EARLY WORKS of celebrated artists from M F Husain to Salvador Dali, some unseen by the outside world for years and all exclusive to Air India’s collection, are set to go on public display. Air India, however, cannot give a date yet, with the inauguration of its museum postponed from August because the funds haven’t yet been raised. Spanning 20,000 sq ft on the first floor of the Air India building in Mumbai, the museum will display artworks and paintings by more than 300 artists from across the world, including Anjolie Ela Menon, B Prabha and V S Gaitonde, besides Husain and Dali.
“Many artists such as Prabha and Gaitonde got early exposure through displays at Air India booking offices. They were bought by the airline for meagre amounts, between Rs 50 and Rs 500. Other artists often got free tickets abroad in return for paintings,” said Meera Dass, consultant to Air India for the museum, and a former member of the National Monuments Authority.
Other displays will include glass paintings. “Back then, artists such as A Almelkar, Ratnadeep Adivrekar and others from across the world were commissioned to do glass paintings exclusively for Air India. These paintings, which then adorned the walls of the airline’s reception offices and waiting rooms, will be a treat to visitors,” said Uttara Parikh, consultant for Air India’s art collection.
Then there is an ashtray designed by Dali. “Back in the 1950s, the airline asked Dali to make a model of an ashtray to be offered to business class passengers. Some passengers gave these away to museums, which later auctioned them. Air India will show one of these for the first time in the country,” Dass said.
Officials say the interiors of the museum remain to be worked upon. The museum is being set up at Rs 5 crore and tenders for Rs 3.5 crore were floated last month, but the contract has yet not been awarded. Officials said Air India expects the museum to be funded partly by the government.
“Although we have received positive responses from bidders, we are yet to receive financial sanction for the work,” said an official. “The airline is at a sensitive stage financially at this point. We cannot give a specific timeline of when the process will be over.”
Dass put the current art collection at around 10,000 items. “We are yet to receive some of the works from our offices around the world,” she said. The gallery will include works representing various cultures of society. “The museum will have archaeological works, glass paintings, sculptures dating to the tenth century, wood carvings, metalworks across cultural segments of the country. Different themes expressed with respect to religious beliefs or myths will be on display. For example one of our works displays Kaalia Mardan (stories of Lord Krishna) in folk style painting,” Dass said.
“The museum will not only narrate the history of the artwork and paintings but also Air India’s timeline,” she said. “The cost of our collection should be in the range of hundreds of crores. We also possess several artefacts whose cost is difficult to evaluate.”