The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal art’s showcase soon

It seems that now, there is a distinct possibility of the culture complex planned years ago by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) being ready some time in the near future.

After years of pussyfooting, the foundation of the complex was laid for the second time on January 23, 2000. The 3442.5-sq-m plot on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, facing the American Consulate, a high-security zone, was gifted by the West Bengal government.

Initially, Shankar Dayal Sharma, then Vice-President of India, had laid the foundation some time in the 80s. Charles Correa had designed the complex, and artist Paritosh Sen remembers the beautiful maquette he had made. But thanks to the procrastination, he washed his hands of it. Now Dulal Mukherjee & Associates has reworked his concept and come up with a new blueprint.

The basement of the complex is complete, and now the project, estimated to cost Rs 5 crore 72 lakh, awaits execution by Bridge & Roof Company, a Government of India enterprise.

M. Bhattacharya, deputy general manager of the company, says it was awarded the contract in June. Apart from constructing the main structure, it will be responsible for providing the fire-fighting and electrical systems, the lift and flooring. Construction will take 19 months from the date of commencement but “zero date” has not been decided.

The biggest impediment is the security arrangement on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, which will make it difficult for trucks laden with construction material to enter the street. The government’s permission has been sought. “Had it been elsewhere, work would have started,” says Bhattacharya. So preliminary work is on.

A spokesman for Dulal Mukherjee & Associates says the ground-floor-plus-four complex will also house the regional centre of the ICCR. The basement will hold an auditorium, with accommodation for 400, and a car park. The office and green room will be on the ground floor. An art gallery, with space for a permanent exhibition and a cafeteria, will be the highlights of the first floor.

The second floor will house the archives, a sculpture court and a travelling exhibition, the service and storage area and a library. More space for travelling exhibitions on the third floor, besides service and utility. The fourth floor is meant for two video halls, a large seminar room, meeting room, dining space, a dormitory and guest rooms. The regional director’s quarters, too, will be in the same complex.

The floor area will be around 1,000 sq m on each floor, but it will be variable. The spokesman said it was yet to be decided which floor will house the gallery that will showcase the rich artistic heritage of Bengal.

Both the open space around the building and the interiors will be landscaped and waterbodies will serve as embellishments. Entry will be through a grand portal or darwaza.

But artist Ganesh Haloi wonders if the galleries will be enough to house Bengal’s art treasures and if there will be any room for expansion. Or else its purpose will be defeated.

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