W ho is Anupam Poddar? He is the guy who owns what is arguably India’s largest private sculpture collection, which he houses at his home in New Delhi. Collecting paintings is passé. But sculpture... now you are talking. Poddar, in case you didn’t know, owns Devigarh in Rajasthan. He is a scion of an industrial family that owns, of all things, textile mills in the South. But the things that interest me most about Poddar are his sculptures. I have seen photographs of his collection; I don’t always agree with his choice of artists. But, at least, here is a man who has the wealth, not to mention the dedicated space, to patronize that stepchild of the arts—Indian sculpture.
I was trained in sculpture. I pursued a Master of Fine Arts degree for five years in Massachusetts and Memphis before lapsing into writing. I may be biased, but I think sculptures are a lot more visually interesting than paintings. They are harder to house—you need more than just a wall to display them—which is probably why not too many people buy them. But when put together, a sculpture collection evokes a completely different feeling from paintings. Case in point: the Pepsico Sculpture Garden in Purchase, New York. If Indra Nooyi ever invites you to her corporate headquarters, all I would say is, “Go”. Pepsico’s headquarters also happen to be a 144-acre sculpture garden. All the usual suspects have their work displayed: a giant red Calder; a witty Claes Olderberg; another elongated human figure by Giacometti; and if my memory serves right, a David Smith as well. I have spent countless hours wandering through this garden—while pregnant—and always enjoyed rounding a bend amid the trees and coming upon a monumental sculpture that teased and provoked. Sculpture gardens such as Pepsico’s and Storm King Art Center’s, outside New York, allow the viewer to experience the happy synergy between nature and art.
One of the 45 sculptures at the Pepsico Sculpture Garden
I like abstract art. Perhaps because I grew up around Indian figurative art, I respond better to a Kandinsky or an O’Keefe than a Cezanne or Rodin. My favourite sculptors are Russians. I love Louise Nevelson: her work, but also her persona—the make-up, the scarves, the smoking, the false eyelashes. Naum Gabo, another Russian, makes ethereally light sculptures that resemble suspended harps. Others on my list are Ursula von Rydingsvard, Deborah Butterfield, Richard Serra (of course—who doesn’t love him these days), and Constantin Brancusi, whose famous sculpture Bird in Flight influenced not just artists but also architects. I love Marcel Duchamp, not so much for his art as for his gesture. This is a man who placed a urinal in a museum and silenced critics with his simple but scornful statement that was the basis for the Dada art movement: “Art,” he said, “is anything I say it is.” When my rational husband looks at some abstract art piece that I love and asks what the hell it is, my reply is the same as Duchamp’s. Don’t ask what it means, I say. Just figure out if you like it or not. You don’t need to understand art; you just need to respond to it... from the heart.
Making sculpture is different from creating paintings. Paintings are an intellectual exercise; sculpture is more instinctive, perhaps because it is three-dimensional. It is also more physical, involving hammering, moulding, carving and grinding. I wouldn’t bet on it, but my guess is that humans fashioned sculptures before they did cave paintings. Tribal art is full of sculptures. Just take a look at the Bastar tribals’ metalwork; or the African wooden masks that formed the basis of Picasso’s Cubism. Indian temples, with their chiselled forms, are masterworks. Take it from me, carving stone is an unforgiving exercise. You chip away at a nose by accident and it’s gone. Unlike welding, you can’t put it back together again. Keep this thought in your head as you look at the sprawling temples in Konark or Tanjore, with their sylvan nymphs, creepers, bells, and voluptuous goddesses. If you think of the amount of care and thought that went into carving these sculptures, it will take your breath away. There was no room for accident and every chip of stone had to be a considered one.
Contemporary sculpture uses little stone or marble. It uses metals, plastics, wood and other newer, more forgiving materials. Subodh Gupta uses household vessels to great effect. Shilpa Gupta’s video installations are simpler and, in my mind, less self-conscious than Nam June Paik’s. Ravinder Reddy does funky village portraits that veer between Warholian pop art and traditional village art. Anita Dube, in the tradition of Louise Bourgeois and Bruce Nauman, uses everything from terracotta to hair in her works. All these Indian sculptors, individually and together, are carving a different path, a different sensibility than a Raza or Vaikuntam.
I think they deserve a chance to be more widely seen. Perhaps Mr Poddar will open his private collection into a public sculpture garden.
Read more about Poddar’s collection at http://www.livemint.com/anupampoddar.htm. Meanwhile, Shoba is waiting for Reliance or Wipro to have a sculpture garden in their corporate campuses. Write to her at email@example.com