In conversation with art-collector Shalini Passi
JS: How did you get interested in art?
SP:I studied fine art in school. I had an excellent teacher, Shri Bishamber Khanna. He taught me to observe every minute detail of a piece of art and to appreciate the various aspects of an artwork.
Many prolific artists such as Manjit Bawa and B. C. Sanyal frequently visited our classes; this further spurred my interest in the visual arts.
JS: What was the first piece of art you bought?
SP: My first buy was an ‘oil on canvas’ painting, by modern master Ram Kumar.
JS: If you had to pick five works as the favourites from your collection, which would these be?
SP: Each work is special and meaningful to me. It would be very difficult to pick but if I had to, these would be the five:
1) Anita Dube - The Theatre of Sade, 1998-99
2) Subodh Gupta – Untitled (Buddha), 2012
3) Bharti Kher – Untitled (Bindis on aluminum composite panel)
4) Zarina Hasmi – Untitled (3 Pin drawings), 1978
5) Mrinalini Mukherjee – Kusum, 1996
JS: Indian art or Western art - what interests you the most?
SP: Both, because art like anything else cannot be created or observed in isolation. Art is inspired from ideas and ideologies hence, cannot be created or consumed in a vacuum.
JS: Please list out your favourite artists.
SP: Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Anita Dube and Louise Bourgeois.
JS: Is there any interesting incident that you would like to narrate about how you came to own a particular piece of art?
SP: Well, there was a particular installation (name withheld) that I would keep looking at over the years and was absolutely obsessed with it. I finally convinced the collector to part with it.
JS: What is your advice to budding collectors?
SP: Collecting art is a purposeful, directed and a long-term commitment. You buy what you like, but if your goal is to collect art and do it right, you have to master two additional skills. The first, is to be able to effectively research, evaluate and decide whether or not to buy whatever works of art attract you. The second is being able to choose each individual work in such a way as to form a meaningful grouping of artwork in a 'collection'.
What makes a collection great is the collector’s ability to separate out specific works of art from the millions of pieces already in existence. Secondly, to assemble them in such a way as to increase, or advance our understanding of that piece of art in particular or, of the history and evolution of art in general.
Step one, is to be true to your personal taste. This means acknowledging that you like certain types of art regardless of what you think you're supposed to like or what seems to be the current trend. All great collectors share this trait; that is the one-thing that makes their collections stand out.
When personal tastes and preferences are ignored in favour of trends, the collection loses its uniqueness. What happens when you follow a trend is that everyone walks in lockstep, and the art you see from one collection to the other becomes boring and repetitive. Collectors who are not afraid to express themselves yield exactly the opposite results.
Regardless of how much you know about what you collect, always remember that collecting art is an ongoing learning process. So enjoy it and be an informed buyer.