Art critics loot and they loot absolutely. I am talking about those art critics who charge money and a work of art for their professional services. If an art critic has a heavy load of works of art that goes in the name of a personal collection, be sure that he/she is a pirate. I have been active in our contemporary art scene for the last two decades and many people ask me whether I have a good collection of art. If I tell you the truth you may be shocked: I don’t have any collection of art. But I am the biggest art collector in the world. You may find it very contradictory. On the one hand I say I don’t have a collection and on the other I say I am the biggest collector in the world.
Let me start with my collection. In my studio, that is exactly K.S.Radhakrishnan’s studio where he has allotted me a floor for my private use and to develop an archives, I have a ‘Soonya Buddha’ by KSR himself. When I bought my house in 2004, KSR told me to pick a work from his repertoire of works. I told him that I was waiting for the biggest work of KSR so that I can take it as my gift. Now his biggest work is a forty feet long sculptural installation titled, ‘The Ramp’. That’s mine. Only problem is that now my house is not big enough to accommodate that. Hence, with this my aspiration level has gone high. Somewhere I have a feeling that I should have such a huge house so that I can accommodate this Ramp work. That’s how I have come to the conclusion that one day I am going to establish a museum of Indian contemporary art.
And be sure I am not joking. During the boom days, at his Juhu residence that looks at the sea from the drawing room, Chintan Upadhyay gave me one drawing and one mask. I was crying inside his bathroom because those were the days when the arrogant artists of the Indian scene were trying to hunt me down. When I came out of the bathroom, Chintan gave me two works. I did not know why he gave me those works. They are still with me. Manjunath Kamat always wanted to give me a work. I always told him that one day I would come for his work and I would choose the work that I want. Long back, when I was a student Shibu Natesan had given me four works, which he later took back citing the reason that my mother was not keeping them the way he wanted.
Artists offer me works when I write a catalogue for them. But I refuse to take them. Recently I wrote a catalogue for Balbir Krishan, an artist who deals with gay issues. He did not speak of remuneration nor did I do so. Later he sent me a two by two canvas, a very dear work. On my birthday, Garima Jayadevan, a Mumbai based artist sent a portrait of mine made in her own style. Later she brought the original for me; a small paper portrait of mine. On the same birthday my son drew a portrait of mine; but he conceived me as Ninja Hatori, a samurai cartoon character from Japan who is quite popular amongst Indian kids. Shinod Akkaraparambil also sent me a portrait. I am waiting for the original. Somu Desai, with his typical ammonia transfer on silk and canvas, has already created a hall of fame for me in my studio.
(Manisha Gera Baswani)
One day I got a call from Manisha Gera Baswani. She intended to send something to me. Her driver delivered to me. When I opened the packet, I saw a very good portrait of the veteran artist, A.Ramachandran with his sculpture. If at all anything on my walls other than the scribbling made by my children, this is the only one frame. Recently, art critic and painter Shubhalakshmi Shukla carefully brought one painting for me. I have kept it here and it will have a prominent place in the contemporary museum I am planning to build in future. Then a couple of months before I walked into Chintan’s home at Green Park and while talking he asked me what would I like to take home that day. He showed me a few small sculptures. I chose one, a golden smart alec baby with hands sprouting from different places.
You may still wonder why how I could call myself the biggest collector in the world. Yes, I am the biggest collector in the world. But the works are not with me. They are all kept in different studios of different artists. I just need to walk in and pick up my work. Let me tell you with all arrogance and confidence that I could walk into any studio in India and take a work of art for myself. There may be twenty odd artists who would not give their works to me. But when I have my museum in place and all your works are displayed, how can they keep themselves away from such a museum? They too will give their works.
So artists of India, I am going to make a museum for you because you have made me the biggest art collector in the world. The overwhelming response to United Art Fair has made me again confident that we could have the biggest museum of Indian contemporary art. And I am sure one day the Government of India would recognize the need for such a museum.
Come, let me tell you how to become an art collector. United Art Fair is the best platform for this. Tomorrow I am going to talk about it.