It was the beginning of a new chapter for artists in the city as the Southern Regional Center of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) was inaugurated in Bengaluru on 18th February. Located at the heritage site of Manikyavelu Mansion on Palace Road, the gallery was inaugurated by Union Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ambika Soni. The event was presided over by leader of Opposition, Government of Karnataka, Mallikharjun Kharge and Minister of Medical Education, Ramachandra Gowda.
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Spread over 3.5 acres, the gallery has been designed to be a cultural institute. Prof. Rajeev Lochan, Director, NGMA, says, “This gallery is not limited to paintings and sculptures. It will have theatre, performances, films and lectures, too”. Though the foundation stone was laid in 2001, the opening of the gallery was delayed due to various reasons. It was initially supposed to open in 2006. Ambika Soni said they were working towards putting a security system in place which was one of the reasons for the delay.
Built at a cost of about Rs. 8 crores, the mansion was transformed into a gallery by Venkatramanan Associates. V ‘Naresh’ Narasimhan, Principal Architect, Venkatramanan Associates, explains that a 1,260 square meter extension has been added to the 1,500 square meter of the mansion. “This is the best example of a surviving bungalow in Bangalore. The mansion is like a diamond and we have built a ring around that diamond”, says Narasimhan.
The gallery houses a 130-seat auditorium, facilitation centre, art library, open-air coffee shop, extensive storage and art conservation facilities. The first floor has the capacity to hold sculptures weighing up to five tonnes, Narasimhan says. The main building will house various collections of NGMA from across the country.
The Manikyavelu Mansion is over 90 years old and once belonged to the Wodeyars, Mysore’s royal family. It later came to be owned by Raja Manikyavelu Mudaliar, a mine owner. It was taken over by the Government of Karnataka in the late sixties and then offered to the Ministry of Culture in July 1989 in order to set up a modern art museum in Bangalore.
On the occasion of the inauguration, the NGMA presented an exhibition titled ‘Signposts of the Times… from the collection of the NGMA’. These works of art trace the trajectory of Indian art from the 18th century to the current trends in the 21st century, and chart the development of modernism in Indian art. This centre will now serve as a platform for both national and international exhibitions.
In March 2008, Citizen Matters carried a report about the status of the gallery. The then Principal Secretary of the State Culture Department, IM Vittal Murthy, had said that the NGMA was to open in June last year. The art fraternity had expressed their cynicism and dejection over the delay in the opening of the gallery. SG Vasudev, prominent contemporary artist of international repute, says there was no necessity for the delay. “There has been no transparency”, he says. But Vasudev, who was foremost among the group of artists who initiated the process a long time ago, says that the NGMA will be an advantage for artists in the south. “It is the desire of many of the artists here. It can house international exhibitions also. But at least 30-35 per cent of the activities here should be by those from the south. Many events are possible here”, he adds. Vasudev also applauds the exhibition put together for the inauguration and congratulates the NGMA for the same.
Painter, print-maker, Illustrator, Chandranath Acharya K, says the gallery is a great thing for Bangalore and will help in projecting the psyche of Bangalore’s artists. “We need a constant exposure to the local people. The city requires this kind of a museum. Here we will get to see a wider range of works of art”, says Acharya. As an artist, I will learn a lot if I go there, he adds.
Painter-sculptor, Bhaskar Rao, says that the gallery will help students as it will provide easy access to works of art by masters. “Students can study paintings. It will also be easier for the public and for historians. It will be a directory of artists of the century. You can view all kinds of works of art in one place”, Rao says. Voicing the same opinion is painter Shankar Kendale who says that this gallery will help artists across the state. “This gives us the opportunity to see nationally and internationally renowned artists. It will also help regular art buyers. It is a very rare opportunity for us”, Kendale says.
But now, even as the NGMA has seen the light of day, artists in the city are unhappy about the manner in which the inaugural event was organised. Many expressed their disappointment about some of the prominent artists of the city not being invited for the function and the non- representation of artists among the chief delegates.
Minister Gowda’s statement, “modern art has become a medium for pseudo intellectuals to insult ancient Indian culture” irked the artists present at the function. Artist M S Murthy objected to Gowda’s comments and demanded he stop his speech. “You don’t know what is modern art. Better stop talking about it”, an angry Murthy said. But Gowda retorted to Murthy’s intervention. “I am not here to answer you. You… get out. The government is speaking here”, he said. Gowda even told the police to escort the artist out of the premises. Other artists also condemned Gowda’s statements and the whole exchange of words lead to a small fracas at the venue.
Artist JNS Mani says he is not satisfied with the entire approach taken by the NGMA officials. “They should give first preference to the artists of Karnataka. They did not call many of the artists from here (for the inauguration). Instead, they called politicians”, Mani says. He says the NGMA officials should call for a meeting with the artists of Karnataka and discuss plans for the gallery. “It should be useful to the artists here. They should give job opportunities to people here”, he adds.
But Lochan has just two words for the artists in the city. “Enjoy it!” he exclaims.