What I Buy and Why: Museum Impresario Kiran Nadar on Championing Indian Artists on the Global Stage
The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art is home to some 8,000 works of art.
Kiran Nadar has become a central force in India’s cultural landscape. In 2010, she founded the private nonprofit Kiran Nadar Museum of Art to share her collection with a larger audience, which since opening, has grown to now include more than 8,000 works of Modern and contemporary Indian art.
With branches in both Delhi and Noida, Nadar sees the museum as a way to ensure wide accessibility to the collection and foster a museum-going culture among younger Indians.
Beyond India, Nadar has forged collaborations on a global scale with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, Musee Guimet, the India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the Reina Sofia, and the Sharjah Foundation. She has supported Indian artists including Jayshree Chakravarty, Nasreen Mohamedi, Nalini Malani, and Bhupen Kkakhar.
When she’s not promoting the arts at home and abroad, Nadar also happens to be an internationally renowned bridge player. We caught up with Nadar at her home in Delhi, where she lives with her husband, Shiv Nadar.
What was your first purchase?
Runners (1982) by Rameshwar Broota. I was looking to decorate our home in Delhi and I have to admit, it was quite a bold purchase. The work is a very graphic male nude and my husband was surprised and hesitant to hang the work in the house. We often host, and the nature of the work can stir discussion. This power in art is why it is so important. I took my husband to Rameshwar’s studio and in meeting the artist in person he was entranced and we haven’t stopped collecting since.
What was your most recent purchase?
Ancestor by Bharti Kher. Commissioned by Public Art Fund, it is installed in Central Park (now through August 27, 2023) for anyone walking by to access freely. It is a major moment for Kher. As well as being her most ambitious work to date in scale, it is also the first time an artist from India is represented on this platform. It is a great privilege to be a part of it and I look forward to introducing the sculpture to India where it will be permanently installed in the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.
Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
While the team is in the process of raising the new site for the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, I’m also looking outwards at international ways to support artists from India and its diaspora to encourage stronger relationships.
In a travelling show with the Sharjah Art Foundation, we are presenting “Pop South Asia: Artistic Explorations in the Popular.” The show is open now until December 11 in Sharjah and will be travelling to the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in early 2023, opening alongside the India Art Fair. While the show is currently in Sharjah, I’m curious to meet new artists based in the region that would add value to the collection.
What is the most expensive work of art that you own?
While I do not comment on the financial value of art in the collection, I am happy to reveal those with particular sentimental value. I have a large collection of works by S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain who I have great affinity for. When I first started collecting, I was mostly drawn to the Modern masters, but my collection is now quite broad and ranges from antiquities to the pre-Moderns to the contemporaries.
Where do you buy art most frequently?
I’m quite diverse in where I acquire works of art. It is extremely important to support galleries. They in turn support an entire ecosystem from the grassroots. But equally, as I’m also buying historical and modern works for the collection, auctions are often the ideal platform to access the secondary market. I also cannot deny that I very much enjoy the unique atmosphere of a sale.
Is there a work you regret purchasing?
There is no specific work I regret purchasing. Collecting for a museum is so different to collecting for strictly personal pursuits. Sometimes I’m also purchasing works to intentionally fill gaps. It is important that the collection reflects the narrative of our cultural heritage.
What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?
A very good question! I have some very important and iconic Modern masters above my sofas including a Husain and a Gaitonde. Our home is filled to the brim. When the collection was overflowing and we had to start finding an alternative storage solution, it did not feel right to keep artworks hidden. That’s how the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art came to be. My husband and I identified a gap in institutional museums across India and already have a history of philanthropic projects. It felt like the natural next step to pursue this for the local art scene.
What is the most impractical work of art you own?
It is probably the installation by Subodh Gupta called Line of Control, a silver mushroom cloud extending 26-by-26 feet, which takes up a lot of space. It is a logistical puzzle and needs a specific team to assemble it as it is made up of lots of empty pots and pans.
What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
Of course there are some works that got away. But I have found that sometimes they do come back and I have another opportunity. Over time, I’ve had to learn when to let go of these missed opportunities, but I never forget a great piece! Today, I prefer to channel my more competitive energy into my professional bridge tournaments.
If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
That is an easy one: The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh.
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