As the India Art Fair returned to New Delhi last week for the first time since the pandemic, it confirmed a changing trend in the Indian art market. Where collecting was previously the preserve of wealthy collectors in search of blue-chip names, the pandemic has given fledgling enthusiasts the opportunity to virtually explore the art world, make personal connections with artists themselves and even to buy art on a budget.
Thus, the fair’s programming made a concerted effort to reach out to new and young collectors, and similarly, galleries deliberately shone the spotlight on emerging artists and overlooked Indigenous art forms.
Established collectors are following this example and supplementing their top-notch collections with young local talent. The effort to support the work of young artists, especially those who practice indigenous forms, responds to the changing socio-political climate of the country. As right-wing conservative sentiments are on the rise and cultural diversity is threatened with erasure, patrons feel responsible for raising liberal voices and preserving the country’s artistic traditions.
While these efforts are evident in the movements of well-known collectors like Kiran Nadar and Abhishek Poddar – who have made their collections available to the public – the buying habits of their younger cohorts are particularly indicative of this trend. These people see themselves as patrons of their own artistic revolutions, bringing to light works in danger of disappearing and raising the voices of artists of the time. We spoke to five collectors demonstrating this trend in the Indian art world.
Occupation: Founder and Director of Space Studio, an independent non-profit arts organization
What’s in the collection: Amin’s collection includes works by NS Harsha, Bhupen Khakhar, Reena Saini Kallat, Bharat Sikka and Atul Dodiya. Her first piece was a work commissioned by Prajwal Choudhury, who was then in the final year of his master’s program in visual arts.
Distinguishing factor: Amin tends to buy several works by the same artists, as she likes to follow the evolution of an artist’s career. The artist she loves the most is Shilpa Gupta, whose 2012 light installation Where do I end and where do you begin is in Amin’s house in Mumbai.
Where she shops: “I have a personal relationship with the gallery owners, so it’s good to get a first taste of what they have,” Amin said. She also makes it a point to visit the artists themselves, in their studios, so she can learn more about their process and better understand the story behind their work.
Fun fact: Amin started his career at Citibank, but left after two years to take an art history course at Sotheby’s. She worked at the former auction house Osiaan’s and Bodhi Art Gallery before founding Space Studio in 2006.
Occupation: Interior designer
What’s in the collection: Shah’s collection includes over 100 paintings, photographs and sculptures, and includes works by Tanmoy Samanta, Jitish Kallat, Dayanita Singh, Jahangir Jani, Varunika Saraf and Zarina Hashmi.
Distinguishing factor: Shah makes it a point to buy works from unrepresented artists, whom he often connects with on Instagram. “I prefer to collect artists of our time,” he said, “because their art speaks of our time.”
Where he shops: Galleries like TARQ from Mumbai, Jhaveri Contemporary and Chatterjee and Lal, as well as Nature Morte from New Delhi. In addition to attending art fairs around the world, Shah also attends graduate exhibitions at art schools.
Fun fact: While interning with interior designer Rajiv Saini, Shah worked on the interior design of the home of artist couple Jitish and Reena Saini Kallat. When the project ended, Kallat presented Shah with one of his paintings – it was the first work of art Shah would own.
Occupation: Founder of Pichvai: Tradition and Beyond, a workshop that seeks to revive the 16th-century devotional art form
What’s in the collection: Singhal has a collection of around 150 pieces, including works by Zarina Hashmi, Nasreen Mohamedi, Akbar Padamsee and Jogen Chowdhury, as well as photographs by Roger Ballen, Dayanita Singh and Umrao Shergill.
Distinguishing factor: Singhal’s collection sees a coexistence of the traditional and the contemporary. Even in his pichvai gallery, Singhal will alternate devotional paintings with more conceptual works, for example, an Asim Waqif sculpture made from recycled car parts.
Where she shops: Singhal has purchased works from Pundole’s, Sotheby’s New Delhi’s GallerySKE, Photo Ink, Nature Morte, Gallery Espace and Vadehra Art Gallery, Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road and Jhaveri Contemporary, and Kolkata’s Experimenter.
Fun fact: Singhal comes from a family of businessmen, but was brought up to have a strong appreciation for the arts. His mother had close relationships with artisans and contemporary art gallery owners, a duality that Singhal continues to reflect in his work as well as his collection.
Occupation: Angel investor and founder of beauty brand Organic Riot
What’s in the collection: Somaiya has works by more than 50 young Indian artists. The collection includes works by Vishwa Shroff, Sameer Kulavoor and Manjit Bawa, with recent additions by recent art school graduates Anila Govindappa, Jayeeta Chatterjee, Aditya Rajput and Richa Arya.
Distinguishing factor: Somiaya makes a point of supporting emerging artists and even purchased works from his peers when he was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Living artists need patronage the most,” he says, “I’ve seen a lot of talented people fall through the cracks, and I just want to do my part to make sure that doesn’t happen. “
Where he shops: The gallery Somaiya frequents the most is Tarq in Mumbai, but he is also a client of Mantissa Art, Jhaveri Contemporary, Sakshi Gallery and Lakeeran Gallery.
Fun fact: Somaiya was instrumental in establishing the “Immerse Art Festival” at Somaiya Vidyavihar University, one of the institutions owned by his family. The festival provided a platform for art school graduates who had not had the chance to showcase their work in a physical space due to the pandemic.
Occupation: Founder of the contemporary art gallery Blueprint.12
What’s in the collection: Lamba inherited his love for art from his father, who was an avid collector himself. Its collection includes works by artist Gond Jangarh Singh Shyam, artist Warli Jivya Soma Mashe, artist Baiga Shanti Bai and master Madhubani Mahasundari Devi.
Distinguishing factor: Since 2013, Lamba has been actively developing a collection of indigenous art. She hopes to complete her collection of Madhubani masters by acquiring a work by Sita Devi, and recently purchased an 18th century bronze cuirass worn by performers of the South Indian Theyyam performance tradition.
Where she shops: Lamba buys art through private collectors, art advisors and has also made purchases through the auction house SaffronArt. She also visits artisan communities on her travels. All of his pieces are meticulously researched and have a strong chain of provenance.
Fun fact: In 2017, Lamba launched the Legacy Arts Forum in conjunction with the 320 Exhibition and worked with the UN to provide a platform for Indigenous artists across the country.
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