What's on at the NGMA, Mumbai

In the last few months of her extended tenure as Honorary Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai, Dr. Sarayu Doshi is anything but free and relaxed. Apart from currently curating a show of the museum's permanent collection of artworks, Doshi is also making preparations for a huge exhibition of the RPG Group's collection of Bengali artists that is scheduled to open in the next couple of days, not to mention her deep involvement in planning and sourcing works and contacting artists for her own brainchild - Ideas and Images 2003 - the museum's fifth annual magazine show.

Walking into the gallery, visitors are greeted by a host of paintings and sculptures on display - comprising about fifty percent of the NGMA's permanent collection. As a governmental body, the NGMA in Mumbai purchases artworks selected by a committee once every year and tries to display them as often as possible. Because these works are generally put up only between other, more publicized exhibitions, the response to this show in terms of visitors was quite unexpected. But looking at the works displayed in the first level itself anyone can understand why the showing drew such attention.

Apart form showcasing a very large collection of the late AA Almelkar's works in the dome gallery, the ground floor of the NGMA plays host to an excellent collection rare works by the older generation of Indian artists. From early canvases by Husain, Ara, Souza, Tyeb Mehta and Raza to masterpieces like 'Freedom' by KK Hebbar, a VS Gaitonde abstract, a large Sabavala landscape and one of Akbar Padamsee's metascapes, the exhibition provides a great sampling of the NGMA's collection as well as of Indian art, even displaying some pre-independence works. Most representative of this period is a huge tempera on cloth (about 6x10 feet) by Ram Kinkar Baij on the first level called 'The Vision' as well as samples of VS Dhurander's portraiture and of Chittoprasad's painting.

On the second, third and fourth levels of the gallery the works of younger artists are on display in what is definitely a very diverse and wide-ranging selection. Amongst the paintings Arpita Singh, Anju Dodiya, Rekha Rao, Arpana Caur, Bhupen Khakhar and Gieve Patel's work stands out. Included in the exhibition are also pieces by Melhi Gobhai, Homi Patel, Baiju Parthan, Sudhir Patwardhan, Nalini Malani, Jatin Das and Charan Sharma. Surprisingly canvases by Prabhakar Barwe, Shiavax Chavda, Prafulla Dhanukar, Ambadas and Prabhakar Kolte have also been displayed in these upper galleries. Interspersed with the paintings displayed on each level are rare sculptures by artists like Adi Davierwalla, VC Bagade, JK Chillar and MS Bawsikar. The piece that catches one's attention first however, is the large fiberglass triptych by Atul Dodiya called 'Tomb' in which he humourously points out the irony of the fact that the Taj Mahal, which was built as a tomb and a monument of unending love, is today used for magic acts and as a host to foreign dignitaries.

In the dome gallery, what is possibly the largest collection of the late artist AA Almelkar's paintings is on display. A substantial amount of the NGMA's collection consists of the work of this artist, as the gallery acquired about 1400 pieces from his family at the time of his death. From architectural studies to portraits of traditional village couples and Chinese fishermen, the paintings put on show span almost the entire career of this talented artist.

Barely a day after this comprehensive exhibit of Indian art is taken down, the NGMA's next big show will open. Hosted by Harsh Goenka and the RPG Group this show is going to be called 'The Hues of Bengal' and the exhibition promises a once in a lifetime look at the work of several contemporary Bengali artists together in one gallery. As Dr. Doshi puts it, "Goenka's collection of Bikash Bhattacharjee's work alone could fill all the galleries of the NGMA."

Understandably, Doshi becomes the most animated and excited when talking about the show that will follow 'Hues of Bengal', her own baby, 'Ideas and Images V.' Touted as a showcase of the city of Mumbai's unique artistic traditions, this year the show has become exactly what Doshi has been working towards as curator and director in the gallery - a spontaneous effort on the part of Mumbai's art community to put together what has now become the gallery's annual magazine show. This year's exhibits will include an installation exploring the innate ability of Mumbai's hawkers and stall owners to create eye-catching displays on the pavement and in their windows and how this innate creative process differs from an informed process when artists try to respond to their work in pieces of their own. Also on the cards is a large mural to be painted in the gallery by six young city artists reflecting the Mumbai they perceive, a posthumous exhibition of NS Bendre's works, a corporate choice display where works from six corporate collections will be on show and a section called 'Humourous Insights' - displaying the work of the eminent cartoonists Balasaheb Thakre, Mario Miranda and RK Laxman.

The NGMA has really gone from strength to strength in the eight years it has existed in Mumbai, and with this year's Ideas and images show as a capstone and definitely another feather in her overflowing cap, it is clear that Dr. Sarayu Doshi has truly nurtured what has now become one of the city's greatest artistic landmarks.

view all articles