Radhika and Abhishek Poddar: Curators of cool
From a Devi bronze to contemporary eco-friendly designers, Bengaluru-based couple Abhishek and Radhika Poddar on the everyday art that dots their lives
If Bengaluru were an art movement, it could be characterized as the Color Field painting style of Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, with its yearning for transcendence amid chaos. Bengaluru citizens are the same way: not brash like the Dada style of Delhi, or the edgy Cubist style of Mumbai. We are laid-back, restful, thoughtful, simple. The same could be said of Abhishek and Radhika Poddar. The word that Radhika uses the most is “simple".
Their home in a leafy lane in Bengaluru is filled with interesting curios and exceptional art. No surprises there. Radhika runs Cinnamon, a well-curated boutique in a lovely heritage building. She champions young designers and sources unique objects from all over India and the world. Quiet of disposition, light of touch and easy of laugh, Radhika’s passion is textiles.
Abhishek is one of India’s foremost art collectors and the founder of Tasveer art gallery. Formidably knowledgeable about a wide variety of art styles and movements, Abhishek is both generous with acknowledgement of his teachers, and willing to teach interested listeners himself. At his office, he once walked me through a veritable treasure trove of tribal art slides, and gave me a quick diploma course on the topic.
Last year, he announced the launch of the upcoming Museum of Art and Photography (Map-india.org), a Bengaluru-based museum that will house his own extensive collection alongside others. Expected to open in 2020, it is an ambitious collaboration that is extremely well thought out in terms of approach and goals.
At home, the Poddars move easily among the artworks and curios that dot their living space. They spoke to Lounge about the influence of art on their personal style. Edited excerpts:
Who are some of the artists or art movements that have influenced your aesthetics?
Abhishek: Manjit Bawa played a seminal role in my understanding and learning of art. There are many others: Mapu (Martand Singh) for textiles, Dashrath Patel for design, Jagdish Mittal and B.N. Goswamy for miniature paintings, Jyotindra Jain for craft and tribal art. Dayanita (Singh) and Prabuddha (Dasgupta) for photography. Viren Bhagat for jewellery.
Where does your sense of style come from? Who are some of the people who have influenced you?
Radhika: Being a very simple and basic person, I guess it comes from that. I don’t enjoy anything with too much fuss. The simpler the better. My mum has possibly been the most influential person in my life, and my sense of style is a lot like hers.
What are some of the objects that you love and why?
Abhishek: I love this Devi (Chola) bronze. It is so striking in its simplicity as well as the complexity of the shape and design—as well as the negative space. It epitomizes one of the greatest periods of art as well as skill in bronze making.
This painting, Interior Of A Hindu Temple III, was a watershed in Bhupen’s (Khakhar’s) career in 1965. He was looking at common images from popular and street culture. He made this painting as a collage using found objects such as popular prints, kite paper and silver foil. This painting went to the Tate Modern in London and Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin recently.
Another favourite is something I commissioned to mark my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary in the late 1980s: 25 flowers to mark each year of their marriage, created by leading artists of the day.
I also love a portable shrine from the early 1900s which is quite kitsch and has images from popular culture. Images of gods and goddesses, various mythological figures, cherubs as well as the king and queen of England. There is a key to wind it, and when operated, each head and hand goes bobbing up and down. It’s great fun and most unusual.
Radhika: Antique mirrors are something that I really like. I love it when some of the mirroring is defaced, gives it a very nice touch. I also enjoy a lot of the bronzes that we have at home. I enjoy some of the jewellery I own, like this necklace set and bangle. I love some of my saris, like this old pink Banarasi sari. It is ripping in places but I love it.
You live in Karnataka. Can you talk about art that is less known but deserves wider recognition?
Abhishek: I can’t say that it is lesser known but it hasn’t got the due that it deserves. It’s Bidri—widely used in the good old days. With silver inlaid into dark blackish-coloured metal alloy to mimic the night sky and stars, made black by using mud from the Bidar Fort. Usually made into paan daans, spittoons, trays, hookah base containers and mir-i-farsh (carpet weights). The V&A and the Met have good examples, as does also the Salar Jung Museum (in Hyderabad) and the National Museum in Delhi, but it deserves much more of a closer study in India. Nowadays, people tend to give Bidri the go-by and club it as craft. Some early examples are really fine and it’s unfortunate to just label it as a mere craft object.
Can you name some contemporary designers whose work you love?
Radhika: Lovebirds, 11.11/eleven eleven, and péro are among my favourites. Their styles are very simple, yet distinct, very wearable and comfortable.
Pet peeves with respect to art or style? What is overdone? What needs to be changed?
Abhishek: Unfortunately, the focus on art is more related to what is the value attached to the piece rather than the art content and how good the piece is. Value becomes the measure instead of quality. Possibly, this is partly a result of the media and the material world we live in, and also partly lack of exposure and knowledge. We are also ignoring various other great forms of art, like photography, textiles, or tribal and folk art.
Radhika: I feel that a lot of people don’t have an individuality of their own. And there is a tendency to follow a trend, rather than create your own sense of style. I also feel that there is too much emphasis on clothes and fashion, which, according to me, is quite unnecessary.