In an interview on the potential impact of the lockdown imposed in India, to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, on the art market, the country’s foremost patron and collector has painted a gloomy picture. During a phone conversation, Kiran Nadar, who heads India’s first private philanthropic museum, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), underlines a range of concerns. These include tighter liquidity, falling prices of artworks, and the slim chances of visitors returning to museums and galleries, even after the lockdown is over.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is being felt by galleries and museums in many parts of the world, in terms of closures, pay cuts, layoffs and other losses. What could be the long-term repercussions on the Indian art market as we stare at another global recession?
It is very early to give a prognosis of what is going to happen, and how the art market will be affected. At the museum, we are doing what we thought we can do during this lockdown period, which is to do things on social media and attract people. But it is so difficult to give a statement on what the world will look like, once everything opens up.
As far as India is concerned, the art market has always been a bit depreciated compared to Western markets or Chinese markets. I can’t say whether there will be a drop in the prices of art. But I would presume there will be, since liquidity is going to be difficult.
Your museum relies on philanthropic funding from the Shiv Nadar Foundation (established by Kiran’s husband Shiv, the founder of HCL Technologies). Is the museum vulnerable to any kind of economic cost because of the outbreak?
No, we won’t be.
Is the museum working on a strategy to offset the impact of this downtime?
We are thinking of various things that we need to do, except there is so much uncertainty at this time that it is difficult to put coherently what exactly is going to play out. We were in the midst of so many things that we were going to do: We were in the process of finalising the building of a new museum space. The land was going through the final stages for sanction. But the work has stopped, and all the government offices are closed. Our architect [Tanzania-born Sir David Adjaye] was due to come to India, and he was going to spend two months with his family here to acclimatise themselves with the conditions and the work here. That has also gone into abeyance.
Largely, we have not been a museum- or gallery-visiting country. And it seems the lockdown could make it more difficult for the art community to bring back visitors, once life returns to normal. Your comment.
Certainly, in Delhi, unlike Mumbai or Kolkata, the art-going population is very very small, or the population’s interest in art is limited. It has been quite a task persuading the art goers to come to the museum. Initially, even the school programmes were difficult to do. Principals were not really keen on sending their kids to the museum. But now that has become very good. We get five or six schools visiting us every week. The footfalls have increased to some extent. But how are people going to react once the lockdown is over? How many people are really going to get out till the COVID-19 scare is completely removed? People are going to keep their travel out of their homes to a very limited extent, and they will be thinking only in terms of what is essential. I don’t see people visiting galleries and museums. Whatever we need to do has to be much more in the virtual space.
As a collector, are you considering acquiring art in these times?
At this moment, I am not looking at collecting. It is far away from my mind. As things open up, and there are opportunities, I might. But I have built a very large collection and I think this is the time to consolidate and look at how to go through this crisis and then look at more infrastructure building and getting the museum going. I have been a very strong collector, but this crisis has put a certain amount of reticence. I am uncertain of where we are going.
Do you believe India will see a rise in buying or selling art through online platforms as opposed to physical dealing, which cannot happen right now?
I don’t know. How much are people going to want to invest in art when we are going to see recession of a kind? How much will people then look at investing in art? This is a big question mark. Sorry, I have painted a very gloomy picture.
What is the role of philanthropy in times of a global health emergency? Does the Shiv Nadar Foundation have plans to help mitigate the crisis, either through financial aid or offering medical supplies?
We have made contributions of 100 crore each to the Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu governments. The contribution is to get ventilators and various other requirements. We haven’t done any individual initiatives for the migrant labourers, but we might look at any of these aspects in the near future.
How are you keeping yourself occupied these days?
Apart from art, I am also a competitive bridge player. I have represented India at various tournaments. So we play bridge for about three to four hours a day.
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Updated Date: Apr 15, 2020 09:26:56 IST