Air India’s 4k strong ‘Maharaja Collection’ of artworks formally transferred to NGMA

Air India’s massive collection of artworks, known as the ‘Maharaja Collection’, was formally transferred to the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) on Wednesday.

The 4,000-piece collection, including paintings, sculptures, textiles, posters and designer menu cards (even an ashtray designed by Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali), will land in Delhi in a few months and will be exhibited for the public after decades of being stored in the Air India Building in Mumbai.

The handing over ceremony of the collection was attended by Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and Union Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy, besides senior officials from both ministries.

The modern and contemporary art collection comprises acquired as well as commissioned works by artists such as B Prabha, Shankar Palsikar, Laxman Pai, Vasudeo Gaitonde, MF Husain and Arpana Caur, among others. There are also calendars, diaries and posters in the collection. At the initiative of JRD Tata (the airline was owned by the Tatas at its inception), the works were collected over four decades – from the 1950s through the early 1990s.

Scindia said Air India was among the first corporate houses to invest in art, and a majority of the works were paid for in kind, by giving artists air tickets in lieu of getting them to create special art pieces for the airline.

Husain had said in an interview: “They (Air India) would take the paintings and give free air tickets in return. As a result, the artists could travel to Czechoslovakia, Hong Kong, and Paris. I did about four or five trips. NGMA officials told The Indian Express that an official protocol has to be followed for receiving the artworks, which will be cataloged and packed properly before being dispatched to the national capital.

“Once they land in Delhi, any conservation and preservation work that is required will be carried out and a display will be curated to showcase them to the public,” said an official, adding that the entire process may take a few months’ time.

Reddy said an action plan will be made for the transfer and display of the priceless collection. Even though the collection will be displayed at NGMA, it will also be opened to audiences abroad through innovative digital interfaces, the minister added.

Even after Air India went back to its original owner – the Tatas – its art collection stayed with the government.

The MoU signed on Wednesday entails the handing over of the collection from the Ministry of Civil Aviation to the Ministry of Culture, under whose aegis the NGMA functions.

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