Recently, Mumbai got a new museum – the Piramal Museum of Art. Situated in the ground floor of the Peninsula Corporate Park, the Ajay Piramal group’s corporate headquarters, the 7,000 sq ft museum will showcase works of art from renowned modern and contemporary Indian artists from the family’s collection. It is open to the public free of charge. The art fraternity welcomes the new museum. Tasneem Mehta, managing trustee and honorary director of the Bhau Dadji Lad Museum, and S.P. Khened, director of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai, are glad people are thinking of museums. “It’s great; the idea of a private museum. It creates interest in collecting,” she adds.
Piramal Museum of Art (PMA) is Mumbai’s first private museum for modern art. Mumbai has three active museums – the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), the Chattrapathi Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahlay (previously known as the Prince of Wales Museum) and the Bhau Dadji Lad (BDL) Museum. The city has a strong art gallery network as well. However, all the activity around art is located in south Mumbai between Colaba and Kala Ghoda, an area which has got itself dubbed as the Art District. So do we need another museum in the city? “We have three museums in a city of 18 billion. That is nothing,” says Ashvin Rajagopalan, director, PMA. “We don’t have enough. Berlin has 175 museums and a much smaller population than Mumbai, yet it is displaying architecture and history over 10, 000 years. We need a museum for science, art, music. We have just celebrated 100 years of Bollywood, but where is the film museum. Where are the archives of Bollywood?” he adds.
According to Mehta, little things are happening towards building the art community, this museum being one of them. While the BDL Museum and the CSVS are increasingly working towards building up their respective institutions, private museums are also a step in the right direction. Art has a glamorous aspect to it too, because of the money involved. Patronage is important. While previously patronage of the arts came from the royal families, in their absence, it came from the merchant classes. “It is important to look at our history and develop an understanding of the evolution of society; we would really have no resource to understand how we came to this point,” says Mehta.
In an attempt to document the works in the Piramal’s collection, the story of the collection has been said through Smriti, which acts as a catalogue and reference book created for a large cross-section of people. It all started with MF Husain’s works. Having collected a few of his works, it was noticed that the artist had painted differently throughout his career and not just the horses, which later became his more popular works. As another example, take the city of Benaras. There is something about Benaras that inspires artists. Looking at paintings of the city, a mosque on the banks of the river is depicted differently in each painting. While one painting depicts four minarets, others show the mosque through a period of change. In the paintings one can also see how the city has grown.
“There is a story behind each painting that has been acquired, a story about the artist’s life. It is fascinating for the collector to know how and where something began, and where it has travelled to, whose lives it may have touched,” says Rajagopalan. The key focus behind this book was to preserve the stories behind each work and to look at the collection, not as one compiled of many parts, but as chapters in the story of Modern Indian art.
The thought of setting up a museum emerged a year ago. For the philanthropic family, this was their way of giving back to society. The museum showcases 40 to 50 artworks, which includes works from renowned artists such as Akbar Padamsee, Hemendranath Mazumdar, Gaganendranath Tagore, Jehangir Sabavala, Bikash Bhattacharjee, K.G.Subramanyan and many such artists. The museum’s maiden exhibition will showcase an array of artworks from renowned modern and contemporary Indian artists collected by the family. In addition to the painted artworks, exhibits of sculptures and installations will be on display at the museum showcasing the historical backdrop of Indian modern art.
Located at upper Worli or Lower Parel, Rajagopalan hopes to tap into the larger Diaspora of people, from both the south of the city, as well as the north. By not having an entrance fee, the PMA is trying to be inclusive. “We don’t want to screen people,” says Rajagopalan. With working hours from 3 pm to 8 pm on week days and 9 am to 5 pm on weekends, PMA is trying to attract the office crowd who would like to drop in to the museum after working hours.