Asking Neville Tuli, the chairman of Osian’s–Connoisseurs of Art, why he collects, is like asking Superman why he chooses to fly. There’s a source of propulsion, instinctual or populist i.e. because he can, or because he wants to save lives.
Javanese fertility symbol: A gift offered by Val Kilmer to Marlon Brando in 1995 during the shooting of The Island of Dr Moreau in Bali
Sitting in the epicentre of his kingdom of collectibles, a South Mumbai office guarded by a 75-year-old wooden tiger, Tuli’s intentions are crystal clear: the creation of the largest archive of art in the world. Mobilized by the instinct to amass and the vision to create an Indian institution of unparalleled greatness (superlatives aren’t out of place here), the stuff just keeps piling up in 15 offices and warehouses in two cities, Mumbai and New Delhi. With 3,50,000 pieces already and counting, Tuli’s is already the largest collection on Indian and Asian art. “We are the biggest in terms of just numbers,” says Tuli, incredulous that you’d even question the true largeness of the collection. But there’s more than Asian art here: there’s Polish poster artwork, Hollywood items ranging from drawings of costumes for Gone With the Wind to James Bond memorabilia, and Javanese Golek dolls.
We hitchhiked through a part of the assortment of works with the collector to get a glimpse of the most eclectic pieces in his possession. And if the Indian customs authority worked faster, Tuli would have had the antique Japanese armour helmets—worth Rs13.45 crore—he bought in March, safely secured at a warehouse.