In the autumn of 1962, Dr Homi Bhabha, founding director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), commissioned younger generation painters across the country, to produce a design for a 42-foot mural for their building complex.
In the elimination round, each of the artists was asked to work on a miniature canvas, rarely attempted at that time in the Indian visual arts.
After spending months together, caged in their rooms, each of the selected artists managed to create magic, and in return, earned Rs800 for their submissions.
The winning entry in the competition was MF Husain’s Bharat Bhagya Vidhata', which he had a hard time creating a scaled-down version of, owing to his apprenticeship as a painter of billboards during the 1940s. With no feedback from the committee Husain visited Phiroza Wadia who went inside and called Dr Bhabha, after which she came out and said, “You got the mural.”
Such interesting tales, straight from the art world, will now be available to all at an exhibition titled Homi Bhabha and modern Indian art: the collection of TIFR, held at the National Gallery of Modern Art until June 5.
Consisting of more than 250 art works, the collection was assembled by the first two directors of the institute, Bhabha and MGK Menon, between the early 1950s and 1970s.
Of this, the exhibition will showcase more than 130 paintings and sculptures created by the biggest names in the field, including KH Ara, V S Gaitonde, KK Hebbar, Jehangir Sabavala, and MF Husain.
“It is common perception that Bhabha’s life revolved only around science and engineering,” said Ananya Dasgupta, an archivist with TIFR. “However, in reality, Bhabha was a master of arts, and owned the most expensive and valuable collections of modern Indian works available.”
On the occasion of this first-of-its-kind exhibition, Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal, partners in the Mumbai-based gallery Chatterjee & Lal have compiled a book, The TIFR Collection, giving readers an insight to their analysis of Bhabha’s relationship with Indian art.
“Dr Bhabha had an extremely fascinating taste and collection for art and history,” said Chatterjee, the curator of the exhibition. “He not only respected the works of the best in the business, but at the same time, was responsible for shaping the lives of several budding painters.”