For those of us who have wondered at the lack of cultural - civilisational, even - interest among the wealthy who can - and should - make a difference, post-Diwali will see the creation of a new museum in Mumbai after a very, very long time. The Piramal Museum of Art could be the game changer for a large number of fence-sitters in the city who have talked of the possibility of sharing their private collections with the public but, for whatever reason, have chosen to remain reticent as yet. When the modest 7,000 sq ft museum opens its doors at Peninsula Corporate Park in Lower Parel, it will showcase the assiduously built collection of Ajay and Swati Piramal, documented in a book called Smriti, with an exhibition of that name. In all, a mere 40 works from that collection, marking the history of Indian modern art, will signal its first outing, but frequent shows are planned in the space that has a separate conference hall, outdoor garden space and cafeteria.
In a city where space is a premium, the Piramal Art Foundation has aspirations for changing the scope of people's engagement with art. With that in mind, regular changes every few months are envisaged. Already, the second show, to open in February, could be another eye-opener, consisting of an exhibition of paintings by Raja Ravi Varma. It may or may not include Varmas from the Piramal collection, but the highlight is likely to be a loan of 30 works from the museum that belongs to the royal family of Baroda - one of the few who opened their doors to the painter and commissioned him portraits of royal women from the zenana, which was unheard of in its time. The exhibit should create a flutter in the most hardened of art aficionados for whom Venice, not Mumbai, is the tramping ground. A third exhibition, planned post the summer of 2016, could re-examine Indian miniatures and their impact on the art tradition of India.
Previously, it was the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi (and Noida) that had provided art lovers with an alternative venue to government art museums such as the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Ashvin Rajagopalan, the director of the Piramal Museum of Art, says the scope of the museum has been left open and flexible, but what it aspires to be is a "museum of collections". Yet, it will not be an anchor for the Piramal collection alone but, instead, hopes to rekindle art history through looking at retrospectives of major artists from the past.
Unlike most moribund museums, it hopes to develop an active programming calendar with talks or seminars every week. It also hopes to build infrastructure for the arts starting, in December, with an art residency in Thane (a Mumbai suburb) for young to mid-career artists. The foundation also supports a short-term art management course that is run by the art collective Khoj. It has also developed a research library and study centre that is open to researchers working on independent projects. The museum "is interactive", Rajagopalan tells me, "and is designed keeping younger audiences in mind". Interestingly, it plans to stay open late into the night to allow city residents to visit beyond regular working hours. All information will be provided in English as well as Marathi, enlarging its scope to include the aam Mumbaikar in its ambit.
There are plans for expansion in the immediate future, but even through this genesis the Piramal Museum of Art could play a catalytic role in the commissioning of other private museums and enterprises, sparking an interest in art and culture the equivalent of which is best seen in New York.