The son of a Pakistani migrant who crossed over before the Partition became the owner of a premier international art house. How?
Born in 1949, Subhash had an older brother, Ramesh, and a younger sister, Sushma. Their family had moved from Lahore to Jalandhar prior to Partition when his father realised there was a business opportunity in dealing in rare books and manuscripts left behind by families fleeing the horrors of the divide. By 1962, the family had moved to Delhi where Kapoor’s father started a gallery that specialised in Pahari paintings. Kapoor studied at DAV School in Delhi and along with Ramesh he helped with the family business. In 1974 Kapoor left for the US where he continued in the same line of work, and in 1976 he married his wife, Neeru. Ramesh and Sushma also moved to the US by 1976, and by 1981, they had all become US citizens.
That a child, whose father was a small-time art dealer, had become one of the most prominent figures of the international art circuit was no small achievement.
Kapoor’s gallery, Art of the Past, was located on the corner of Madison Avenue and 89th Street, in the moneyed Upper East Side of Manhattan and very close to the MET, the Guggenheim and the Cooper-Hewitt – the top art institutions of our time. He was no stranger to the world of oysters, rare beef steaks and even rarer wines. Slightly round around the middle, and balding, he dressed impeccably in fine suits and silk ties and wore rimless spectacles. He was well heeled enough to effortlessly fit into the champagne-and-caviar world of Manhattan art parties and museum galas, as well as at blue-blood auction houses and in haughty academic circles.
Take a walk in the Smithsonian and you’re likely to encounter Subhash Kapoor’s name on a plaque more than once. He had worked hard to edge his way into the museum circuit, often gifting extremely valuable works of art, such as the Shunga period (200 bce–50 ce) pot that he gave to the MET in the name of his daughter.3 The exponential increase in one’s brand value and public profile by having a plaque next to the opening exhibit of the MET’s India collection that says ‘Gift of Subhash Kapoor, in honour of his daughter, Mamta Kapoor, 2003’ cannot be underestimated. It greases the path to being viewed sympathetically by museum acquisitions committees in the future. When his father died in 2007, Kapoor again gifted the MET a group of artworks in memory his father from whom he had learned his trade. And who, according to the Indian Express,4 had been tried for art theft in the 1970s. He also loaned artefacts to hotels such as The Pierre, New York, where the super wealthy were sure to encounter them and his name on a plaque next to them.
So how had Subhash Kapoor risen to such impressive heights?
Read more about Subhash Kapoor swift rise and fall in The Idol Thief!