Makeover for museum

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  • Published 22.04.07

April 22: The National Gallery of Modern Art near India Gate in Delhi is not the ideal space for hanging paintings. There’s hardly any space on its first floor to allow visitors to view a work from a distance.

But that’s going to change. The NGMA is set to expand to six times its current size, director Rajeev Lochan said.

About two decades ago, plans had been laid out for its expansion. Several well-known architects, including Charles Correa, were in the race to bag the project. A. Ramanathan was finally the winner.

But work didn’t start until recently. It is said that Ramanathan was a young man then but is a greybeard now.

Lochan, who joined the NGMA as its director in 2001, sounded upbeat when he said the “ambitious” plan would add 25,000 square metres of museum space to Jaipur House where NGMA, which opened in 1954, is located.

“This will make the NGMA six times larger. It is on seven-and-a-half acres of prime land and will become a complete complex — a hub. It will be in consonance with the existing space. Apart from the museum, there will be temporary spaces (that can be converted into makeshift galleries), a preview theatre, a film library, a restoration lab, a cafeteria and a museum shop.”

The shell is complete and the new space should open in the next one-and-a-half years, Lochan said. He has planned “another museum of similar quality in Bangalore”.

“The museums do not need to be Delhi-centric. I want to establish a network of museums in Calcutta and the Northeast as well. I wish I had a presence in Calcutta.”

He said 26 exhibitions, both national and international, were being organised during his tenure.

Lochan’s critics concede the Picasso exhibition was held after he joined, but say the expansion plan had been in the pipeline for a long time. The NGMA administration is too centralised, they argue, and the need of the hour is devolution of power.

NGMA had organised a landmark exhibition to mark the centenary of Benode Behari Mukherjee. But many would hand the credit for its excellence to Baroda-based ar-tist Gholam Mohammad She-ikh and Santiniketan-based art historian Shiv Kumar.

Comparisons are odious, but many still regard Lakshmi Prasad Sihare, NGMA’s director in the 1980s who organised landmark shows like the one on Rodin, as the most dynamic head of the institution.

The ones who followed were mere stopgap bureaucrats. During Sihare’s tenure, Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and he enjoyed her support.

Lochan’s critics accept that he is hamstrung by the bureaucracy and untrained staff. But as Delhi-based artist Vivan Sundaram said, “a little more contemporary and creative thinking” is expected of the director.