National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru: Tracing India’s Artistic Essence Through the Years
This lavish mansion is a feast for your eyes as its walls are simply draped in rich history and art treasures. The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) located in the premises of Manikyavelu Mansion in Bengaluru houses exquisite artworks, sculptures and other works by great Indian artists, archiving the cultural and artistic essence of India .
Located at 49 Palace Road, Bangalore, the NGMA was opened to the public on February 18, 2009. This building on a sprawling 3.5 acres of land is managed and managed by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, as a subordinate office .
From paintings by Rabindranath Tagore, Raja Ravi Varma, Jamini Roy, the Bengal School and several colonial artists to post-independence artworks that showcase the birth of modern and post-modern craftsmanship, the NGMA unveils a art that has evolved over many years.
The NGMA stands as a cultural testament to the country’s heritage through the prism of the city of Bangalore. Exhibits include paintings, sculptures, graphic prints and photographs that depict the country’s historical development in modern art. “We have about 18,000 works of art in our collection, approximately, of which about five to six works are on loan from NGMA Delhi. Also, some Delhi artworks are useful when we organize our own exhibitions,” said gallery curator Subarna Patro.
Along with the Bengaluru branch, the National Gallery of Modern Art has two other galleries in Delhi and Mumbai. Patro said: “The NGMA has three branches, one in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Initially, the gallery only addressed North India and West Bombay, leaving South India aside. So it was decided that we would have a gallery in the South at that time.
Long before the gallery’s foundations were laid in 2001, the Manikyavelu Mansion was an extravagant Victorian-style bungalow. In the 1920s, a mining baron Raja Manickyavelu Mudaliar, the Yuvaraja of Mysore, purchased the mansion from the Mysuru Wadiyars. Legend has it that Mudaliar, who came from a poor family, distinguished himself in the extraction of manganese and chromium ores after his marriage. He was married to an aristocratic family and became a “business tycoon”. After his death in 1939, his son inherited the house. Although Mudaliar and his family lived there for a few years, the house was put up for auction due to financial problems in 1964. The mansion was later acquired by the City Improvement Trust Board (currently known as the Bengaluru Development Authority) and transferred to the Housing Council in the 1960s. Additionally, the complex was used in the 1970s and 1980s to house the United Nations Asia-Pacific Regional Center for Technology Transfer. It was then left unused for a few years without maintenance or condition.
Fast forward to the 2000s, the Ministry of Culture took the building on lease to house the headquarters of the NGMA in the southern region. Opened in 2009, the historic mansion was converted into a gallery at a cost of Rs 8 crore, complete with a gallery block adding another 1,260 square meters to the mansion’s 1,500 square meters. “The architecture of the new building was done in the same style as the museum to meet the demands of the gallery,” Patro said.
Surrounded by several old colonial bungalows like the Balabrooie Guest House, this tourist spot is flanked by trees, a mirror pool and a café. A two-story brick-plastered mansion that stood in a sprawling complex, the iconic bungalow featured details from the Renaissance Revival period – a symmetrical facade, dentil cornices and dented windows.
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The NGMA aims to be a cultural hub for Bengaluru by commemorating various exhibitions and events. They also organize sessions, seminars, film screenings and workshops alongside the art exhibitions. Asked about the gallery’s upcoming projects, the curator said: “We have our ongoing exhibition, ‘Upendra Bharti: The Eternal Seeker’, which opened in October 2021, which will run until the end of June. After that, we will organize another traveling exhibition in Mumbai. Another exhibition ‘Spiritual Sin: Man Vs Nature’ inspired by our collection will start around July.
Besides the cultural aspects that the gallery seeks to highlight, it also wishes to rejuvenate the common sense of mortals for heritage and art in decline. “What we want is an awareness of art; it should be done everywhere, starting at school. Only then will people become aware of art and what it means to our daily lives. We want more people to attend exhibitions and understand the art in depth and we also want people to make it mandatory to visit museums once a month,” Patro said.