“It is a great feeling to receive the Padma Shri. It is not just a personal high but also a recognition of the role of art in society, says Delhi-based Kiran Nadar, recipient of the prestigious national award for civilians this year.
She is India’s biggest art collector, aficionado and also founder-chairperson of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), a trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, a philanthropist and an international bridge player.
The Padma Shri, she says, comes as recognition for her 30 years of work in democratising art.
“In spite of having a rich heritage of art and culture, India is not a country where museum visits are something that the public enjoys.”
But hopefully her efforts will change this and make art accessible to the masses.
Getting the common man into museums will be a slow process but Kiran is hopeful that her KNMA will accelerate the process by exhibiting the best art freely for public viewing. The first one came up in Saket in 2010 and a second, much larger one presently under construction in Aerocity will be ready by 2026.
She adds, “I am ready to share every artwork I possess with the museum so that people can see and appreciate them. You don’t have to own the art to enjoy it. Through the museum, we also try to get children to view and learn about art. I feel exposure to the best art will make for a better society. We have to begin the journey even if it is going to be a long haul.”
The Kiran Nadar museums are privately funded entirely.
She says, “We are a developing country, so the government has more pressing needs to attend to. However, I think this is changing and art is getting more attention albeit slowly. In our country, a large part of the population is too busy dealing with the essentials for livelihood to indulge in art appreciation. As society progresses, so will the interest in art.”
She says the objective of KNMA is to bring art closer to people.
“For now, I am happy that KNMA is able to do something towards this by bringing art closer to people. Each year I find the footfall to the museum increasing and these visitors range from children to seniors. That makes me happy.”
She is currently hosting a big exhibition at her museum in Saket ‘Raghu Rai — A Thousand Lives’, which are the photographer’s works from 1965-2005. The exhibition is open to public till May 15 and is just one of the many efforts towards showcasing the best creative works in the country for everyone with an artistic leaning.
Kiran is married to billionaire Shiv Nadar, founder of HCL Technologies. She says her husband has been her biggest supporter in her journey as art collector. Later her daughter Roshini also helped her in her artistic quest.
But she clarifies, “Mostly the decision about what to buy is mine. Now I take the help of the museum directors and curators on what to buy.”
Kiran started her career in advertising as a communications and brands professional and then joined NIIT and helped shape the brand. She is also member of the Rasaja Foundation, an educational, scientific and cultural institution created in 1984 by the late Jaya Appasamy, a renowned artist, art historian and art critic. As representative of the foundation, she has also been involved in a joint initiative with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation to promote education of the Dalit and Muslim girl child in some of the most backward districts in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
She is an International Council member of Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. She is one of the top Indian players of competitive bridge as a member of the ‘Formidables’ team, and has not only won many laurels at the national level but has also represented India several times in international competitive bridge events.
Says India’s most committed and largest buyer of art, “I don’t look at the commercial value of an artwork. I buy whatever I feel a connection with. If you ask me who is my favourite artist, it’s like asking a mother to choose from among her children.
I simply cannot choose. There are so many artists I love: Ravi Varma, Hussain, Raza, Souza, Gaitonde, Tayeb Mehta, Bharti, Subodh Gupta and many more. I never consciously thought of being an art collector but then my interest in art grew and grew and I just couldn’t stop myself.”
That is something the art world in India can be thankful for!