The difficult task of art acquisition

Acquisition of works of art is a time-consuming and rigorous exercise. According to Dr Sachchidananda Joshi, member secretary, IGNCA, there are two ways of acquiring — one, where the person himself or his family hands over a collection to IGNCA or when it makes a purchase.

“We have a section on cultural archives for which we have an outlay. The purpose of IGNCA is slightly different from other cultural institutions or even our sister concerns who too work as repositories. Unless we do that we cannot survive,” Joshi goes on.

Recently, IGNCA acquired works of Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), one of the greatest art historians of the twentieth century whose multifaceted writings deal primarily with visual art, aesthetics, literature and language, folklore, mythology, religion, and metaphysics. Even the acquisition of Raja Deendayal’s collection, the pre-eminent photographer of Princely India, needs a mention. “What we have done is to start a permanent gallery to display his collection. Today students can come and study his work camera work in 1890 when it was so tough to take pictures and this gentleman was doing it with such ease, be it portrait and landscape or any anything. Look at the picture quality. Anybody can study fashion, lifestyle or history.”

The institute hopes to start a gallery on Ananda Coomaraswamy for research and study on his work and also plans to offer study projects on Coomaraswamy’s work from next year.

“What IGNCA is interested is in the stuff that is not available in the society today. Something that is rare, unique in its own form and has an ancient value to it and is going to get obsolete. They are very costly. There are instances where we have acquired the negatives or scans from museums across the globe like British Museum and Metropolitan Museum. And for miniature paintings we have some of the finest slides of miniature paintings, which we have borrowed from these collections. Sometimes we bring them up in our displays,” Joshi explains, adding: “For example the leather puppets from Andhra Pradesh were becoming a dying art. We acquired some of the rarest of rare things that depict Ramayana, Krishna Leela and other classic collections.”

While IGNCA, NGMA, ASI and National Museum boast of treasure troves, the fact remains that government repositories can neither purchase works of art that have a very high price nor participate in auctions. Hence, acquisition is mostly dependent on donations from private collectors.

Many families of artists, who have passed on, reach out to government institutions to donate collections. An ongoing display of Dhanraj Bhagat at the NGMA is an example of it. "We got a few works of Dhanraj Bhagat work from Lalit Kala Academy, AIFACS gallery, Delhi Art Gallery and his family. We are hoping to create special shows for young artists and give them platforms in the national gallery,” says Adwaita Gadanayak, director general of NGMA.

Sudeshna Banerjee