Art maverick and real estate developer Manish Maker works with a wide variety of artists on iconic art installations in the new complex Maker Maxity in Mumbai. He is a man driven by a relentless desire to create works that surprise, that elicit a reaction, spark an interest, influence a dialogue.
Dr. Ellen-Andrea Seehusen of International Arts Management met up with Manish for a conversation, ranging from what inspired him to enter the field of art, to the objective of his journey, to the advice he would give other entrepreneurs looking to enter the field.
A curious beginning
Maker recollects fondly how his interest in art was sparked by a chance encounter with the works of M.F. Husain (1915-2011), an artist often referred to as the Picasso of India. Husain was a good friend of his father and used to live in a building constructed by him. While negotiating to buy the apartment, Husain gave his father a large 6 x 8 meter canvas for his office and personally installed it there. A few years later when the offices were renovated and moved, the painting was packed up and put away in one of the basements. And there it lay forgotten for almost twenty years.
Around a decade ago, while renovating his home, Maker remembered the painting that used to hang in his father's office and had fascinated him as a young child. On asking about it, he was told it was in storage and, to his surprise, still in immaculate condition. He put it up in his living room. "It still had such a strong presence," he recollects, "It completely changed the space from the moment it was hung there." For Maker, the discussion about art and architecture and how art influences space and design really started from there. It triggered the beginning of a long journey of discovery and, although art had never been part of the Maker corporate culture until then, he began to integrate it into each of the buildings at Maker Maxity in Mumbai.
The joy of collaboration
Maker enjoys the collaboration between an artist and someone like himself, with access to the engineering, technology and resources to realize large-scale works. He is inspired by the creative process - the discussion with the artist, the sharing of a vision, and then actually taking the project to fruition right up to installation and maintenance. "It is this dialogue we are interested in," says he. Being from a real estate, engineering and architectural background, it opens up a larger canvas because of their natural ability to undertake the entire process from structural engineering to fabrication.
While Maker does receive advice from friends, artists and galleries, he does not have a curator for his art projects. Each artist is selected individually by him, based on diverse criteria such as the interpretation, the space, the scale, the maintenance, but most of all just high-quality art. Each project is an extension of his curiosity, passion and the thrill of artistic collaboration.
Reflections of change
A number of Maker's projects are curatorial ideas around Mumbai and interpretations of the changing nature of the city, migration to the city, and urban regeneration.
Some of his landmark installations in Maker Maxity - a complex of office buildings, shopping mall and hotels in the Bandra-Kurla Complex of Mumbai, on the land of a former 100,000 sq. ft. drive-in theatre, reflect on its cinematic history. From its very inception, this project took the city on a journey of change through artistic expression - beginning with a unique 24-hour art show on the mounds of earth that were to be excavated, all the way to massive permanent installations commissioned across the complex once the buildings were constructed.
"It was just a natural kind of thought that we must be able to integrate art back into the spaces to really see how they change the way we perceive architecture or landscaping," recounts Maker. A centrepiece at Maker Maxity is the "Flying Bus" by Sudarshan Shetty, a double-decker video space and one of the largest outdoor sculptures in the country. An ode to the double-deckers that are disappearing from the streets of the city, it has 500 kg, 40-ft long stainless-steel wings on the bus, reflecting the paradox of the city, questioning whether the wings help you fly or are actually weighing you down.
Each of the office buildings has an installation by a different artist, including Hema Upadhyay, Srinivasa Prasad, Jitish Kallat, and tribal artist Bhajju Shyam. The Viennese artist Eva Schlegel has done a temporary installation and her permanent moving picture sculpture is installed on the grounds. Next to every piece are write-ups, so people can learn more about the art. The collection continues to grow with further works waiting to be installed, including a commissioned work by Subodh Gupta that will sit on a building, sculptures by Susanne Rottenbacher, Arne Quinze, Gunilla Klingberg and Alex Chinneck and an installation in the mall by Grimanesa Amoros.
Sparking a conversation
"The essential function of art is to spark a conversation within its viewers," stresses Maker. He is particularly interested in how art and architecture can play off each other, how art influences space and design, and how it resonates with the architecture and the surroundings. "I am interested in looking at art versus space design and architecture and how they interact and harmonize, or form a tension or not, or can change."
Among his projects that create tension in the surroundings is "Payana" by Srinivasa Prasad, a bullock cart with all its objects of ownership and migration being tied down to the cart, but actually flying out of it. This sculpture engulfs the entire lobby in a corporate office building. He believes that the kind of tension created by the juxtaposition of this rustic work in a pristine marble and glass modern lobby works very well. He thoroughly enjoys the widely varying reactions elicited by it.
Maker likes to push the envelope with works that are a bit more risky or unexpected than you would normally expect in a corporate space. "It is actually nice to work in an environment which sparks conversation and dialog rather than a passive or benign environment," says he.
Beyond marketing or investment
Maker is of the firm belief that art is not a marketing activity. "It is quite the opposite," he says, pointing out that there is no financial gain in creating the art and nor does it result in a measurable greater return on investment. It is the intangible benefits of art that motivate him, such as giving back to the city, creating an engaging work environment, and enhancing the experience by opening up art spaces to the public.
Asked for his counsel to other entrepreneurs looking to enter the field of art, he is quick to caution: Don't wet your feet too soon! "You don't have to be too ambitious or do too much too soon," he says, "Ask yourself why you are really doing it." According to him, many people spend too much time trying to put brackets around art or try to define what is art. It is good to educate yourself a bit about art in order to take educated decisions. But having done that, one should not be afraid of making mistakes. "Trust your eyes and your instinct," he advises from experience. And most importantly, says Maker, "Do not buy art for investment or appreciation in value. That's probably the biggest mistake people make." That is also a philosophy that he lives by.
Interview: Dr. Ellen-Andrea Seehusen
Text: Dr. Ellen-Andrea Seehusen
Photos: © Maker Maxity