With the proposal to sell the Air India building at Nariman Point in south Mumbai to the Shipping Ministry getting the Prime Minister’s approval earlier this week, focus has now shifted to the priceless art collection in the iconic building. “The Maharaja collection”, as it is generally called, has more than 4,000 works, including paintings by legendary artists such as M F Husain, V S Gaitonde, Jatin Das, and Anjolie Ela Menon.
The Indian Express has learnt that the collection will be moved to Delhi soon, and will become a part of the repository of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). Sources in the Ministry of Culture, under which the NGMA functions, said some works from the collection will even be displayed at the organisation’s Jaipur House building.
Adwaita Gadanayak, director-general, NGMA, said, “We are in talks but things are yet to take a final shape.” Gadanayak is in Mumbai to hold further discussions with the Air India officials on the matter.
Sources in the ministry said the Centre zeroed in on the NGMA to transfer the collection by way of donation by the Air India, since it is the only institution in the country that has the mandate to collect and display modern art.
The Ministry official said that the artworks will “start arriving in Delhi in Air India planes” from next week.
Last year, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha had said that the government began taking inventory of the collection in 2014. While they had found some art objects not properly accounted for, Sinha had said, “In the coming months, we hope to ensure safe custody of all these valuable objects.”
Around the same time, a museum for the collection was proposed to be set up at the Nariman Point building at a cost of Rs 5 crore, and a tender was floated. But the contract was not awarded following uncertainty over the airline’s future. The Civil Aviation Ministry had then said that the fate of the collection will be decided by the group of ministers looking into the proposal for Air India’s disinvestment.
No official estimate exists of the worth of the entire collection of nearly 7,000 items. Besides 4,000 paintings, there are stone sculptures dating back to the 9th century, wooden frames, decorative items, and a collection of clocks.
The collection was built over more than six decades after Independence, driven by J R D Tata’s philosophy of “putting a little bit of India” in the offices of the erstwhile Tata Airlines.