NGMA to Host Maharaja’s Treasure: Select Works of Art from the Famed Air India Collection
A rare showcase of the works of Old Masters such as V.S. Gaitonde, B Prabha, M.F. Husain, G.R. Santosh, K.H. Ara, Pilloo Pochkhanwala & Raghav Kaneria, including Salvador Dali's much-talked-about ashtray, et al.
The National Gallery of Modern Art [NGMA], Ministry of Culture, Government of India, presents Maharaja’s Treasure: Select works of art from the famed Air India collection–an exhibition which will be inaugurated in the august presence of Hon’ble Union Minister of Culture, Tourism and DoNER [Development of North Eastern Region], Shri G. Kishan Reddy. The exhibition that opens on the 27th of April continues till the 2nd of July, 2023 at the prestigious Nation Gallery of Modern Art in Fort, Mumbai. Over the period of eighty years, Air India meticulously put together an impressive art collection which was to showcase and celebrate Indian art and culture across the globe. This collection comprises of paintings and sculptures by famous artists such as V. S. Gaitonde, B Prabha, M. F. Husain, G. R. Santosh, K. H. Ara, Pilloo Pochkhanawala, Raghav Kaneria, to name a few, traditional paintings such as Phad and Pichwai paintings of Rajasthan, Kalamkaris from Andhra Pradesh, Thanjavur gilded and glass paintings to exquisite array of textiles, jewellery and decorative art spread across the subcontinent. It was officially decided that this collection will be handed over to the Ministry of Culture and is to be housed at the National Gallery of Modern Art for posterity.
“It gives me immense pleasure to launch the first exhibition on the Air India collection here at NGMA. This is the first of the many to celebrate the iconic collection which was a pioneer in promoting our heritage across the globe. The exhibition consists of a thematic display of around 200 meticulously chosen artworks that brings to you a portion of the collection that Air India used to redefine the air travel in its own ‘maharaja’ style,” expresses an ecstatic Nazneen Banu, Director – NGMA.
From its very inception, Air India always collected and promoted art from various artistic traditions of India. The main purpose of the art collection was to create an ambience to lure the attention of the visitors towards the booking offices, lounges and pavilions giving a sense of awe of the grandeur of our country. After the independence of our country, traditional patronage for the arts was dwindling and, in this scenario, Air India played a very important role in commissioning and collecting art. This zeal for collecting art and crafts of India led to the creation of a very spectacular image for the airline which successfully tapped the opulence and grandeur of the erstwhile era under the maharajas.
The Maharaja’s Treasure exhibition begins with a glimpse of few iconic works from the collection by masters such as K. H. Ara, V. S. Gaitonde, N. S. Bendre, G. R. Santosh, Manu Parekh, B Prabha, M. F. Husain, Anjolie Ela Menon and B Vithal. An untitled canvas by V. S. Gaitonde from 1970, stands prominent, evoking a serene mood through the warm hues spread across the canvas. The highlight of this section is the famous ashtray designed by surrealist Salvadore Dali which is in the form of a sea shell with a serpent coiled around its rim and supported by elephant heads which on reverse becomes swans. Proceeding to the next floor, brings to life, the various portrayals of women and their contributions to life and society. Arpana Caur’s canvas depicting a woman with a blue crescent moon on her head is a part of a larger composition titled, ‘Women Hold up Half the Sky’, showing women in construction sites, where the heavy vessel on her head takes the shape of the moon. Shanti Dave’s painting is an extension to the same theme. The section also dedicates a corner to the fisherwomen painted by B Prabha and A. A. Raiba.
Open window panes always generate a multitude possibility of imagination and a sense of freedom that lies in the horizon. This section highlights various vignettes showing landscapes laden with huts, building, birds and people engaged in farming. Both the works of Anjolie Ela Menon mounted on window frames, titled ‘Nawab with pigeon’ depicts the little girl’s longing to break away from the patriarchy that holds her back inside the confines of age-old traditions represented by the figure of the Nawab and in the second work titled, ‘Lady with kite’ represents the little girl’s desire to experiment with the possibilities that exist outside.
Expressionism and abstract form take prominence in the next floor. The vibrant canvases of Achuthan Kudallur and Laxman Shrestha brings forth the various shapes that do not confer to a particular identifiable object but takes one’s mind on a journey to infinite thoughts. The section proceeds to more fluid forms of the ‘Kalpavriksha’, tree of life, flanked by Hindu deities, Ganesh and Brahmaby S. G. Vasudev. The second half of this section is dedicated to landscapes which climaxes with the formidable mountains of Serbjeet Singh.
The exhibition concludes on a joyous note of music, dance and festivities. This section under the grand dome of the building brings to life, 15th century stone celestial musicians and a dancer, the iconic image of Shiva Nataraja and canvases depicting various musicians. The celebrations around Holi and Christmas, along with the procession on the day of Muharram, also form the theme of this section.
“After the grand response to our last month release of NGMA video anthem and Ricky Kej live concert at the iconic Gateway of India, we are now delighted to present ‘Maharaja’s Treasure’. It is our sincere endeavour to promote Art and revitalise cultural spaces in Mumbai. As part of Mumbai Kaustubh, we will continue to organise more such meaningfully curated creative engagements for wider and diverse set of audience in coming months,” Banu concludes.