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The hotel that could be a museum

By Kishore Singh
June 30, 2017 11:01 IST
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The lobby of the ITC Maurya in Delhi is home to the works of 20th century masters like Krishen Khanna, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta and M F Husain.
It has everything going to become India's first art museum hotel, says Kishore Singh.

Krishen Khanna ITC Maurya

IMAGE: The lobby dome of the ITC Maurya in Delhi was painted by Krishen Khanna.
Labelled The Procession, it is probably the largest modern mural in India, and any value put to it can only be notional.
Photograph: Kind courtesy


Waiting in the lobby of the ITC Maurya for the driver, my wife casually enquired, 'How much do you think the art here is worth?'

It was a surprisingly astute question since the hotel is one of the largest repositories of art in the country.

For those unfamiliar with the New Delhi hotel, the lobby dome, split into segments designed like a chaitya ceiling, was painted by Krishen Khanna, an associate of the Progressives.

Labelled The Procession, it is probably the largest modern mural in the country, and any value put to it can only be notional since, to replicate it, one would be forced to recreate the architecture as well -- which, while probable, is likely impossible.

Given the value of the artist, and based on the high quality of the mural, it is worth well over Rs 100 crore on the modest side (a few people I spoke to said its market value, piece by piece, could stretch to as much as Rs 500 crore, but that could be an exaggeration).

Yet, how many people who pass under the dome, bother giving it a glance, or spending time with what merits attention as one of the most spectacular works of art created in India.

The hotel lobby has several examples by 20th century masters, many of them paintings of extremely high quality.

Among these are two metascapes by Akbar Padamsee.

Padamsee's record price is approximately Rs 20 crore for a painting, but while these works are not part of his highly prized Grey series, they are among his better abstract landscapes and worth several crores each.

The Tyeb Mehta at the entrance to its coffee shop is an outstanding painting and, once again, could set a record should it come into the market.

The panel of M F Husains painted on glass -- a rare departure for the artist -- make them exceptional works at par with the artist's massive mural painted behind the reception of the Taj in Mumbai.

There are several other works (though later commissions at the hotel, alas, reflect a deteriorating standard in art acquisition).

While the hotel must be complimented for attempting to put out some information beside each work, it has done little to capitalise on it.

Few visitors know they are amidst some of the best examples of modern art and artists, all of them acknowledged masters.

The hotel could do much with art walks, literature (yes, a book on the collection, but also leaflets they could carry away with them), as well as films or QR codes that visitors can scan on their mobiles to get their own private tour.

A collection such as the one the hotel has would be virtually impossible to build today, given its high value.

It may have acquired the art, but the heritage belongs ultimately to the nation.

A few collectors have taken tentative steps to start private museums, but an institutional collection can also be listed as a private museum.

The ITC Maurya has everything going in terms of being the country's first art museum hotel.

To do that, it needs to edit a number of mediocre works, and rotate its collection in its public areas -- a number of which are in areas with no public access, while others are lying ignored in stores, part of art camps it sponsored, but which have not seen light of day.

Should it pull it off, its uniqueness might extend beyond its highly merited facilities and services, something no other hotel in India can boast of.

Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic. These views are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation with which he is associated.

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Kishore Singh New Delhi
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