Art Radar interviews Peter Nagy, the curator of this unique collaboration of private enterprise and the State Government in a juxtaposition of contemporary art and traditional architecture.
This one-of-a-kind initiative with artworks by both Indian and international artists will be on display at the Palace until November 2018.
Conflating tradition and contemporaneity
The city of Jaipur, also known as The Pink City of India, was founded in 1727 by Jai Singh II, the Raja of Amber after whom the city has been named. According to urban legend, when the Prince of Wales was to visit the city in 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh painted the entire city pink, as it was a colour that symbolised hospitality. A city with a rich royal heritage, Jaipur holds the distinction of being the first planned city in India and was designed by noted architect Vidyadhar Bhattarcharya. It is home to a number of historical monuments, forts and palaces including two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Jantar Mantar and the Amer Fort.
It is fitting therefore that India’s first contemporary sculpture park should open in a city renowned for its architecture, design, culture and hospitality. In a series of initiatives like the renowned Jaipur Literature Festival and the international photography festival Jaipur Photo, this historic city has been changing the paradigm by showcasing contemporary visual culture and aesthetics in a cultural setting steeped in tradition.
The Sculpture Park (PDF download) is situated within the environs of the Madhavendra Palace, constructed in the late 1800s at the Nahargarh Fort, which stands at the edge of the Aravalli Hills, overlooking the city of Jaipur. It was formally launched by the Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje on 10 December 2017, and is a unique collaboration between the Government of Rajasthan, Saat Saath Arts and a number of corporate sponsors. The two-storey palace is a maze-like, symmetrical structure with nine separate apartments, suites and rooms, all connected by innumerable corridors – ideally suited for its transformation into India’s first contemporary sculpture exhibition. Commenting on this new avatar of the Madhavendra Palace, the Chief Minister said:
For many years now, people have been coming to this beautiful palace – they come, they look and go away, but to keep this space living, it is important to merge it with today.
Curated by Peter Nagy, Director of Nature Morte Art Limited, The Sculpture Park showcases the works of 15 Indian and nine international artists (PDF download) including Arman, James Brown, Stephen Cox, Anita Dube, Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Bharti Kher, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Ravinder Reddy and Thukral & Tagra. Nagy is himself an artist having studied at the Parson’s School of Design (New York) and a gallery owner, having run Gallery Nature Morte first in New York’s East Village and later in New Delhi. He has lived and worked in India since 1992 and conceived The Sculpture Park to bring together contemporary and traditional art in an alternative context, breaking away from the white cube exhibition space that we have inherited from the western canon. As Chief Curator and Exhibition Designer of this project, he has been able to synthesise his varied interests in art, architecture and décor – in a conflation of the past and the present.
Enlivening the ghosts of the past
The Madhavendra Palace was built as a luxurious pleasure palace designed according to the needs of the royal family, with each individual apartment having its own lobby, bedrooms and kitchen. An empty monument today, one of the curatorial challenges that Nagy faced, was to bring the past of the Palace to life by showcasing the sculptures in their most appropriate settings. The larger and more commanding works are on display outdoors, in imposing courtyards that would have been sites of royal revelry in the past. These include Thukral and Tagra’s Arrested Image of a Dream (2015), a large pair of marble and resin stone wings that faces Bharti Kher’s larger-than-life bronze of writhing snakes and female forms entitled choleric, phlegmatic, melancholy, sanguine (2009-17) and Reena Saini Kallat’s vibrant installation of multi-coloured, oversized rubber stamps (Untitled, 2017) that are strung across an open courtyard like festive buntings.
The sculptures that are on display indoors have been chosen by Nagy as many of them use domestic objects such as furniture, clothing and utensils, in an attempt to bring the palace’s memories back to life. French-born American artist Arman’s The Day After (1984), a suite of burnt furniture cast in bronze is a perfect foil for the luxurious interiors with their beautifully hand-painted walls and polished teak doors. Subodh Gupta uses his customary everyday objects, in this case aluminium utensils and a cast-iron stove, to create a conventional-looking sculpture, Stove (2013) that stand next to Jitish Kallat’s Vertical Chronicle of a Turbulent Equilibrium (2013), which seems to be a basic ladder made by tying together some bamboos and rope, but on closer inspection has several decorative details.
Vibha Galhotra’s Flow (2017) is placed in one of the rooms in an apparent mass of molten metal pouring out of one of the corners, while in reality it is comprised of thousands of ghungroos (bells worn on ankles by dancers). It is this deceptiveness that is a common thread tying together all the sculptures that have been placed indoors, all intriguing visitors, and urging them to explore the exhibition further.
Art Radar spoke to curator Peter Nagy about how The Sculpture Park was conceived and his curatorial experiences during the realisation of the project.
It is a unique endeavour to introduce contemporary art, especially sculptural installations, at a heritage property that is over a century old. What were the challenges?
Of course taking on a project such as this, in an unusual location that has not housed an exhibition of contemporary art before, brings on many challenges (such as lighting, shipping, signage, security, etc.). However, we chose not to focus on them. Our artists are great, the Government has been super supportive and all our patrons have come forward. I honestly think the support for this project greatly outweighs its challenges.
What were the locational advantages that you had at Madhavendra Palace while conflating the old with the new?
Nahargarh Fort was chosen because it contains the Madhavendra Palace. Other forts were considered, such as Amer, but they were too large and rambling and the works would get lost within them. The Sculpture Park is contained entirely within the Madhavendra Palace, which is part of the Nahargarh Fort, providing a more focused presentation and better security. This being the first edition, we needed to be careful and take things slowly. We may consider other sites at Nahargarh Fort for sculptures in the future.
Do you think that in a country like India, with a history of art and aesthetics that goes back thousands of years, it is this kind of confluence of the past and the present that will give contemporary artists a better platform than the traditional exhibition spaces of the west?
Well, I don’t know if it is a “better” platform, but it certainly is a different kind! Honestly, the white box exhibition space is a product of Modernism and I find art much more interesting when placed in spaces with history, decorations, and other things to bounce off of. We’re now in the Post-Modern age (for lack of a better term), so why not approach the exhibition of contemporary art in a more adventurous way? But we are trying to create a destination that will excite people to make the effort to go see and then be exposed to artworks they wouldn’t normally get to see.
You have curated the works of an interesting list of artists for the 2017 exhibition, with 15 Indian and nine international names. Could you share with us the broad parameters that you used to implement your curatorial vision, so that their works could seamlessly blend in with the indoor and outdoor spaces at the Madhavendra Palace?
I wanted to show important works that could command the setting, which is rather impressive. But the palace, as one experiences it now, is an empty monument and it was built to be a pleasure palace, a site of luxury, eroticism and intrigue. So I wanted to bring something of this back into the palace through the sculptures displayed. For this reason, I have chosen many works that use domestic objects (such as furniture and clothing), to bring a sense of the ghosts within the palace to life.
Second, the palace is a highly decorated space, with elaborate paintings covering most of the walls. For this reason, I chose works that have a relationship (either in their materials, techniques or references) to the decorative arts. This has been a trend among sculptors in the past 20 years that I have been following closely. But, in the end, the great diversity of works exhibited in the palace will certainly illustrate the wide range of sculpture being made today, to the visitor who is not familiar with contemporary art. Our first edition has 24 artists with approximately 50 works. The second edition will most likely have only four or five artists, with perhaps eight to ten works by each.
How differently do Indian audiences respond to contemporary art as compared to those you were familiar with during your New York days? How have you tried to tackle these differences in your curatorial strategy for The Sculpture Park?
The educated art audiences of the big cities in India are no different than those anywhere in the world. But certainly in a project such as this, in a location where the general public goes, we are exposing many people to types of contemporary art that they will not understand at all. The works on view will be extremely diverse, in materials and imagery, so there will be something for everyone to both love and hate. But a big part of our job is the educational materials we make available to the public so those that are interested to learn more can do so, both on site and through the internet and social media. We know this type of contemporary art takes explaining to those that are not familiar with it, but that is part of the reason to do such a project.
The Park is setting a great example to promote private-public partnership in the field of art and culture. Having lived in India for some time now, how do you think other states and institutions could use this initiative as a precedent to develop their own strategies to improve public engagement with contemporary art?
The Government has been gracious and given us the property, supported us with security, electricity and general maintenance – the private sector has funded the rest which is curation, insurance, transportation, etc. It’s been a great blend. The private sector has been hugely supportive of this initiative. JSW, Godrej, Inox, Zee, Borosil, PI Industries, Indus Gas, Provogue, Khaitan and Co, Grant Thornton, IFFCO Tokio, Google, Navsoft and Famous Studios amongst many others have all come on board – so wholly, that is it’s huge validation.
I don’t know if we can expect to see many more Sculpture Parks in India in the future. The logistics and challenges are just too great for many more to spring up quickly. But we do hope that this endeavour will create more opportunities for collaborations between the public and private sectors for cultural projects. I think it will open up more “semi-public” art, in the sense that heritage properties can be used for cultural purposes that are open to the public. Certainly, India has many heritage properties in many scales, and I hope that restoration efforts can be harnessed with bringing in contemporary programming of many different kinds.
The Sculpture Park is on view from 11 December 2017 to November 2018 at The Madhavendra Palace, Nahargarh Fort, Nahargarh Road, Jaipur, 302002.
- “The Tour”: exploring spaces with emerging Indian artist Amshu Chukki – in conversation – December 2017 – the artist uses his customary storytelling style by weaving together sculpture, drawings and video
- Indian Artist Sudarshan Shetty on “Shoonya Ghar” at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai – interview – December 2017 – the exhibition first went on show at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi and the 20th Biennale of Sydney in 2016
- 3 young Indian artists to know – December 2017 – following the closure of the exhibition, Art Radar considers the profiles and practices of these three emerging artists
- “Mutable”: ceramic and clay art in India since 1947 at Piramal Museum of Art, Mumbai – December 2017 – this landmark exhibition, curated by Sindhura D.M. with Annapurna Garimella, is one of the first of its kind in the city
- Reflecting the anxieties of our times through marble sculpture: Australia’s Alex Seton – artist profile – May 2017 – Art Radar takes a look at some of Alex Seton’s recent exhibitions at Sillivan+Strumpf gallery in Sydney and the Newcastle Art Gallery
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