Secrets on Running a Multibillion Conglomerate and an Art Centre

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Having married into a family owning one of the largest conglomerates in Eastern India, the Emami Group, Richa Agarwal was introduced to the art world and the art market by her father-in-law RS Agarwal’s interest in collecting art. Besides being a collector, she is also the Director at Emami group and the Executive Director of  Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC), which is a multidisciplinary art space that does not limit itself to a conventional gallery space, but also a library, performance space, a creativity lab to prototype and a conservation unit. She is not shy to draw a parallel between the royal patronages offered during previous centuries and the role that industrialists must play today in nurturing and patronizing artists in today’s world.
LARRY’S LIST discussed with her to on how she was introduced to the world of private art collection, how she fell in love with an Anish Kapoor, her latest purchase of a work by the artist, as well as the establishment of KCC to give back to the city for art of various forms and media to flourish.

Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.
Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.

What made you want to start collecting art? What is the main motivation behind your collecting?
We started collecting art some ten to twelve years ago. So, relatively we are very young collectors. At a personal level, I would say I startedcollectingabout five to eight years back. So, before that, it was driven by Mr. Agarwal’s interest. I keep saying that he is too generous because with him it used to be like wherever he is going he would buy quite intuitively. He would keep saying that in the golden days, the kings and royal families used to patronize artists, they would promote the arts of theirparticularregions, but today since that era is over, we ought to start talking about corporates coming forward to promote art. We do believe that it is also a way to give back to the society which has given us so much.

When did you fall in love with a piece of art? What was it?
I fell in love with Anish Kapoor’s work when I saw it in a gallery. It was truly mesmerising – his choice of colours, materials and the thought behind it.

An artwork by Anish Kapoor. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.
An artwork by Anish Kapoor. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.

What is your focus regarding the artists in your collection?
What began as a humble initiative to support the local artists’ community and champion the cause of art has gradually grown and flourished into a diverse and comprehensive collection of artworks that reflects our love and commitment towards the cause of the growth and flourishment of Indian art.

Is there any particular type of art that has consistently attracted you, or anything that unites all the works you have acquired?
Contemporary art has always left me curious, and a lot of artworks that we have bought are intuitive. The love that we have for the works unites everything that we have acquired.

Artwork by Rekha Rodwitya. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.
Artwork by Rekha Rodwitya. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.
Artwork by Satish Gujral. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.
Artwork by Satish Gujral. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.

What were the first and the latest artworks you purchased?
An Anish Kapoor installation was something we bought recently which remains a dear piece.
Bengal’s eminent artist Bratin Khan’s work was one of my first purchases. While, one of the first artwork was a gift to Mr Agarwal, my father-in-law from Birla Academy of Art & Culture. It was a beautiful soft work for which I did not have the budgets. So, ‘the then director’ of Birla Academy hand-held me and guided me through my purchase – teaching me the first few integral lessons of building an art collection.
Nassia Inglessis’s kinetic installation ‘Disobedience’ and G. Ravinder Reddy’s famed fibre glass sculpture ‘Gauri’ are the two recently added works that have greatly enhanced our collection.

How many artworks do you own? Where do you display your collection?
As a group, we own more than 4,000 artworks of modern, contemporary and traditional arts.  A lot of our collection is displayed at our residence and offices.

You have presented your art collection in various museum exhibitions, which was the most memorable?
We have sent our Jaganath Panda to Mori Art Museum, Japan.

Emami Art, Ground Floor, RASA exhibition. Courtesy Emami Art.
Emami Art, Ground Floor, RASA exhibition. Courtesy Emami Art.

Which artwork makes you buy without thinking?
We are all very impulsive at heart here. It is difficult to name anything in particular.

What is your most treasured artwork?
Every artwork is a story for us. They are all treasured in their own way.  Personally, the Anish Kapoor work is one closest to my heart.

Artwork by S. H. Raza. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.
Artwork by S. H. Raza. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.

Who inspires you most in the art world?
I maintain a teacher-student relationship with most artists. I keep learning from them. Pinakin Patel who is the architect and also the Creative Director of Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC), has been with us from the very beginning of KCC’s ideation stage and a true guiding force behind this project.

How important is it for you to meet the artists who created the artwork? Have you become friends with them?
It is very important for me to meet the artist who has created the artwork. It makes me believe more when I see the artwork through the eyes of the artist. Yes, I have become very friendly with most of the artists we work with as we all share the same passion.

The exterior view of Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC). Courtesy of KCC.
The exterior view of Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC). Courtesy of KCC.

What is your motivation behind KCC?
KCC is built out of the passion of Mr. RS Agarwal & Mr. RS Goenka, the Founders & Joint Chairmen of Emami Group.
KCC is a place where we are saying that creativity is not only the art that you see on the walls; creativity is something that is innate in every individual. We express in different languages, some in terms of painting, some in terms of poetry, some in terms of cooking, it could be just about anything. KCC tries and would like to nurture every individual’s creativity so our programming is curated accordingly. We have a lot of musical activities, we have theatre, we have dance programs etc.

What are the exciting upcoming programmes at KCC?
Emami Art is going to open Mr. Jogen Chowdhury show curated by Mr. Ranjit Hoskote in September and at KCC. We have about 20 programmes a monthwhich isinclusive of learnings, workshops, performances and musicals. Eventually, we do want to collaborate and bring international shows and workshops to the city.

Amphitheatre on the 1st Floor of KCC. Courtesy of KCC.
Amphitheatre on the 1st Floor of KCC. Courtesy of KCC.

What are some of the challenges you have faced at KCC?
You know, we wanted to fit the entire world into 70,000 sq ft, which does not work, so we have had to chalk out phase 1 and phase 2. We started with what we were more familiar with – programmes and events we had seen and picked up during a lot of our travels. It really drove mewhole-heartedly to create a space like KCC, which nurtures the creative spirit of every individual irrespective of age.

What is your vision for KCC for the next five years?
For the next 5 years, I would like KCC to build a culture through art and craft with a global network of institutes, governments and public partnerships, using research, documentation, conservation, display and public engagement as enablers.

Artworks by Bhupen Khakhar. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.
Artworks by Bhupen Khakhar. Courtesy of Richa Agarwal.

The art scene seems to be thriving in India in recent years. How do you contribute to boosting the development of contemporary art?
Kolkata Centre for Creativity encourages participation in arts, culture and creativity through multi-disciplinary exchange. Arts comprise here of visual art, performing art, music, design, photography, architecture and crafts not limited to either traditional, modern or contemporary. We are working on the principles of cultural diversity, gender equality, conservation of environment and inclusion of people with disabilities; we aim at achieving these through partnerships and collaborations.


Related: Kolkata Centre for Creativity

A selection of artists Richa collects:
Anish Kapoor
Bhupen Khakhar
Bratin Khan
G. Ravinder Reddy
Nassia Inglessis


Interview by Abhinit Khanna
Edited by Ricko Leung