Champions of the Arts

Asking the average American art lover to name at least one Indian artist might elicit mention of the iconic M.F. Husain, who made headlines in 2008 when one of his paintings sold for $1.6 million at a Christie's auction. Fewer are familiar with Husain’s compatriots—Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar, Francis Newton Souza, Bal Chabda, S. H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee, and V. S. Gaitonde—although they are hugely popular in their native country.

Even fewer in the U.S. have been introduced to the work of India’s latest generation of masters, including Kamal Mitra, Kajal Shah, Pratul Dash, Samir Aich, Stanley Suresh, M. Sashidharan, Prabhakar Kolte, Sumana Chowdhury, Niranjan Pradhan, Susanta Chakraborty, Chandrima Bhattacharya, K. S. Radhakrishnan, Mahjabin Majumdar, Mahula Gosh, and Kaushik Mukhopadhyay and others.

Those artists have staunch champions, however, in Kent and Marguerite Charugundla, the founders of the Tamarind Arts Council, an organization that promotes Indian culture. Marguerite, a 2010 graduate of the Management of Technology Executive Master's program at NYU-Poly, explained, “Many of India’s greatest artists were quite poor. It was a struggle even to get paint or other supplies. So you can imagine how difficult it would be for many of them to exhibit and promote their work outside of the country.” She continued, “Things have changed in India since the 1990s. The economic boon has made the latest generation of masters quite wealthy. Now they are able to exhibit in galleries and museums around the world.”

Kent and Marguerite’s collection is often displayed at their New York City gallery, and they are delighted to open the space to viewers by appointment. Marguerite stated, “Art is something that we can all learn about and enjoy. It plays a large part in making our lives richer by adding color, expressing all human emotions, and fueling our creativity. Artists have the ability to connect with individuals differently based upon a person’s perspective. This makes art an intimate experience; an experience we would like to share.”

NYU-Poly students, faculty, and staff don’t even have to leave Brooklyn to see stellar examples, however: the couple has lent the school more than 50 pieces, which are currently displayed throughout the campus. Kent, a 2012 graduate of the same MOT program his wife attended, said, “It’s very important to maintain a balance. Art can help us gain perspective and ease the stresses of our business lives, and in turn, commerce helps drive art, which can be an expensive hobby at times.”

Kent and Marguerite initially bonded over their shared interest in art. Marguerite is a lifelong admirer of Chagall, Dali, and Picasso, and introduced Kent, who is an eager learner, to the works she loves. They began collecting in the mid-1990s. While they focused at first on miniatures—painstakingly detailed paintings often commissioned by Indian monarchs—they soon began branching out into the works of India’s progressive group. In the process, they became friendly with the late M. F. Husain who credited them with introducing his work to an international audience and driving his prices skyward.

“I learned a lot from him about many things,” Kent said, “including Pre-Partition India and the issues that were common then.” Kent recalls Husain once saying while they were having tea at a cricket club in Mumbai, that at one time he was not allowed to enter that same club.

The couple branched out further still by adding numerous Bollywood posters to their collection, some of which can be seen at Poly. “In India, there is no bar or nightclub culture. That’s not part of the value system,” they explained. “You get dressed up and go to the movies instead.” They continued, “The movies can be wonderful. They depict characters from different classes and religions coexisting peacefully, so they show people that this is possible in real life. The posters are a way of honoring that and acknowledging how important film is to Indian culture.”

The Charugundlas are deeply concerned with social justice and equal opportunity for all—themes that run not only through their art collection but also figure largely in their business lives. “In 1996 when the new telecommunications law took effect, allowing small businesses to compete in the market, that gave me access to great opportunity,” Kent recalled. “It was a major milestone for me to have that access.”

They are currently beta-testing a product that will allow university lectures to be transcribed into print in real time—an undeniable boon to foreign students and those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Kent stated, “All students should have equal access to the content of the class.”

The couple’s latest project is to help young entrepreneurs gain a foothold in New York City. To that end, they are renovating a portion of the 39th St. brownstone that houses their gallery to create an incubator space for technology start-up companies. Their collection of art will bridge the relationship between business and passion.

“There’s really no separation,” Kent said. “I take a holistic view of life. Art can be a catalytic experience for creativity, and entrepreneurship is creativity.”