuits. The publication will carry essays by Geeta Kapur, Deepak Ananth, Andrea Giunta, Shanay Jhaveri and myself.
CC: Is there is a significant difference in the way that the show was presented at KNMA New Delhi, and its presentation at Reina Sofia and the Metropolitan Museum?
RK: There is a difference of emphasis; there are for instance, several works which were not shown in KNMA. Also that Nasreen Mohamedi’s practice has not been thoroughly researched until now. Many things have got rectified after a period of intensive research, both in terms of dating, mediums and orientation of works. Nasreen never signed her works, even her diaries do not always mention dates. Besides collating information from various sources, we have pulled out catalogues of the past Indian Triennales and exhibitions at art galleries in Bombay and Delhi during the 1960s, 70s and 80s to arrive at a firm scholarship on the artist.
CC: How is the collection moving in terms of loans to biennales, is there an increasing interest? Recent curating internationally seems to engage with a spectrum of art from India, from Amar Kanwar to Jangarh Singh Shyam.
KN: The number of requests for loans is increasing, we had sent Bharti Kher’s elephant to the Rockbund Museum, there is now a request for Hema Upadhyay’s Dharavi Slum, which is presently on view in the museum. I was hoping that the Rameshwar Broota show would also travel.
CC: What do you feel about the progress of art, its expression and its course in the last few years, especially within India? You have said elsewhere in an interview that those involved in cultural management and infrastructure need to take more responsibility.
KN: Yes the state’s participation has been very thin; the fact that we still don’t have a pavilion at Venice is quite a disgrace. The government when they take on something, do not plan it well. Without proper planning the triennale too can become quite a haphazard event. When you run an institution and are dealing with ministries, the problem is that they are unresponsive, they really have no interest. Even when we do a major show at the museum, nobody from the Ministry of Culture ever comes.
CC: Is this across the board? Even private initiatives like the India Art Fair have become quite lacklustre.
KN: In terms of an art fraternity, I would say participation at museum events is quite strong, but with the lay public, the museum habit is quite sparse, although now we get a lot of schools and colleges. The India Art Fair has lost the foreign galleries, I believe that adequate promotion and publicity was lacking. What they put up could also have been curated better, although personally I liked the show.
CC: You also have very large office premises at HCL, are you selecting art works for those particularly as public installations? What about collecting within our neighbourhood in south Asia?
KN: We have commissioned Praneet Soi to do a large work at Chennai, in a building with a capacious well, which will measure 30x20 feet. We have also commisioned a major work by Rana Begum. I haven’t really looked at Bangladeshi or Pakistani artists although I would like to collect Shazia Sikander and Faiza Butt.
All artworks reproduced on this page are part of the KNMA Collection.