Entrepreneur-artist-photographer-collector Vir Kotak’s office is on the top floor of an old-school building in Lutyens’ Delhi. There is art in the lift lobby, walkways, conference rooms, and work areas, hung on the wall and stacked on the floor. Most often they are works of artists collected by Vir, but occasionally his own works too. ‘I like to curate spaces and make connections with the way art is displayed, not just hang paintings for the aesthetics of it alone,’ he said on a warm May afternoon, when we talked about his passion for art.
I was born in Bombay and my grand-father was my inspiration
Coming from a business family that lived in Bombay, my biggest influence was my grandfather. He travelled the world at a young age and that gave him a global perspective at a time when no social media existed. He voraciously absorbed aspects far beyond business, be it sports, music or art. He bought books and interacted with people to enhance his understanding of things. I credit him for bringing the sensibility of art appreciation into our family.
My grandmother’s camera collection initiated my love for the medium
There is no denial that I had a privileged childhood, but my upbringing was normal, requiring me to do all that is expected of a growing child. I had access to a wide variety and types of cameras that my grandmother owned. She would let me use them; the idea then was to document and not necessarily make art. I would explore the equipment with great enthusiasm and that led to my natural affinity to image-making. At the age of twelve, I was given my first camera…an Olympus. It was not a point-and-shoot, which allowed me to really experiment, play with exposure and shutter speed. Without a conscious intent, I was honing my skills. I would challenge my own aesthetics and that expanded the way I saw things.
Barring a couple of Hebbar paintings, I have grown the collection myself
My grandfather ended up acquiring a few paintings of KK Hebbar. When he bought them, it was because he loved them and not as a calculative purchase for investment. I inherited two of those works but everything else that we now have has been a personal and gradual process. I do not limit myself to fine art alone. I like to pick up things that have a narrative. And it could be a work of craft or folk wooden sculpture. Some of the works I enjoy the most are made by upcoming artists or crafts persons.
I enjoy customising my space to display an aesthetic
When I place a new work in a space, in my mind I am almost curating the display. It must work together and this is not merely visual aesthetics, but rather as a narrative story. Cluster of works on a wall or how one work has a conversation with another on the opposite wall is like poetry in itself. I am formally involved in developing spaces for my family run businesses. It is my personal responsibility to populate any new space with things that are pleasing. There is a fund earmarked to buy art for any new space. I began by buying works for my personal collection and now I am leading this to build our corporate collection. I see this as a practice, a discipline by itself. I like the idea of bringing art out of white-cube gallery spaces.
Going deep into an artists’ practice is rewarding
I do not think of my collection as a portfolio and I am not interested in checking boxes when I am buying art. I should like the work visually. And then I am always interested in knowing more about their practice, thought process, and work methodology. It is like an arranged marriage. Slow and steady with several things falling in place. And how-famous-the-artist-is is not a criterion for me. Some of my favourite works are in fact from fresh college graduates or those who have a few years of practice. I like the works and I know for them it would have been encouraging.
While I lead the buy decision, my wife Simran is very much interested in art
There are times she spots works that we both enjoy. At the India Art Fair earlier this year, she liked a work but it was already booked by someone. The same evening, we were meeting a few friends. We were exchanging notes on what they enjoyed at the fair, and they told us of a work they acquired…it was the same work my wife wanted to have. It was serendipitous and knowing our passion for art, they let us have the work.