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Ranbir Singh


by Charlie Finch
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When a wise and gentle friend dies, the hole that opens up in the heart is deep. When that friend is the great collector Ranbir Singh, it is as if one thousand friends have died and the crevice reaches through the heart to the center of the earth.

As a boy in India, Ranbir was sent with some friends on a road trip to Delhi to meet the prime minister, Indira Gandhi. On the way, the car crashed and Ranbir was severely injured, necessitating a year of convalescence, but also providing a fortuitous time for teenage contemplation about his future and purpose in life.

Ranbir, after studying accountancy in England (and becoming a good one), first made his mark investing in real estate in Brussels, and used his income to embark on his passion, art collecting. "All I could afford, Charlie, in the early '70s, were prints, inexpensive at the time," Ranbir told me a few years ago. "I had a wonderful collection: Johns, Stella, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist and many others." And then he sold them.

Why? Ranbir met Martin Kippenberger and they became world-travelling seekers of artistic inspiration, mixed with pure late night fun, from Tenerife to Munich and back. Ranbir's print collection had appreciated significantly in value ("I think about that collection every day," he would say to me) and thus he had the resources to purchase not only seminal works by Kippy, but also his close friends Albert Oehlen and Julian Schnabel.

Ranbir had the best eye for nascent art stardom I have ever seen, as good as Eli Broad and the late Gene Schwartz. He was the first to purchase John Currin (erotic furry marching band hats that resembled vaginas), he had amazing early Cady Noland assemblages, a terrific Andy Warhol portrait of Dolly Parton, the best Alex Katz nude of a fierce brunette and so much more.

Once you were Ranbir's friend, it was for life, and even a prickly sort like Schnabel, with whom Ranbir collaborated on a show and film festival in Mumbai a few years back, never stopped loving him. Ranbir has the most beautiful daughters a man could want, and they adored him, especially through the recent years of an illness which never sapped their father's spirit.

Ranbir Singh and I were the same age, but he was and is my spiritual father. An ocean of tears is not enough, now that he is gone.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).