Everyone knows Pratap Bose, Founding Partner and Chairman, The Social Street, as a passionate wildlife photographer. But if he is up in the wee hours these days, then he is probably reading his latest interest on a particular painter or on Skype with a fellow collector in another part of the world
Roshni Nair | Mumbai | January 19, 2017
(This is a weekly series on advertising professionals who have enriched their own lives and their audiences as performing musicians, artists, painters, actors, singers, mime artists. We will bring a new adman-performer every Thursday.)
The fact that Pratap Bose has a dedicated room in his house to store his art collection in a space-strapped Mumbai is testament enough of his passion for art. You can find the late Gaganendranath Tagore and the perhaps lesser known, recluse Gopikrishna, all co-existing harmoniously in his tastefully done up pad.
“I started collecting art very seriously about five years ago. It was always latent in me but if you ask any collector the exact reason why they started collecting, there may never be a definite answer to that question.”
Born and bought up in Kolkata to a Bengali father and a European mother, Bose was always interested in literature and art. So it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone when unlike most teenagers, he spent his first salary at an art gallery.
“I was probably 21 and I just got my first pay check. I went to a small art exhibition and although I didn’t know anything about art at that point in time, there was a Chinese silk painting that I liked and I bought it, and very proudly put it up in my study.”
“Manisha Gera Baswani is the sister of my best friend. Her house, when I visited for the first time, was an absolute museum. I was in awe of her. She was in her lovely way, a Godmother who taught me the nuances of what is important, what to look for in an artist and who are the contemporaries making their mark.”
His first serious acquisition, a work by A Ramachandran, was in fact from Manisha Baswani’s collection. It was also around that time that Bose had his first brush with auctions.
“I went to my very first auction with my friend Varun Gera (Manisha’s brother) about five years ago. It was at the Taj and it wasn’t a very big auction. I had this auction catalogue and I didn’t know anything about the artists. On my way to the auction, I kept calling Manisha to ask whether a particular artist was good or not and what price I might have to pay. So I arrived at the auction thinking I knew a lot but now looking back today, I laugh at the novice I was then. I did raise my hand two or three times to bid but Varun kept pulling my hand down and restrained me. It was a learning experience and from that day something very strong stirred inside me.”
Today, Bose has been to many an auction but he still believes that whether you are buying from live auctions, online auctions, the secondary market or from art dealers and galleries, the provenance and authenticity needs to be impeccable.
“The critical thing today, when you buy, is that you must look for work that has a very strong provenance and the quality of the work. The papers, the documents, all of them need to be extremely good. You should buy from people who are trusted and come with a strong reputation on trust, values and authenticity. The art world is a strange place, and there are only a few from whom I buy because of my fetish for strong credentials.”
“Yes, it is the Old Bengal School of Art. The Modernists, the Souzas, the Hussains all came later. There is a lot of feeling, versatility and depth in the old school of Shantiniketan artists, and they were the first ones who consciously challenged the idea of modernism by opting out of both internationalist modernism and historicist indigenousness and tried to create something of their own. According to me, the old Bengal school was the beginning of the art renaissance in India.”
Nasreen Mohamedi is one artist Bose has been trying to add to his collection but in his own words, collecting art is an expensive hobby and you can’t own everything you want.
“Fifteen years ago, Nasreen Mohamedi was selling for about fifty thousand rupees. Now it probably sells for a crore each. Her style is straight line, geometrical drawings. For her, symmetry was everything. She suffered from a rare neurological disorder similar to Parkinson’s. Her hands would quiver, her whole body would tremble when she tried to draw but in spite of that she was always able to maintain the symmetry she was looking for. That was her style. She died very young as well.”
Bose believes that the more tragic the artist’s life, the higher the propensity of their work selling and becoming great.
“From Van Gogh to any of the world’s great painters it was always about the tragedy or hardship that the artist had to endure. We are all individuals at the end of the day and therefore those sensitivities almost always hit a raw nerve with the collectors.”
Someone who doesn’t believe in collecting art for the badge value, Bose feels that you should only buy art that moves something in your soul.
“Unfortunately many of the younger generation of art collectors collect only for badge value. They want a Hussain, a Souza or a Raza because of the bragging rights attached to the name. For example, Gopikrishna is not a very expensive artist today. He might become expensive in the future but that is not why I collect his work. I buy his work because his works are like no other with his unique esoteric style, the Salvador Dali of India as I call him. So, it is not about the price you pay but about whether it stirs something inside you. At the end of the day you have to live with what is on your wall.”
“The art world will become a better place the day young collectors start collecting works that move them emotionally, and for the love and passion for art and not be swayed or influenced by the auction houses or big galleries that attempt to prop up artists and influence prices. Buy what you really really love!”
Will there ever come a time when he will be ready to part with some of the paintings?
“I think yes. You evolve as a collector. There are many stages in life as a collector. There comes a stage when every serious collector would have collected a lot during his/her life and then they reach a point where they don’t feel the need to collect anymore. They find joy in other people’s collections and they don’t need to own it. Those are the true collectors, who appreciate art for what art is. It takes a lot of time to reach that stage but I am not there yet.”