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Kiran Nadar: The digital shift will allow museums, galleries to reach a new audience

"I think this time of lockdown has been historic and unprecedented and we are sure to see some interesting and engaging works emerge from this period," says Kiran Nadar

Written by Shweta Sharma | New Delhi |
October 5, 2020 5:30:30 pm
Kiran Nadar, kiran nadar interview, KNMA, kiran nadar museum of art, KNMA delhi, artist pandemicKiran Nadar is the founder and chairperson of KNMA. (PR handout)

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), established in 2010, has been successful in laying the foundation of museum culture in India by bridging the gap between the elite world of art and the public at large. Today, the museum is synonymous with not only art and its aesthetics but is also known for various other collaborations, programmes and dialogues which have a wide reach.

In a conversation with, Kiran Nadar, Founder and Chairperson of KNMA, Trustee, Shiv Nadar Foundation, talks about the effect of the pandemic on the world of art, the changing role of curators, the way forward in a digital space and how KNMA plans to adapt to the new normal.


What do you anticipate the new normal in the art world to be? The pandemic has deeply affected the world of art, leading to the closing down of museums, cancellation of fairs across the globe, or prompting a digital makeover.

The Indian art scene has proven itself very resilient. While museums and galleries may be closed, the shift of focus to digital has opened up a whole realm of possibilities. The virtual format is here to stay, but at some level, there will always be the draw to see art in real life. The joy of beholding an artwork in person is very hard to replicate virtually. However, digital experiences can be and are being used as a tool to spread awareness and build appreciation for the arts.

What would you say is the biggest impact of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns on the world of art?

Probably the huge growth and adoption of digital methods. The shift to digital will allow museums, galleries, artists and artisans to reach out to many new audiences. Going forward, digital is likely to be a key part of any outreach plans, rather than just a support system.

Another encouraging aspect that has been nice to see, is that some museums have opened up many previously private collections to the digital space. We believe that art should be for everyone, which is the driving thought behind KNMA.


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The KNMA, during this time, introduced a lot of online series and workshops across all age groups. How has the response been?

We’ve had an excellent response to all our digital activities. Some of our most popular activities include our online exhibitions curated by our Chief Curator, Roobina Karode such as City Tales, and the re-presentation of Rameshwar Broota’s retrospective.


We have also recently completed an online mini-series called Art x Fashion which explores how some of India’s greatest designers and fashion insiders have been inspired by art and how it has influenced their work. We have also just started a new series in a similar vein called Art x Design which will engage with leading architects, lighting designers and interior designers.

For kids, we also have a nice variety of activities which cover downloadable colouring worksheets of noteworthy and famous artworks for both kids and adults, DIY online instructional videos with easy do at home art projects, Art Prompts online workshops that bridge art with other subjects such as history, science, etc, and our Saturday workshops continue to take place online.

Some special events we started in September include a mobile photography workshop series, as well as a virtual children film festival ‘Children’s Talkies’ which will showcase a variety of national and international films, that cover a wide spectrum of genres and encompass many of the most reputed names from the world of cinema. The movie screenings will be followed by conversations with the directors. This will continue till November.

However, the entire experience of engaging with art is about interacting with works in close proximity, admiring the strokes, among other things. Do you think the virtual experience can match the physical one?

I think it will be difficult to match the real experience of viewing an artwork in person. The virtual and physical will always be different. However, there are many virtual works that I have seen as images or in catalogues, that I have been able to take a decision on without seeing the physical work. Sometimes virtual works are able to transcend the gap.


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Curators play an essential role in the world of art. How is the new trend likely to affect their role in the coming times?


I think that curators have been forced to rethink and refocus on their art in the new digital scenario. At KNMA, we have always made it a point to digitally document and archive our collections and events, making it easy to access and create things like online exhibitions. I think curation has already started to change as now we will be curating for a digital world, and the in-person experience has started to take on a less important context.

Curators have to adapt to the virtual world. There are certain things that are intrinsic to the normal museum space, that are hard to replicate. In a way, the virtual world does have certain constraints. Curators have to look into these constraints and model their work. Earlier curated virtual shows would be very flat, however, curators today are working with adapted technology where the space of the museum has been modified into actual 3D images, allowing them to do a lot more.


Curators also have to consider the fact that the interest of people viewing in a virtual world, may be different from those people who would view it in real life. It is important to keep this in mind and then work towards projecting something special that will capture their eyes. This is a training period for curators in order to find a way to configure shows that can have the same kind of appeal as real shows.


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A post shared by Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (@knmaindia) on Oct 4, 2020 at 7:30am PDT

How do you foresee the future of the art market once the lockdowns are eased and galleries start reopening?

The Indian art scene has proven itself very resilient, the importance of art has been realised at a profound level by people who have been limited to their own often confined spaces. For good works, the prices have more than held out and Indian art is on the upswing. The easing up of lockdowns will continue to have a positive effect on the art markets.

Art has also evolved with times, and artists often showcase current themes in their works. Do you think dark, gloomy times, pandemic, lockdown, sustainability are likely to be recurring themes in artworks in the times to come?

I think that this time of lockdown has been historic and unprecedented and we are sure to see some interesting and engaging works emerge from this period. It’s hard to say how exactly, as each artist has their own method of thinking and process. I look forward to seeing what emerges.

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Having said that, the pandemic has affected many artists in a big way, with some of them struggling to make ends meet. What steps do you think need to be taken in this regard by the authorities/governing bodies?

We do understand that the government has many priorities and important issues to deal with, especially at this point in time. However, this has, unfortunately, put art on the back burner. It would be nice if the government could start looking at ways and means to help the artisans, artists and institutions of India.

Art, however, is considered a very niche market. Do you think going online has made it much more accessible and widened its audience base? Do you feel this shift was needed?

Yes, the virtual world has definitely opened it up to many new audiences. The anonymity of the online world also allows those who may be interested but intimidated to take their first virtual steps into the world of art, with no fear or judgment.

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Once the gallery spaces and museums, including KNMA, open up for the public at large, what hygiene precautions and other protocols need to be kept in mind?

KNMA has not yet opened up as we are keeping the health and safety of our employees and audiences as a top priority. However, when we do eventually open, we will abide by government guidelines, as well as look for directives and protocols from international museum bodies for health and safety.

When we are allowed to open the museums by the government, we will see that only small groups of 6-8 people at a time gain entry. Since some museums in the West have already opened, such as The Met, MOMA, Art Institute of Chicago, we can all look to them to take cues on reopening. We realise this may not be an easy task, but we are determined to try our best.

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First published on: 05-10-2020 at 05:30:30 pm

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