Giles Tillotson, one of the editors of Modern Indian Painting, on how private collectors can give us a different perspective on South Asian art
Q. What role do private collectors like Jane and Kito de Boer play in the Indian art scene?
A: They collect for their own pleasure. The collection reflects their personal taste rather than an academic agenda. But their choices might make us think about modern Indian art differently, seeing it through their eyes. You might see links between A. Ramachandran and Rameshwar Broota, for instance.
Q. Are such collections ever made accessible to a wider public?
A: Works from private collections do find their way into public exhibitions. A recent Broota show at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art included many works loaned from the de Boer collection. A book like this is also a way of putting the works in the public domain-only in reproduction, but available for research and comparison.
Q. Is India now part of the global reckoning of modern art? Or does the “derivative” tag still cling on?
A: It is, and has been for some decades-Christie’s has been promoting modern South Asian art for 40 years or so. Still, it’s much less so than modern Chinese art.
The “derivative” tag betrays its own Eurocentrism. If Picasso could draw on African art, why can’t an Indian artist create something that uses and transforms Picasso? What I’m saying is not new. In the 1950s, art historian W.G. Archer had to defend artists like Souza and Avinash Chandra against the charge of not being Indian enough. Modernism is not the preserve of the West.