Connecticut-born artist Peter Nagy’s love affair with India began in the 1990s, a few years after his first trip to the country. Nagy saw immense potential in the contemporary art scene of India and opened Gallery Nature Morte in New Delhi in 1997. More than a decade later, Nagy stays on and so does the gallery, which has become synonymous with contemporary artists who represent Indian art on a global platform. By Adila Mitra
1. Tell us about your first visit to India and what made you stay?
My first trip to India was in 1990 as a tourist. It was the standard three-week trip to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Bombay. I saw cows fornicating in the middle of a traffic jam at a roundabout in Jaipur in 42°C and I was just hooked!
2. What were your first impressions of India?
I was very jet-lagged, and it was very hot. It was almost like a fever dream.
3. What inspired you to open an art gallery in India?
I was running Nature Morte in New York’s East Village from 1982 to 1988. I closed it in 1988 to concentrate on my career as an artist, but knew I would open a gallery again someday, somewhere else. After living in India for one year, I felt opening a gallery here might be a possibility. I met a generation of very smart and talented artists whom I connected with, so things just came together.
4. Tell us about your memorable experiences in India.
One memorable experience was in Ahmedabad during my first year in the country. I was at a roadside chai stall at 7 pm, that time of the day when there are bottlenecks everywhere. I noticed a very large brick in the centre of the road and thought it might be a hazard. Five minutes later, along came a family of five on a scooty and from the opposite direction,
another scooty with around 30 tiffin boxes. Bam! The two collided and the boxes
flew, spilling their contents on the street. The traffic came to a halt, and everyone helped gather up the now empty tiffin boxes. After about 15 minutes, everyone went on their way and traffic resumed, but the brick was still left on the road.
5. What are your travel essentials while going around the country?
A sense of humour, patience, curiosity, and a handkerchief.
6. Which is your favourite city in India and why?
One of the great things about India is that all the big cities are all different and have their own personalities. It’s hard to choose a favourite, but I love Chennai as I find the Tamil culture to be sophisticated so that it almost feels like Japan.
7. What’s your most favourite cuisine here?
I’m a big fan of Gujarati food, but also love South Indian cuisine, particularly seafood. The most memorable meals here are in people’s homes, where one is usually surprised and overwhelmed by the hospitality.
8. What is your advice to foreign travellers visiting India?
Rule #1: Everything is difficult.
Rule #2: It’s all about maya.
Rule #3: Always carry something to read!