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Art made Accessible: India’s First Contemporary Sculpture Park

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Art made Accessible:  India’s First Contemporary Sculpture Park
Thukral & Tagra, Reliqua 3227 Furniture, 2016, Iron, granite, terracotta tiles, wood, Dimensions variable; nine pieces in total, Image courtesy, Dhruv Malhotra.

Originally built as a retreat for Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II and his six queens in the 1880s, the Madhavendra Palace in Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, is now home to India’s first contemporary Sculpture Park.  Featuring works by 15 Indian, and 8 international artists, the park has been officially open to the public since Dec. 10th of this year.  This project was realized through the collaborative efforts between several entities, including non-profit organization Saath Saath Arts Foundation, the government of Rajasthan, and of course contributing artists, curators, and galleries.  

With a tagline that reads, ‘Visit, Engage, Replicate,’ the objective of the park appears to be straightforward.  In addition to boosting tourism, in a state that is no stranger to a robust hospitality industry, public engagement with art also seems to be a priority.  The intent to increase awareness, specifically about contemporary art in India, is strongly reflected in the curation of the exhibition.  

Curated by Peter Nagy of Nature Morte Gallery in New Dehli, the unique space required works that spoke to the history of the fort while still being relevant to audiences today.  In selecting the exhibited works, the theme entailed two conditions.  Firstly, found objects should be incorporated, and secondly, materials and techniques associated with decorative art practices should be employed.   Both are appropriate in evoking a sense of domesticity and luxury referring to the original function of the structure (a royal abode) and in conveying the incredibly rich history India (particularly that of the fort) has in regards to decorative arts and design. 

The venue in itself is extremely vital to the curation of the show.  Choosing the fort and the consideration of its proximity to Jaipur already opens it up to a steady stream of visitors.  Exhibiting modern works in old, traditional buildings is a trend that has been gaining popularity globally, due to its effectiveness in attracting crowds.  People are always looking for new ways to experience culture and the park enables them to do so.  In this case, the viewer’s experience is enriched by the maze like network of interconnecting rooms, hallways, courtyards, and hidden corridors.  The architecture of the palace and history of the fort inherently give rise to the prospect of unexpected encounters, creating a sense of excitement.  People are meant to meander through the space and stumble upon artworks in the course of their own time. 

Bharti Kher, Impossible Triangle, 2012, Concrete and electrical wire, 223 x 210 x 55.5 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Nature Morte, New Delhi. 

Bharti Kher starts with a chair found in an antique shop, carved with traditional Rajasthani engravings, as the basis for her Impossible Triangle, specifically referencing the palace and the past it left behind.  The chair has then been cast in cement, and wooden beams (also cast in cement) strapped with electrical wires have been placed on top of it.  The use of cement creates an eerie mysterious vibe, which is further amplified by the electrical wires and irregular beam extensions.  The use of these industrial materials to recreate the chair, possibly point to the notion of being stuck in the past and unable to adapt to the present.  The existence of the exhibition within the fort is in direct opposition to this idea, as the function of a traditional monument is being readapted to fit a modern cultural purpose.

Subodh Gupta, Stove 2013, Found aluminum utensils and found cast-iron stove,185 x 84 x 53 cm, Image Courtesy of the artist and Nature Morte, New Delhi. 

Subodh Gupta is renowned for his found object installations using typically Indian, commonplace steel utensils and household items to construct large works.  His  Stove is especially appropriate here as the materials (and title) have indisputable domestic implications.  Additionally, the history of the space seems to be touched upon through the visible marks and dents on the utensils, denoting age and usage.  He toys with the tenets of classical sculpture by assembling these unusual elements in a fairly standard form of a figure being placed upon a pedestal.  The stove itself is the base, and the utensils the tower above it.  Similarly, the contrast between the royal associations of the palace and the commonality of the items he uses adds a subtle lighthearted dimension to the work.  

Thukral & Tagra, Reliqua 3227 Furniture, 2016, Iron, granite, terracotta tiles, wood, Dimensions variable; nine pieces in total, Image courtesy, Dhruv Malhotra.

Thukral & Tagra’s installation, Reliqua 3227 Furniture, perhaps best encapsulates the given themes.  The artist-duo have assembled fully functioning pieces of furniture from painted iron, granite, and terracotta tiles. The extreme geometric characteristics echo the arches of the palace, while providing a sharp contrast with the delicate floral motifs found on the walls.  The modern aesthetic blurs lines between art and design, making it pertinent to trends in the realm of contemporary art.  While the furniture is a literal indication of domestic objects, the inclusion of a bust of Gandhi and ping – pong tabletops create a playful atmosphere, reviving the leisurely lifestyle once led at there. 

Vibha Galhotra, Flow, 2015, Nickel coated ghungroos, Fabric, PU, 328 x 236 x 284.5 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Exhibit 320, New Delhi, Photograph courtesy, Dhruv Malhotra.

Also alluding to this sense of leisure, are the ghungroos used in Vibha Galhotra’s work Flow.  Ghungroos are tiny bells that are clustered on anklets worn traditionally by Kathak dancers, who often entertained during royal functions.  Following the significant art historical trend contesting classical forms of sculpture, Galhotra’s installation flows down the corner of the wall and seeps onto the floor, compelling one to physically view the work in an atypical manner.  In doing so, she reinforces the importance of the role of the viewer in determining the definition of a sculpture.   This definition is further is examined by Gyan Panchal in his work, Pelom 1 & 2.  Consisting of two simple slabs of marble, which have been placed somewhat precariously, they may easily be mistaken for random objects.  Cleverly colored with green ink, they present an illusion of natural appearance, again potentially confusing audiences in determining what they are.  

Gyan Panchal, Left: pelom 1, 2012, Marble and ink, 57 x 54 x 1.5 cm, Right: pelom 2, 2012, Marble and ink, 69 x 58 x 1.5 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai, Photograph courtesy, Dhruv Malhotra. 

These works recall the ideologies of esteemed sculptors such as Brancusi, Donald Judd, and Carl Andre who famously stated “Rather than cut into the material, I now use the material as the cut in space.”  Their work was centered around clarity for the constructed object and the space created by it, as a sculpture alters the space it occupies, which changes the entire dynamic of the interaction between place, viewer, and sculpture.  Sculpture parks aim to recreate this immersive environment, which ultimately promotes the accessibility to art through emphasizing the importance of public engagement.  In regards to the exhibition at Nahargarh Fort, the juxtaposition of the old and new creates a dialogue between space and sculpture.  The viewer becomes a participant in this dialogue, and that is how they are intended to engage with the art.  

Only a few highlights have been mentioned here, there are many works on display that contribute to the unique experience of the show.  A truly novel concept in India, it would be promising to witness a remodelled version of it applied to different locations across the country.  There is certainly no dearth of fascinating sites, and no shortage of talented artists who can transform them with their work.  The existence of initiatives such as the sculpture park at Madhavendra Palace is crucial to enhancing the status of visual arts. 


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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