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July 17, 2017

Sana Rezwan Sait On Acquiring Creations That Resonate With Her

Her passion for different forms of art fuelled not just her own work, but her growing collection — one that she views as a labour of love

I can still remember my early creative inclinations that eventually turned into a lifelong obsession with art. As a young high school student, I found a passion for painting, sculpture and mixed media works that I would labour tirelessly over. Encouraged by my teacher Mrs Pohl, an amazing woman who recognised that I had talent, I cultivated my historical understanding of the important movements and periods up until the conceptual phases of the mid-1970s. And by 16, I was producing works that some people even offered to buy. Unfortunately, the practical times I grew up in (and Indian families are nothing if not practical) ultimately held me back from pursuing something as “frivolous” as art. Even while my parents encouraged my interests, it was understood that I would have to choose a profession that provided stability.

But some passions cannot be held back, and 20 years later, I have managed to bring art back into my life. I’m fortunate to live in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York City, where I walk by Joseph Beuys’ installations each morning and watch the art handling teams at David Zwirner Gallery install each new show from my window. The best galleries in the world lay just beyond my doorstep, and I live and breathe art every day.

My passion has also expanded into a growing collection of my own. I love the feeling that I am personally participating in an artist’s process, and the support I am able to provide so he or she can continue and expand their work. I am always thrilled to encourage their vision, and to help where I can in broadening its exposure in the world.

My first acquisition was a piece by Shilpa Gupta, 24:00:01, that I saw at Frieze New York last year. It is concerned with the construct of time, and the arbitrary measurements that people use to document events. Gupta’s interruption of this man-made system of understanding is masterful in its subtlety. From her second exhibition at Gallery Continua in San Gimignano, Italy, the installation also included a strobing railway station sign that sent delicate messages of human interaction. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

My own taste is very specific, and I like to surround myself with pieces I find inspiring. I frequently find myself drawn to works that turn the mundane into the novel, that draw out a sense of deep beauty from spaces we tend to overlook. I also actively and consciously acquire art made by women, if and when I can — female artists have traditionally been marginalised and overlooked, the subject of institutional and academic discrimination that is just now being addressed in the art world.

While I have a special affinity with contemporary South Asian and Middle Eastern art, minimalism is also near and dear to my heart. I love that it can be anti-subjective and anti-compositional, but at the same time reductive, anthropomorphic and environmental. I find the dialogue between Frank Stella, Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd and Robert Morris most fascinating, and it is probably the reason why I obsess over the Dia Foundation, an organisation I’m proud to be a part of.

It’s for all of these reasons that I’m excited by a recent work I purchased — a collage by the Indian-born Zarina. She continues her exploration of her transient life, reflecting on deeply personal moments from travels and memories through domestic imagery that conjures up a cosmopolitan relationship with the world around her. Zarina’s hand almost always seemed to play within the context of minimalist tendencies, but the broader meanings of her work bring out a profoundly richer nuance.

There are so many more artists I find endlessly inspiring. The list is rather long, but I count Prabhavati Meppayil, Rana Begum, Mithu Sen, Thukral & Tagra, Bharat Sikka and Gauri Gill among my many favourites.

One may always come back to the financial gains, but I view it as a labour of love. One’s honest and deep appreciation for the historical resonance, skill and conceptual strength of a piece is, after all, often echoed by a gradual appreciation of price, a recognition of these same traits that is eventually validated by the market at large.

That doesn’t mean that young collectors should ever feel daunted by the prospect of starting a collection. You can begin with any budget, but I would suggest starting small and getting acquainted with the process. Find a work that you love, but do your research: talk to galleries, collectors, or preferably an art consultant. Make sure you document everything, and take the time to brush up on your art history. Even a short summer course can be extremely helpful in getting acquainted with an artist’s oeuvre.

In some ways, collecting itself is an art — a thoughtful and engaged process that demands much of one’s abilities as both a viewer and thinker. For me, it’s about the work itself, understanding its form and internal composition. From there, one can take on a broader exploration of the artist’s intent, which can further enrich the viewer’s experience of a piece. It’s an ‘investment’ in more than one sense, where the collector must be willing to pour themselves into the work, to understand how it will evolve, change and even transcend time.

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