Most Delhiwallahs know Kuldip Singh as the architect of the majestic funnel-shaped Palika Kendra building opposite Jantar Mantar, and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) office in Siri Fort – sometimes called the 'pyjama building' by irreverent auto-wallahs for its two-winged shape. Those more acquainted with architecture will know that Singh is foremost among a band of modernist architects and urban planners – Charles Correa, Raj Rewal, BV Doshi – whose iconic, spare buildings, often clad in exposed concrete, changed the landscape of our cities in the 1960s and 1970s.
Amruta Kalasha, an exhibition of 200-odd vintage Thanjavur paintings at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Delhi, shows a very different facet of Singh's personality — that of an art collector. Singh has been collecting these for over 40 years now, ever since he first discovered them on a trip taken to look for old pillars, sculptures and such-like architectural artefacts in south India.
Over the years, he went back again and again, read up what scholars had written on the subject, and bought hundreds of paintings.
"Whenever something interesting came up, the artists and dealers in the area knew whom to take it to. After all, I was quite conspicuous in the area," says Singh, referring jokingly to the markers of his Sikh identity. This is the first time the collection is being shown to outsiders.
It is also the first time the KNMA, India's first private museum, is showing a collection that is not its own. "We've never done this before," said Nadar at the show's opening, "but when we saw his collection, I knew it was very important to bring it to the public."
"I suspect that his is the largest (collection of Thanjavur paintings) in India, if not worldwide," says Anna Dallapiccola, Professor of Indian art at the University of Edinburgh, who has collaborated with Singh on a book about his collection to be published by the Marg magazine early next year. Dalapiccola, who has been familiar with the collection for more than two decades, says she is also "deeply impressed by the sustained, high quality of the paintings".