Devi Art Foundation Opens in New Delhi


India’s first major non-profit art center, the Devi Art Foundation, opened its doors to the public on September 1. The private, non-profit art space in the Delhi suburb of Gurgaon houses the Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection, one of India’s most important private collections, comprised of more than 7,000 contemporary, modern and tribal artworks from across the Subcontinent.

The Poddars, whose family businesses include a design company and the luxury hotel Devi Garh in Rajasthan, are among India’s leading art collectors. In the 1980s, Lekha Poddar began collecting early 20th-century works from the Bengal School and the mid-century modernist Progressive Artists Group. Lekha’s son, Anupam, began collecting art 10 years ago and has long supported artists of his generation including Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Sudarshan Shetty, Anita Dube, A. Balasubramaniam and Mithu Sen. In recent years, the Poddars have supplemented their collection with works representing India’s vast folk traditions and seminal works by artists from elsewhere on the Subcontinent, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Tibet.

The inaugural exhibition, “Still Moving Image,” is curated by AAP Delhi desk editor and independent curator Deeksha Nath with assistance from Shweta Wahi and will run through November 2. Featuring works by 25 artists, “Still Moving Image” highlights India’s new-media pioneers including Shilpa Gupta, Tejal Shah, Ranbir Kaleka and Kiran Subbaiah. Upcoming exhibitions include a collaborative project between the students and faculty of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, opening in December 2008, and an exhibition curated by artist Rashid Rana on Pakastani contemporary art in mid-March of 2009. 

The 35,000-square-foot building home to the Devi Art Foundation was designed by Aniket Bhagwat, who worked on the landscape architecture for the Poddar’s luxury resort, Devi Garh. The striking modern building, with facades of brick and elegantly corroded steel, has 7,500 square feet of gallery space, in addition to serving as the headquarters of the Poddars’ family businesses. Works of art will also be sited on the grounds and throughout the building’s offices.

Deepak Talwar, who runs galleries in both New York and Delhi, commented to ArtAsiaPacific: “The opening of Devi is a significant first step towards creating public institutions with private initiative. I hope it inspires others to step forward and undertake their own such endeavors to share their vision and their passion to raise an awareness and understanding of art that is not just about consumption.”

The Poddars envision Devi Art serving as an important venue for the cutting-edge artwork that they have long supported in India. Anupam in particular has long advocated for changes in India’s art infrastructure, bemoaning the over-commercialization of the contemporary art scene on the Subcontinent.

Lectures and events will accompany the exhibitions at Devi, in addition to an educational outreach program. Anupam told AAP: “So that the younger generation is interested in contemporary art from an early age, we have the education and outreach programs that will get children to see the exhibitions and talk about their experiences with the works. By getting them to see this right from school days, we hope to have a much more involved, younger audience, which I think is really important for contemporary art.”