We all know that national galleries across the world represents the nationalist spirit of the country. It assembles works created from different regions and puts it together to imagine a shared past between these regions and art practices. This purpose of national galleries and museums becomes more instrumental in the context of newly liberated colonial countries. These institutions help newly formed nations to position themselves along with the already existing nation-states. While the history of the nation acts as a legitimate claim towards the past, these modern institutions herald the arrival of a new age, as a continuous process in the progress of the nation.
NGMA is the best repository of modern Indian art in this country. It has acquired works of Indian artists from the 19th century onwards, a bureaucratic exercise which continues towards the 20th century, representing important Indian artists from different states. The size of this collection representing different artists, movements, styles, and mediums is vast. It is a curator’s Disneyland and hell at the same time. The task of presenting this giant collection in a legible way to the public is not an easy task. But there are certain brilliant curators who have not stepped away from this arduous mission. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator,” we introduce you to a seminal exhibition in Indian art history curated by renowned art historian and curator Geeta Kapur.
The Curator 7
Title: Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection
Curator: Geeta Kapur
NGMA, Delhi. 1994.
It is definitely an unnecessary task to introduce Geeta Kapur to my readers. You must have come across her important book “When Was Modernism?” at some point of your life. Geeta’s pathbreaking works on Indian art has received national and international acclaim and attention. She still remains the critical voice on Indian art on various international platforms.
Geeta Kapur, Courtesy: Utharakalam
In the year 19994 she was invited to curate a show marking the hundred year journey of Indian art. In her own words, “The third project at the National Gallery of Modern Art came about in 1994 when I was invited as an honorary member of the NGMA advisory committee of to mount an exhibition from their holdings. I sifted through the Collection by physically looking at hundreds of works. My selection criteria was based on the idea of laying out an itinerary across 100 years — a walking/looking itinerary through modern Indian art. No works were borrowed from other collections, which means there was a constraint on choice; an expressly NGMA exhibition, it was what is called in standard museum language, a re-hang of the Collection.
The passage was mapped, predictably perhaps, from Ravi Varma until the most contemporary work available at the time. But the itinerary had its twists and turns; it was not laid out chronologically nor strictly by schools and styles. The spectator walked through a broadly delineated period and encountered unconventional and hitherto untested juxtapositions. To give one example, I placed Ravi Varma and Amrita Sher-Gil face to face in one room to suggest the ‘studio’ academicism in each, and then in another room, I installed Sher-Gil paintings beside Jamini Roy’s for an opposite ‘thesis’ — because they were contemporaries experimenting with a diverse range of Indian art-historical antecedents and arriving at certain abbreviations that placed them in a keen, tangential relationship to modernist language. I was, in other words, testing and revising our familiar art history — on the walls, in the act of traversal, through the act of looking. There is the art history of the text book, based on carefully sourced influences and the evidence of styles; there is another that reads signs and meanings in conjunctural ways. The latter is experienced phenomenologically, on museum walls and related spaces.”
In the curator’s working notes for the exhibition written in July 1994, Geeta Kapur writes:
‘Nothing serves the cause of investigation better than a point of view for seeing, refocusing, finding alternate perspectives. That is why even if it were possible, it would not be useful to present a conclusive exhibition. A great part of the history of modern art in India not having been written — yet— what we can do best of all is to re-place and sometimes also dis-place the images and their attendant signs and meanings. Thus one begins to make out from the unmade meanings a historical argument. Which is the form of history I, at any rate, would privilege.’
Participating artists included Raja Ravi Varma, Pestonji Bowmanji, Pithawala, Hemen Mazumdar, Xavier Trinidad, Sarada Ukil, Amrita Sher-Gil, Abanindranath Tagore, Masoji Vinayak, K.N. Mazumdar, Sunyani Devi, Karitick Pyne, Dhanraj Bhagat, Ramkinkar Baij, Bhabhesh Sanyal, Sailoz Mukherjee, K.H. Ara, Nandalal Bose, K.K. Hebbar, S.B. Palsikar, Mohan Samant, Laxman Pai, Gaganendranath Tagore, Leela Mukherjee, Jamini Roy, Binode Behari Mukherjee, Akbar Padamsee, F.N. Souza, Harkrishan Lall, Paramjit Singh, Prem Singh, Vajubhai Bhagat, P.T. Reddy, Bhupen Khakhar, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Laxma Goud, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Ravinder REddy, Prithipal Singh Ladi, Jayashree Chakravarty, Jagdish Chandra, K.C.S. Paniker, A. Ramachandran, Vivan Sundaram, N.N. Rimzon, Dilip Sur, S. Savarkar, Jaya Ganguly, V. Ramesh, Rabindranath Tagore, Zainul Abedin, Satish Gujram, K.G. Subramanyan, Meera Mukherjee, P.V. Janakiraman, Sarbari Roy Chowdhary, Himmat Shah, Latika Katt, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Raghav Kaneria, Himmat Shah, M.F. Husain, K.S. Kulkarni, Paritosh Sen, Pradosh Das Gupta, Bijon Choudhury, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Anupam Sud, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, Shamshad Husain, Vajubhai Bhagat, N.S. Bendre, Ganesh Pyne, Jogen Chowdhury, Manjit Bawa, Amitava Das, Nagji Patel, Arpana Cour, Gogi Saroj Pal, Ravinder Reddy, Vid Nayar, Zai Zharotia, Kanchan Chandra, Sanjiv Sinha, Madhvi Parekh, Prabhakar Barwe, K. Muralidharan, Manu Parekh, Satish Gujral, Jatin Das, Nareen Nath, P. Gopinath, S.R. Bhushan, Jehangir Sabavala, Vijay Mohan, Arpita Singh, Krishna Reddy, J. Swaminathan, S.G. Vasudev, K. Achuthan, P.T. Reddy, Haridasan, Om Prakash Sharma, G.R. Santosh, Jeram Patel, Rameshwar Broota, Biren De, S.H. Raza, Shobha Broota, Ambadas, K.C.S. Paniker, Vishvanadhan, Nasreen Mohamedi, Rm. Palaniappan, Bal Chhabda, Krishen Khanna, Rekha Rodwittiya, C.S. Douglas, Robin Mandal, Alex Mathew, N. Pushpamala, Tyeb Mehta, Jeram Patel, R.K. Dhawan, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, Sankho Chowdhary, Prabhakar Kolte, Ramesh Pateria, and Akhilesh.
Nevertheless, Geeta’s redefining of the collection was not easily digested. Her ideas were way ahead for the time. Her curatorial strategies. non-chronological way of assembling works, especially juxtaposing them to create other interesting parallels was heavily criticised.
A newspaper cutting of an article criticising Geeta Kapur’s exhibition. Courtesy: Asia Art Archive.
Despite these the exhibition remains as one of the important early attempts to re-define an existing institutional collection.
More images of the exhibition view are accessible at the Asia Art Archives website. http://www.aaa.org.hk/en/collection/search/archive/another-life-the-digitised-personal-archive-of-geeta-kapur-and-vivan-sundaram-hundred-years-from-the-ngma-collection/object/hundred-years-from-the-ngma-collection-exhibition-view-18823
Please take a look at them and see if you are able to identify the artists. Have a good weekend.
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st