Why do we collect? The reason for collecting can be aesthetic, intellectual or emotional. Whether its art, objet d’art, carpets, textiles, jewellery or books, when it is collected regardless of the history, cultures, periods and genres, the journey becomes more exciting. That is the odyssey Gaurav Bhatia, Head of Maison India, ex-MD Sotheby’s, (and previously LVMH) undertook when he was just eight years old. A journey chock full of rewards he didn’t quite know when he embarked on it.
Gaurav grew up in an “organically rich but never really a formal milieu of collecting” with his parents “picking things they liked from paintings to carpets and furniture to textiles. But to them they were merely decorating their home, in the 1970s in India.” He was bitten by the collecting bug more formally after pouring through vintage issues of interiors magazines where he saw grand American homes and European estates with rich oeuvres of classical and modern art, tapestries, textiles and objet d’art along with precious collectibles. His obsession for art came from his parents, as he accompanied them on several collecting trips to galleries. Bhatia would spend hours admiring the art and take back a story or two on the painting or the artist even if his parents came home without “the prize”.
However, Bhatia’s love for art took a serious turn when he once sacrificed a trip to the Bahamas to buy his very first painting, a bold decision for someone straight out of college. “But I loved a painting I had seen in a Soho gallery, in New York, where I was living at the time, and I just had to have it. I didn’t quite have enough money after paying rent, so I just backed out of a friends’ beach trip. Secretly, it gave me more joy to stare at the painting day on day than a holiday,” he laughs. The trajectory continued in my poor twenties, where I often gave up a fancy meal, “a dinner at Pastis for a limited-edition Verner Panton Chair, or yet another piece of art. But I put my money where I could see it best, on my walls.” says Gaurav Bhatia.
Collecting wasn’t always about the acquisition, however and Gaurav spent weekends in museums, galleries and flea markets. He would drag his then girlfriend, now wife, to endorse his guilty pleasures, a perfect partner in crime. The couple now has what Gaurav calls, “a humble mix of stuff we love, collected over the last two decades across geographies.” Their home has a generous sprinkling of Contemporary art including works of artists such Abir Karmarkar, Ayesha Sultana (from Bangladesh), Rana Begum (from Pakistan), Sarnath Banerjee, Zakkir Husain, Rohini Devasher, K.S. Arun, Aditi Singh and Nityan Unnikrishan, photography by Pablo Bartholomew, William Dalrymple, Nandini Valli Muthiah among smaller works of Jitish Kallat and Subodh Gupta. This is mixed with pichwais, Kalighat pats (that Gaurav adores), textiles and Tanjore paintings and a special collection by the icons of Madhubani art Satya Narayan Lal Karn & Moti Karn, a nod to Gaurav’s love for traditional and folk art of India that. His latest acquisition is a rare work by textile artist Riten Mazumdar, the erstwhile designer of FabIndia which was recently exhibited at a retrospective for the famed artist at the reputed Chatterjee & Lal Gallery in Mumbai.
According to Gaurav Bhatia, the secret to amassing the best collectibles of modern and contemporary pieces of art lies in being fearless about the mix. He believes that restricting yourself to one category or time is academic and focused bit not for him. It may turn your home into a museum. And that works for some but not for him. “Art lasts for life and across generations, so it is better to collect after thorough research, but it doesn’t matter which part of the world or culture it comes from,” he says. “Be curious as if you were going out for a meal. Multiple cuisines keeps your palate more curious. Art is much like that. It nourishes the soul”
With time, and his stint at Sotheby’s India as their head of South Asia, Bhatia’s eye has been trained to notice prized works during the auctions. His affair with art is really a story of passion, of true love for the arts and a curious mind. At 45, now helming his own luxury and lifestyle advisory, is he done? “Oh no, the madness has just begun,” he concludes with a twinkle in his eye.