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There is no way you can just walk through acclaimed art collector and entrepreneur Abhishek Poddar’s office, without being awestruck. Tucked away in a quiet lane in the heart of Bangalore, every floor and every wall has artworks adorning and accentuating it – paintings, sculptures, photographs and installations, that make you pause, and draw you in. What strikes you most is that this collection, only a small part of Abhishek’s vast one, is not an overt ‘display’. It is bound together by an understated elegance, a simplicity in the way it is presented. It’s as if the art is there ‘just because’.
(Abhishek Poddar with his wife, Radhika Poddar)
As we finally dragged ourselves away from the art, and into Abhishek’s spacious cabin, we discovered that the awe-inspiring simplicity and subtlety of the collection, are just an extension of the collector himself.
Living Amidst Art
Born in Kolkata, Abhishek Poddar grew up in an environment of art. His parents were conscious collectors, but less focused on Indian art. The Indian part of their collection was largely limited to a few historical sculptural pieces.
“Though my parents did not buy the kind of art that I collect today, they may have shaped my affinity for art,” says Abhishek. Pointing out that serious collecting begins past the point where the art you buy spruces up your home, and leads eventually to a surplus of work that needs proper maintenance and care, he adds, “I don’t know if my parents were collectors per se, as they didn’t have the storage issues I face today! All their art was hung on the wall. There were some really good artworks, but we left everything behind when we moved from our family home.”
Drummer, Tyeb Mehta (1988), Museum No.: MAC.00459
(from Abhishek Poddar's personal art collection)
Art continued to be a significant part of Abhishek’s growing years. While studying at The Doon School, he decided to publish an art magazine, a first for the school. While the exercise was initiated to help him and his friends go on outings from school, it turned out to be Abhishek’s first tryst with artists. “With the deadline for publishing approaching, we were in a state of panic,” says Abhishek. “In all my naivety, I decided to contact a list of acclaimed artists, asking them to write a piece on art for us, thinking they’d be thrilled with the opportunity of contributing to such a prestigious school’s magazine!” What followed was sheer serendipity. Artists actually responded to Abhishek’s letters, and the magazine was published.
Herself and Myself, M.F. Husain (undated), Museum No.: MAC.00516
Later, when Abhishek’s father gave him a sum of money to start his own art collection, it was yet another letter Abhishek had written, that helped him with his first purchase. Acclaimed artist Anjolie Ela Menon had quoted a few lines in a newspaper article, from a letter Abhishek had written to her a few years prior to his school publication project. “A classmate pointed out the quote to me, and I contacted Anjolie Ela Menon, who subsequently put me in touch with a gallery in Kolkata owned by actor Victor Banerjee,” says Abhishek. “That’s how I bought my first artwork – an Anjolie Ela Menon painting, while also developing a relationship with a gallery for the first time.” Subsequently, Abhishek also bought a Jatin Das painting in the early 80s, but this time with his own money.
Pukhraj Devi, Anjoli Ela Menon (1991), Museum No.: MAC.00616
Over the years, Abhishek Poddar has collected an enviable array of Indian art by the biggest names of Indian art, from F.N. Souza and S.H. Raza to M.F. Husain and V.S. Gaitonde. “I have been very lucky and continue to be so, when buying art,” says Abhishek. “In the 1980s, an old man in Kolkata who was a framer, took a liking to me and sold me 26 paper works from Raza, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Paritosh Sen, H. A. Gade and other eminent artists, for a total of just Rs. 3,500!” In a similar stroke of luck, on a sunny afternoon in Goa in the early 1990s, Abhishek acquired four editioned works of Souza for a mere Rs.1,200.
Universe, S.H. Raza (1993), Museum No.: MAC.00468
Of Influences and Restraint
Abhishek’s artistic choices can be traced back to the huge influence exerted on him by renowned artist Manjit Bawa, with whom he had a close relationship, predating his investment in collecting art seriously. “Manjit would catch hold of me and make me meet artists, reputed and new alike,” says Abhishek. “He introduced me to everyone from J. Swaminathan to Tyeb Mehta; if not the artists, then their work. And he forced me to look at art that I didn’t enjoy. He even stopped me from buying his art and would point me towards others’ art! Manjit introduced me to the then up and coming artists like Atul Dodiya, Dhruva Mistry and Jayashree Chakravarty, and I bought their works way before they became famous.” Many artists whose works Abhishek bought became close friends, almost like members of his family.
Krishna Eating the Fire, Manjit Bawa (c1980), Museum No.: MAC.00480
However, he explains that there is no compulsion that drives his purchases. “I have never been smitten by art, or in love with art. I am fond of it,” says Abhishek, evincing a sense of detachment. “I’ve been very restrained in my purchases; there have been very few times that I have tried too hard to acquire a piece.” One such incident, when he veered from this path of restraint, was for a massive installation. Abhishek blocked a door in his house, which was under construction at the time, to make space for the installation. As luck would have it, he didn’t succeed in buying the work, and had to break down an entire wall to create the door again!
Hovering Angels, Jayshree Chakravarty (1988), Museum No.: MAC.00507
The Passion for Photography
Today, Abhishek Poddar is known for his deep association with photography as a medium. Tasveer, the pan-India gallery he founded in 2006, is dedicated exclusively to promoting photography and photographers. “In the late 90s, I was getting bored with the Indian art scene as it was becoming very formulaic. It felt like art was being created on a production line,” says Abhishek. “At that time, I saw Dayanita Singh’s photographs, and it was a bolt from the blue. I began to see the medium of photography with a new eye, and started looking out for good photographers. Photography was exciting, fresh and affordable, so I started collecting it.”
The Tasveer Gallery in Bangalore
Abhishek Poddar isn’t satisfied just experiencing art for himself. In his attempt to give back to society and art, Abhishek sold several artworks from his personal collection at a Christie’s auction in December 2016, and raised Rs. 35 crores to buy land for his ambitious and compelling art project - the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP). “My childhood was very special because it was enriched by art. I want today’s children to have a stimulating experience with art, like I did,” he shares. With MAP, Abhishek wants to create an inviting and engaging space that tickles the imagination, and enables people to broaden their thought process.
After collecting for over three decades, Abhishek has sound advice for new collectors. “Collect quality. The Indian art market is still unregulated, and there are many fakes, so you need to be very well informed if you’re trying to buy a big name. Moreover, the days of collecting Husains and Razas are gone. One should collect today’s artists, who might become the big names of tomorrow. Unless you are a serious collector filling in a time-period, there’s no reason to go after the big names.”
*All the artworks shown in the article are part of Abhishek Poddar's art collection.
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