Art historian, collector, gallery owner, businessman, philanthropist, and now filmmaker: Sundaram Tagore embodies the restless intellectual curiosity, cross-cultural exploration, and entrepreneurial spirit that characterize the liberal arts at their best.
Born into a family of poets, artists, and writers in Calcutta, and raised there and in Delhi, Tagore recalls arriving in Wooster for the first time in 1980, having decided to enroll based solely on the good reports of friends from India who had attended the college.
“I remember driving down from Cleveland on a beautiful fall day. It was all so starkly different from the world I had occupied until then. It felt exhilarating and yet like I was entering an unknown world.”
In that new world, Tagore told the Financial Times in 2008, “I was inspired by a wonderful man called Arn Lewis.” “He played a very important role in my life,” Tagore reflected recently. “I took many courses with him and it was because of him that I got involved in art history.”
Lewis, a professor of art history at Wooster from 1964 until his retirement in 1996, also served as advisor for Tagore’s I.S., an examination of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Japan. The project reflected Tagore’s abiding interest in cross-cultural dialogue and exchange, an interest that informs both his personal and his professional life to this day.
After graduating from Wooster, Tagore drove across country, spent a year and a half at the University of Oregon, got married, hung out with Ken Kesey, and finally moved to New York City where he began working for a gallery selling Russian art and immersed himself in the SoHo art scene.
The years that followed took Tagore from New York to Venice and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, to Oxford to begin working on a doctorate on Indian artists’ response to European modernism, to Asia as a director at the PaceWildenstein gallery, and ultimately back to New York, where he opened his own gallery in 2000. Two more galleries, in Beverly Hills and Hong Kong, followed in 2008.
According to its website, “Sundaram Tagore Gallery is devoted to examining the exchange of ideas between Western and non-Western cultures…In a world where communication is instant and cultures are colliding and melding as never before, our goal is to provide venues for art that transcend boundaries of all sorts. With alliances across the globe, our interest in cross-cultural exchange extends beyond the visual arts into many other disciplines, including poetry, literature, performance art, film and music.”
Tagore likes to find artists who have traveled and lived in cultures other than their own. He represents almost 30 artists from across the globe and spends 70 percent of his time travelling: from China and Korea to India and Israel, Santa Fe to San Francisco, Vancouver to Vienna.
Last year he made his first major venture into filmmaking, producing and directing the award-winning documentary The Poetics of Color, about renowned Indian artist (and fellow New Yorker) Natvar Bhavsar. His next film will be about American architect Louis Kahn’s design of the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh. Also in the works: a new magazine devoted to the culture and lifestyle of unique but less-travelled spots around the world.
“Before I went to college, I always thought I’d be either an archaeologist or a journalist,” Tagore says. “That’s why I always tell young people, ‘Don’t worry about a career at that point. Follow you passion and the jobs will follow.’”
Art and cross-cultural exchange are Tagore’s passions and he has built a full life and successful career at their intersection. “Without art,” he told CNN International in a 2007 interview, “we cannot humanize the world. Art bridges cultures and brings people together, ahead of business, ahead of other areas.”
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