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India Inc's Art Connoisseurs

Apart from scripting successful business strategies, corporate India also has an eye for art
Nevin John & Ajita Shashidhar | Print Edition: November 15, 2020
India Inc's Art Connoisseurs
The M.F. Husain Painting at the Bajaj headquarters in Pune

The Bajaj headquarters at Akurdi, Pune, opens into a larger-than-life installation of M.F. Husain. The more than 30-year-old painting depicts the significance of Bajaj's iconic scooter brand, Chetak, in the life of an average Indian in the early eighties. According to art curators, the painting is insured for multiple crores of rupees. The Bajaj family is known to have a deep understanding of art and has a huge collection.

Bajaj is not alone. India has a legacy of strong family-run businesses that have survived the test of time.

The country's richest man and Chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), Mukesh Ambani's home, Antilia, has a spectacular collection of paintings and sculptures from across the world, personally curated by none other than Nita Ambani (Founder and Chairperson, Reliance Foundation). A significant amount of the Ambani family's art collection also adorns the walls of their offices and Reliance Foundation's hospital in Mumbai.

The newest addition to the group's initiatives is the Reliance Art Foundation, committed to showcase the best of Indian art on global platforms. The art foundation is under the supervision of Gen-X of the Ambani family, Isha Ambani, Director, RIL. Isha wants to create a museum to showcase art forms from across the world. Reliance Foundation has also been associated with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, better known as The Met, since 2016, where it has put up works of renowned Indian artist, Nasreen Mohamedi. The presentation was the first retrospective exhibition of the artist's work in the US, and also one of The Met's inaugural exhibitions. In 2017, the foundation entered into a partnership with The Met to support exhibitions that celebrate art works of India.

Another corporate bigwig, the RPG Group's headquarter in Mumbai is nothing short of an art gallery. Its walls adorn the works of legendary artists such as S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee, M.F. Hussain and F.N. Souza. Chairman Harsh Goenka attributes his deep passion for art to his early years in Kolkata, where he interacted with lots of artists and musicians. "I have never consciously chosen an artist or a style but gone with the emotion of the moment when I bought someone's work. Over time, my collection became an ensemble of work that conveyed joy, pathos, anger, euphoria, tranquility," explains Goenka. "I have never looked at art as an investment. I don't have a commercial relationship with art. When I delve into an aesthetic composition, I cast aside my business brain and simply enjoy art for what it is," he adds.

In fact, the city of Mumbai is dotted with art installations such as 'The Dabbawala' in Haji Ali, 'The Fishermen' in Mahim and 'The Cameraman' in Bandra, depicting the quintessential Mumbai life.

The RPG Art Foundation has played a major role in getting these installations placed in key locations. "My vision is to beautify as many public spaces in Mumbai as I can," says Goenka. The art foundation's newest installation is a 10,000-sq-ft. 'Wall of Gratitude' mural in Worli, in honour of frontline Covid warriors.

Piramal Group Chairman Ajay Piramal and his wife Swati Piramal, Group Vice Chairperson, went a step further by launching the Piramal Museum of Art (PMA) at group headquarters in Lower Parel, Mumbai, five years ago. The idea was to blend their love for art with contemporary reality. "Mumbai is so space constrained. There aren't too many private galleries to display art," Swati had said about the initiative. The 7,000-sq.-ft. museum is now a repository of historic and rare collections of Indian contemporary and modern art collected by the Piramal Art Foundation. The museum has held exhibitions featuring art works of masters such as Abanindranath Tagore, S.H. Raza, K. Ramanujam, K.G. Subramanyan and Raja Ravi Varma, among others.

One can get a glimpse of the art collection of the Piramals at their real estate projects too. Piramal Ananta in Kurla, Mumbai, for instance, has an art gallery, which has works of F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain, Subodh Gupta and Krishen Khanna. The most eye-catching are 10 paintings by artist duo Thukral and Tagra depicting the 'Dasavatar', which adorn the stairway of the building. Piramal Aranya in Byculla (also in Mumbai) has 26 paintings created by Thukral and Tagra. The paintings depict the flora and fauna of the nearby Byculla zoo. The museum organises art engagement programmes with Piramal employees in Mumbai, and in over 40 schools. Over 5,000 students visit the exhibitions every year. Besides, there are also events, panel discussions and workshops with some of the countrys best artists, academics and theorists.

The JSW Group headquarter in Mumbai also has an enviable art collection, curated by Sangita Jindal, wife of Chairman and MD Sajjan Jindal. JSW steel plant in Vijayanagar also has many such paintings displayed. Her aim is to open a huge museum for art, mostly paintings and sculptures.

These corporate art connoisseurs claim they are passionate about art and don't have any commercial motive whatsoever. However, the value of the art they own runs into crores of rupees and constitute a significant portion of their wealth.

@nevinji

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