GoM to decide fate of AI's huge art collection

9 Jul 2017

The fate of the priceless artwork collection of Air India, acquired over the past 60 years, will be decided by a group of ministers which is looking into the proposal for the air carrier's disinvestment, official sources said.
The inventory of the thousands of artefacts, comprising works by stalwarts such as M F Husain, SH Raza, VS Gaitonde is still underway. In the past year, 60 per cent of the review has been completed, they said.
A proposal was mooted several years ago to display the artistic treasures at a museum but the idea was gathering dust until it was revived by the current chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani. A museum was proposed to be set up at the Air India building at Mumbai's Nariman Point.
A tender was floated in May this year worth Rs 3.5 crore but the contract was not awarded following uncertainty over the airline's future, with NITI Aayog then mooting disinvestment of its stakes in Air India. A Cabinet decision last month gave its in-principle nod to this proposal.
This painstakingly gathered collection has its origins two decades after Air India's maiden flight in 1932. The erstwhile Tata Airlines, was starting to expand its global reach as a need was felt to create a distinguishing image for itself. Thus began a search for masterpieces that would represent the rich cultural heritage of India.
B Cowasjee, Air India's publicity officer at that time, visited art galleries and purchased works of renowned as well as struggling artists. These pieces would adorn the airline's booking offices around the world and draw the pedestrians passing by.
On the occasion of the opening of an office at Paris, JRD Tata had said, "We have tried to put into it (the office) a little of India in the hope that when you visit it, you will feel the urge of visiting our country, even if you foolishly choose to deprive yourself of the delights of a voyage on Air India."
Over the decades, Air India has accumulated over four thousand paintings, which include works by artists such as KA Ara, Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpana Caur and B Prabha, among others.
There are stone sculptures dating back to the ninth century, woodwork, decorative friezes, a collection of exquisite clocks. There is also a costume collection, called 'Paridhanika', comprising Kanjeevaram, Paithani, Baluchari sarees as well as patolas, pashminas and dresses displaying intricate zardozi work.
Many of the paintings were also reproduced on menu cards, greeting cards and calendars, with a wide reach among Air India's guests.
While some of these works were commissioned by Air India, there were others that were bartered for air tickets to artists travelling abroad.
The airline also supported artists who were young and struggling but would go on to become renowned worldwide. One such personality was B Prabha whose three early paintings were purchased by Air India when she was fresh out of Sir J J School of Art in Mumbai and the airline would continue to buy her works for several decades. (PTI)