India's Rich are Tasteful Art Collectors Too
he billionaire life brings with it many perks, but none so much as art—its appreciation and acquisition—which sets one extraordinarily rich scion apart from the other. Wealth can command business jets in the hangar and yachts in the marina, mansions—though none so much as Antilla—and retreats, cars and watches, and the accoutrements of a rich and richly-lived life. But jewellery, to an aesthetic soul, and art to an intellectual one, are major differentiators, conversation points and conversation stoppers; they separate the newbies from the patrons. Once personal collections are in place, the rollout of museums will inevitably begin—as has already happened—to be followed by the establishment of art trusts and foundations.
HARSH GOENKA, with self portraits of Anjolie Ela Menon and Akbar Padamsee
Harsh Goenka: Make mine a self-portrait
Growing up in Calcutta, Harsh Goenka was put in charge of cataloguing the family’s miniature art. It was important enough to draw foreign scholars, but he found it “tedious”, thereby losing interest in the tradition. Later, in Bombay, he found himself drawn to the moderns, learning from his early mistakes, when he tended to pick up the merely decorative.
Goenka was numbered among the major collectors till he went cold turkey a few years ago, when inflated prices and thoughtlessly churned-out art put him off. But he’s back now. His tastes have evolved: From the initial investment in Bengal School to, later, Baroda; from works “of violence or strong paintings”, to “calmer works and many abstract artists whom I earlier wouldn’t have liked”. Describing it as an exciting journey, he says he’s moved from an interest in emerging artists to the masters of art: “Husain, Souza, Padamsee.”
The first big-ticket buy: “Husain’s Mother Teresa; it was a work introduced to me by my decorator.”
The Bengal phase: “For me, knowing or talking to an artist is important; so I didn’t collect Jamini Roy or Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore, but Ganesh Pyne and Chittravonu Mazumdar. But Bengal art was not going anywhere.” And that is when he discovered the Baroda school.
The complete collector? “I’m governed by the whims and fancies of a quack collector. Of course, there are serious gaps in my collection. Friends ask me, where are the KG Subramanyans and the Tyeb Mehtas?”
A museum collection?
“A museum would show up my stupidity as a collector! Mumbai needs a museum, but any space would be an hour-and-a-half outside the city. My dilemma is: Should I spend Rs 500 crore on building a museum or for buying more art?”
The collection highlight:
A recent focus has been acquiring (or commissioning) artists’ portraits, whether self-portraits, or one artist painting another artist. “That’s been an interesting journey. I find the mind of an artist paradoxical and intriguing, and in their portraits they reveal so much of themselves. I must have 700-800 artists’ portraits.”