Abhishek Poddar on his art collection

17 Dec, 2016 - Jyotsna Sharma

A conversation with Abhishek Poddar 

‘Collect with your heart ’ says Abhishek Poddar. That is how he has created an enviable collection, 41 pieces of which will be included tomorrow in the Christie’s ‘South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art’ sale in Mumbai.

Radhika & Abhishek Poddar 

My favourite from the sale is undoubtedly, the Tyeb Mehta ‘Untitled’ (Diagonal). Artworks from the Diagonal Series came after Mehta moved away from his expressionist style in the late 1960’s. The key features of this series were the compositions created around a diagonal line that ran through the canvas and the figures, which seemed to adopt different forms on either side. The painting sale price is estimated between INR10,00,000-15,00,00,000

 Tyeb Mehta| Untitled (Diagonal), 1975

I had the opportunity to have a chat with him ahead of the Mumbai sale. Here are the excerpts from our conversation.

JS: Which was the first piece of art you bought? 

AP: A pen and ink drawing by Jatin Das. I bought it in 1984 from the Calcutta Art Gallery run by Victor Banarjee.

JS: Tell me about Akshat - the magazine you started while in School. What made you decide to start an art magazine?

AP: To be honest, it started off as a joke! 

My mates and I decided to start an art magazine so that we would have a legit reason to get out of boarding school. We were at Doon School and they had magazines on every subject other than Art. We decided to make the most of this and start an art magazine. This would get us a pass to visit the printer in town, which of course, meant a chance to eat, drink and watch the occasional movie.

Well, we got an annual art magazine sanctioned and were quite pleased with ourselves. A few days later, the headmaster informed us that Rajiv Gandhi, (the then Prime Minister of India and also a Doon School alumnus) would be launching the magazine at the Golden Jubilee celebration of the School.

That’s when we decided to pay attention to the magazine and make it meaningful. To do so we decided to write to the eminent artists of the day to contribute articles. The deadline came and went but of the ten artists we had written to none responded. Disheartened, we wrote out the articles ourselves after researching on key artworks and artists. We managed to fill up the magazine except for the last page and sent it off to the printer.

While the magazine was at the printer, the replies from the artists started coming in. Eight of the artists acknowledged our request and sent us articles and drawings etc. However, since the magazine was already in print all we could do was publish a thank you note on the last page that was empty.

I then decided to visit each one of them personally to thank them for their replies and for acknowledging our request. This is how my friendship with most of the top artists of the time began. I cherish these friendships and of course they have shaped my collection.

JS: Any interesting incident / story you would like to narrate about a particular piece of artwork in your collection.

AP: There are many.

The one I recall at this moment is about how I acquired ‘The Sun and The Moon’ by Dashrath Patel. I had seen this particular work at his retrospective, which was held at the NGMA. Even though I was not familiar with his oeuvre, I was transfixed by the piece.

Subsequently, I did collect a few works by him but had not forgotten about ‘The Sun and The Moon’.

One day I got a call from Pinakin Patel, who was making a museum in Alibaug for Dashrath Patel. The building was supposed to be just one floor, but they decided to build another floor and required financial help, which I provided. In return, when I was asked what I wanted, I asked for the ‘The Sun and The Moon’ and that is how it got added to my collection.

JS: Could you tell me about your friendship with V S Gaitonde. How did this relationship influence your art collection?

AP: Gaitonde was a bit of a recluse. We weren’t great friends but shared a cordial relationship. It wasn’t like the relationship I had with Ram Kumar, Arpita Singh, Jogen Chowdhury , Pramjit  Singh, Manjit Bawa and the others.

I recall, it was in the 90’s, while we were working on a project of carpets and tapestries designed by artists, that I went to see him. As compared to the other masters, his paintings would be difficult to reproduce; however, his drawings would look fabulous if reworked as weaves of the carpet. He was quite happy with the idea and shared three drawings.

I also remember the time when Ramkumar took me to see him; there was a beautiful artwork on the easel, which hadn’t found a buyer till then, so luckily it got added to my collection. That was perhaps the last time I saw him.

The work in this auction by Gaitonde was acquired from Kekoo Gandhy.

JS: Your favourite pieces from these 41 Lots?

AP: That's difficult to say, there are many.

I have been very attached to the Tyeb Mehta and the VS Gaitonde artworks. One of the Bhupen Khakhar artworks used to hang in my study. The Jagdish Swaminathan work used to hang over my desk in my family room.

I quite am fond of the Arpita canvases too. 

JS: What is your advice to budding collectors?

AP: Collect from you heart, but do research the artwork. Make an effort to connect with it.

I collect art that I connect with, pieces that I cannot get out of my head. I have had great friendships with some of the Masters, who also influenced my taste in art and have shaped my collection. Also, as a result of these friendships the stories attached to the works made them more appealing.

I believe that great art happens in every generation and at every price point. The price does not define the merit of an artwork .

 Collect for the love of it and not for investment.

Jyotsna Sharma is the Editor of The Wall. The Wall has been India's most well read art magazine for the last five years, subscribe and get access to premium content for free. Subscribe or read the magazine at thewallartmag.com 

Topic: Art