Precious artworks worth Rs. 350 crore by noted artists such as MF Husain, SH Raza, Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpana Caur and Manu Parekh jostle for space in a storeroom at Air India’s Headquarter in Mumbai.
The cash-strapped airline has bought more than 950 paintings, bronze and stone sculptures over the last four decades, but while many have been stacked in the make-shift warehouse; many others lie scattered in cities such as Vienna, where the Maharaja does not even fly to.
The 'wealth' would have continued to gather dust had it not been for a recent civil aviation ministry meeting, held to monetise Air India's assets. "We put our heads together to see how to reduce financial distress and someone pointed out that the fact that in corporate India, we have the most varied and valuable collection,” revealed an official who attended the meeting.The shocking revelation that artwork worth crores dating back to the 14th century were in disuse led aviation minister Ajit Singh to ask for an expert committee to be set up to restore, catalogue and evaluate the rich but dying collection.
When contacted by HT, the aviation minister said, “An expert committee is evaluating the paintings. We might monetise the art by taking it to an auction house.” An early estimate of the airline’s ‘wealth’, communicated to the minister by the management, has pegged the collection’s worth at a staggering Rs. 350 crore.
HT accessed the minutes of the first meeting of experts held on July 27. The meeting focussed on bad storage and the minutes read, “The committee members visited the 18th floor where the valuable artifacts are currently stored and found that the storage system needs to be upgraded immediately.”
Saryu Doshi, ex-director, National Gallery of Modern Art and a member of the expert panel said, “The paintings are just lying stacked and not stored in the way paintings should be stored.” Another panel member, MS Chouhan, superintending archaeologist with archaeological survey of India, likened the store to “a kitchen store”.
Experts also pointed out that the R350 crore estimate could go up after they have catalogued and evaluated the collection.