Bengaluru: Once vilified, maligned and scorned for wanting to transform the rundown and woefully neglected Venkatappa Art Gallery into a dynamic art space in the heart of the city, what will his critics say now?
Art aficionado Abhishek Poddar is giving back to the city in the only way he knows how - donating the whopping Rs 35 crores he raised when he auctioned priceless pieces by India's best known artists at the iconic Christie's India Sale auction in Mumbai this week, to fund the art project close to his heart.
Poddar, who has had a 30-year-long tryst with art, conceived MAP, the Museum of Art and Photography, an admirable project, that was at the heart of the art hub he wanted to create in this IT capital.
Far from being disheartened by the mindless criticism, however, Poddar, auctioned off 41 paintings from his collection, raising a total of Rs 35 crores. Part of the Abhishek and Radhika Poddar collection, which included works by Tyeb Mehta, Vasudeo Gaitonde, Bhupen Khakhar and F.N. Souza, the funds will now go toward funding MAP.
“We had made a commitment to do this and I intend to honour it. My conscience won't have it any other way,” said Poddar. “The VAG project hasn't progressed very much, but that's no reason for the city to be deprived of something of such value."
The idea, he emphasised, is to establish a centre for education "that's open to everyone, from kids to elderly people, whether they know art or not. We want a dynamic space to which people can keep coming back." Setting up a space like this on the outskirts of the city will defeat the original purpose and the Rs 35 crores he has raised will help acquire a piece of land in the heart of the city.
Poddar's only regret from the auction is that demonetisation dampened the spirit of buyers. "It has taken its toll - nobody is paying cash, of course, but they are not as easy with their money as they normally would have been! The classical art auction that Christies had had earlier that afternoon didn't do very well, unfortunately, which also dampened the mood."
Nevertheless, his collection found much appreciation among the buyers who were present. "It did contain some prime pieces of art by the greatest artists of the country. Many of these had stories behind them, which were very appealing to serious collectors," he said.
He did expect to raise a lot more, but, as he says, "Given the circumstances, I can't complain!" The Tyeb Mehta and Gaitonde works, two prized pieces, went closer to the lower estimate than the higher estimate, he remarked.
"A lot of Indian buyers stayed away, so there was very little competition. The lesser value works did much better and the bottom line is we did ultimately end up raising more than our reserve. We could have raised upto Rs 10 crores more, had the market been more buoyant, but whatever we have now will fund the land for MAP." Where will MAP be? Watch this space, Bengaluru!