Devi Art Foundation is India’s first private museum of contemporary art

Anupam Poddar and his mother Lekha have assembled a collection of over 7,000 works of art


Delhi. When it opens in Delhi this August, the Devi Art Foundation will become India's first major not-for-profit contemporary art institution, housing permanent and temporary exhibitions from the extensive collection of over 7,000 works of Indian modern, contemporary and tribal art assembled by founder Anupam Poddar and his mother Lekha.

Nearly three years in the making, the new 35,000 sq. ft building in the rapidly growing Delhi suburb of Gurgaon has been designed by young architect Aniket Bhagwat whose firm landscaped Devi Garh, the Poddars’ boutique palace hotel in Rajasthan.

Anupam Poddar stands in front of the building’s imposing façade, a giant portal of rusted steel, thrusting skyward like a cross between a Richard Serra sculpture and the monumental iwan of a Mughal mosque. “It’s all local materials,” he says of the structure, in which twin three-storey glass-fronted blocks face each other across an open central courtyard, shaded by rows of freestanding brick pilasters angled outwards to create a rippling sense of movement. “We’ve been very closely involved with the design,” he continues. “The idea was to give the building as much flexibility as possible.”

In addition to 7,500 sq. ft of dedicated gallery space, Mr Poddar plans to display art throughout the foundation building, from the roof terraces and offices, to the cafe and underground car park. “I want even the drivers to be exposed to the art,” he says.

Before reaching the galleries, visitors will be greeted by eye-catching, iconic works such as Subodh Gupta’s aluminium cast of an Ambassador car, and Sudarshan Shetty’s multi-media wall of 1,000 replicas of the Taj Mahal, bought last year from Gallery Ske at Art Basel Miami Beach.

Collecting prolifically in recent years, Mr Poddar, 34, has established himself as a driving force behind the booming contemporary art scene in India—buying not just domestically but from auctions, fairs and galleries across the world. His commitment is such that many dealers offer him first refusal on important works.

His often flamboyant taste is reflected in the remarkable interior he has created in his Delhi farmhouse in which every room, toilets and bathrooms included, is filled with art by the likes of Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Sudarshan Shetty, Shilpa Gupta, Mithu Sen, Anita Dube and Raqs Media Collective. Part of the collection was exhibited at Daimler Contemporary, Berlin, in 2007.

The roots of the collection, however, date back to the works of an earlier generation of Indian artists acquired between the 1970s and the 1990s by Lekha Poddar. Her Delhi townhouse is similarly filled with masterpieces of the Indian Progressive and Bengal schools as well as a wide range of textiles and tribal artefacts.

Mr Poddar says that by using a series of external curators, the exhibition programme at the Devi Art Foundation will show innovative and challenging art from across South Asia drawn entirely from his own collection.

The inaugural show, “Still/Moving Image”, curated by Deeksha Nath, will present photography and video art, media which Mr Poddar says are not yet fully accepted by the Indian art collecting community.

This will be followed by a collaborative project with the students and faculty of the art department at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University in which works from the permanent collection will be used to consider the idea of an Indian avant-garde.

The third show will be a presentation of contemporary art from Pakistan curated by Rashid Rana, one of the country’s most high profile artists.

If the foundation’s programme is his immediate concern, ultimately Anupam Poddar’s sights are set on expansion. In the future he plans to build another even larger dedicated museum space in Delhi, leaving the present building as the administrative hub of the foundation.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘India’s first private museum of contemporary art'