Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

I first heard of NGMA Bangalore in 2010, only a year after it had been opened to the public. Around that time, we lived only a ten-minute walk away from where it was located, but never got around to visiting it. Seven years later, we live in another part of the town, over twenty kilometers away, but were seized with the urge to visit this gallery – so that’s what we did yesterday. Drove to Indiranagar, took the metro to Cubbon Park station, and then walked along tree-lined roads and past lovely houses with gardens to Palace Road, where this art gallery is located.

A little history

Manickavelu Mansion, front view. Houses NGMA Bangalore
Manickavelu Mansion, front view

The gorgeous building where the gallery is now housed stands on a 3.5 acre ground with many large, ancient trees, well-tended gardens and a pond. The building was once the residence of the yuvaraja of Mysore, but was sold in the early 1900s to businessman Manickavelu Mudaliar who has his own rags-to-riches story. According to this article, he once wanted to visit the mansion but was denied access until he bribed some of the caretakers. Once inside, he was so struck by the beauty of the place that he vowed to live there one day.

Mudaliar and his family did live in the mansion for a brief period of time but financial issues forced them to give it up. The mansion was then auctioned off and became taken over first by the City Improvement Trust Board (now the BDA) and later by the Ministry of Culture. It was also temporarily used as the UN office for technology initiatives but by the late 80s, the state government proposed that it be converted into a museum.

Restoration work  eventually began in 2003, preserving the heritage building at the centre but with the addition of a cafe, library, and a new wing, and the repair of the auditorium. By 2009, this became open to the public as the third National Gallery of Modern Art in India, the other two being in Delhi and Bombay. You can read more about the history of the building here.

The inside story

We didn’t know what what to expect from the term ‘modern art’, but the introduction to the museum right at the reception helped explain matters. Here, modern art is defined as art and sculpture created by Indians or those living in India at the time from the 18th century to the present (although we didn’t spot any work created after 2000.)

On Saturdays, there is a short guided walk conducted for free by one of the museum curators and we were luckily in time for this. Our guide explained the significance of the various galleries and the unique aspects of some of the styles of art, as well as the techniques used in creating woodcuts and lithographs. We were then free to explore the gallery as we liked.

Most of the paintings are marked with the name of the artist, the year of creation, the title, and the medium, but these details were missing in quite a few exhibits displayed in the new wing as well as in the sculpture gallery. But apart from these omissions, all the galleries are beautifully lit and maintained with many helpful staff stationed to guide you from one exhibit room to the next.

NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard
NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard

There were collections from the Bengal school, the Madras school, the Baroda school and the Mysore school with works by Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Raja Ravi Varma, and many others. Some of the works remain with me even now, especially M.F.Pithawala’s portraits of Parsi women and girls and Abanindranath Tagore’s rural scenes from Bengal. There is a virtual gallery available here for those who are unable to visit the museum, although nothing beats the original.

In the ground floor of the new building is a gallery dedicated to exhibitions and a collection by Kazuaki Tanahashi – Japanese artist, calligraphist and Zen teacher – was on when we went. His works had simple, yet powerful brush strokes in stunning colour combinations, and heroed negative space with great effect.

One piece that caught my eye in the sculpture gallery was an alloy cast of a flautist – there is no discernible head, but every line and curve of the figure is poised to create music, his fingers splayed over the holes on the flute, his lips puckered to blow. An absolute stunner.

There is also a cafe downstairs adjacent to the auditorium where you get really good comfort food like sandwiches and shakes, pasta, parathas, and biryani at reasonable prices. We tried the pasta, fries, and a cold coffee – all were delicious. The view of the garden with the tall, ancient trees right next to where you sit and eat is an added bonus.

The cage at NGMA Bangalore
The courtyard cafe

The garden in the front is full of trees and plants of all kinds, stretching towards the sky. Many of them are old, having been around since the bungalow was constructed. As you sit down by the steps and look at the greenery around, the quietness of the area suddenly strikes you. This is another world, a verdant, whimsical garden, an oasis in the middle of this teeming city.

A view of the grounds at NGMA Bangalore
A view of the grounds

Other details

Address: 49, Manickavelu Mansion, Palace Road

Entry tickets: Rs.20 for Indians. Rs.500 for foreign nationals.

Recommended duration of visit: 2-3 hours.

Photography is not permitted inside the galleries.

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