Where Tradition Has Ruled, a Home for Contemporary Art

An Indian home for contemporary artThe art that Anupam Poddar and his mother have collected will be exhibited in a new space in what will be, in effect, India’s first contemporary art museum. Somini Sengupta in the New York Times:

New Delhi: Anupam Poddar had a living room once. These days the sofa is shoved into a corner, and the rest of the big square space is taken up by a life-size model of an antique cream-colored Jaguar with a giant mechanical dinosaur mounting it from behind. On the dining table sits a row of exquisitely delicate sculptures made of human bone and red velvet. A video installation has found a home above a bathroom tub.
For Mr. Poddar, 34, buying art long ago stopped being a question of what to hang on which wall. Installations, many of them large and provocative, squeezed themselves into each room, across the garden, in the driveway and in every lavatory.
“It just took over my life. I had to throw out most of my furniture,” Mr. Poddar confessed. “It became an obsession. The term hobby is too tame. It almost controls you.”
The private obsession Mr. Poddar shares with his mother, Lekha, who lives downstairs, is about to become a public boon.
“While most collectors in India still ‘buy with their ears,’ ” said Peter Nagy, a transplanted New Yorker who runs the Nature Morte gallery here, “the Poddars have always listened to their hearts and brains and have never been afraid to be independent in their choices.”
“It’s a Routine Scrutiny” by Susanta Mandal, from the vast collection of Anupam Poddar and his mother, Lekha.
Mr. Poddar, whose day job is running an upscale hotel company, admits to being inspired by his mother, who began collecting modern and folk art several decades ago. Except that the work his mother sought out, including pieces by the post-Indian-independence generation of artists known as the Progressives, did not resonate with the son. He gravitated toward artists of his own generation.
“Their vision of India was similar to mine,” he said. “It was being part of this — I hate this word — global world. It wasn’t just India. It wasn’t so isolated. They were working with sculpture, installation, with new media.”
His first acquisition, in 1999, was a life-size pink fiberglass cow by Mr. Gupta. “It was quintessentially Indian but modern in its essence,” he said. “That’s what spoke to me.”
The obsession flowered quickly. Each room became a gallery devoted to one artist. Bharti Kher’s work now takes up his mother’s bedroom, including an elephant covered in squiggly, sperm-shaped bindis, which Indian women use as adornments on the forehead.
The Jaguar-dinosaur in the living room is a 2006 piece by Mr. Shetty that Mr. Poddar describes as “an overgrown toy.” With the flick of a switch, the dinosaur’s heart throbs and it mates with the Jaguar. Mr. Gupta made a cow-dung cave that sits in the dining room. Mrs. Poddar said it stank when it first arrived, freshly assembled. Sometimes her dog nibbled on it.
Mr. Poddar acquired the bone and velvet series, by Anita Dube, from its previous owner, whose family did not want it displayed at home, which is understandable. One of the pieces is a human rib cage fashioned into a bordello-style red velvet fan. It found pride of place on the dining table here — in a vegetarian household, no less.
Art, Mr. Poddar is fond of saying, is something you have to live with no matter how provocative. “You can’t avoid it. Also, it’s not safe.” Sometimes, he said, he wonders why he hadn’t taken up gardening instead.
The government-run National Gallery of Modern Art, which has sites here and in Mumbai, only rarely shows contemporary work. At Devi, the schedule next year includes a show of Pakistani art and one of folk and tribal art from across India.
“There is no commercial angle,” Mrs. Poddar said. “We don’t have to be afraid.”
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