Written by Ashiqa Jose M
This palatial mansion is a treat for your eyes as its walls are simply draped in rich history and treasures of art. The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) on the premises of the Manikyavelu Mansion in Bengaluru houses exquisite art pieces, sculptures, and other works by great artists of India, archiving India’s cultural and artistic essence.
Located at 49 Palace Road, Bangalore, the NGMA was opened to the public on 18th February 2009. This building on a sprawling 3.5 acres is run 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 craft, the NGMA unveils artistry that has evolved over many years.
The NGMA stands tall as a cultural testimony to the country’s heritage through the lens of Bangalore city. The exhibits comprise paintings, sculptures, graphic prints and photographs that depict the country’s historical development in modern art. “We have around 18,000 artworks in our collection, approximately, wherein about five to six artworks are on loan from NGMA Delhi. Besides, some artworks from Delhi come in handy when we curate our own exhibitions,” said Subarna Patro, curator of the gallery.
Alongside the branch in Bengaluru, the National Gallery of Modern Art holds two other galleries in Delhi and Mumbai. Patro said, “The NGMA has three branches, one in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. Initially, the gallery catered only to North India and West Bombay, leaving out South India. Hence it was decided that we should have a gallery in the South at that time.”
Long before the foundation for the gallery was 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, bought the mansion from the Mysuru Wadiyars. Legend has it that Mudaliar who hailed from a poor family made it big in the mining of manganese and chrome ores after marriage. He was married to an aristocratic family, and went on to become a ‘business magnate.’ After he died in 1939, his son inherited the house. Although Mudaliar and his family lived there for a few years, the house was put under auction due to financial problems in 1964. The mansion was then acquired by the City Improvement Trust Board (currently known as the Bengaluru Development Authority) and transferred to the Housing Board in the 1960s. Moreover, the complex was used in the 1970s and 80s to house the UN’s Asian and Pacific Regional Centre for Transfer of Technology. It was later left unused for a few years with no care or condition.
Fast-forward to the 2000s, the Ministry of Culture took the building on lease to house the NGMA headquarters in the southern region. Inaugurated in 2009, the historic mansion was transformed into a gallery at the cost of Rs 8 crore, supplemented by a gallery block adding another 1,260 square metres to the 1,500 square metres of the mansion. “The architecture of the new building was done in the same style as the museum to meet the requirements of the gallery,” said Patro.
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-storeyed, brick-plastered mansion that stood within a vast compound, the iconic bungalow featured details of Renaissance Revival period – a symmetrical façade, dentile cornices and demented windows.
The NGMA aims to be a culture hub for Bengaluru by commemorating various exhibitions and events. They also hold sessions, seminars, film screenings, and workshops along with the art exhibitions. When asked about the gallery’s upcoming plans, the curator said, “We have our ongoing exhibition, ‘Upendra Bharti: The Eternal Seeker, ‘ which was inaugurated in October 2021, which will continue till June-end. After that we will curate another travelling exhibition in Mumbai. Another exhibition ‘Spiritual Sin: Man Vs Nature’ which is inspired from our collection will start sometime around July.”
Besides the cultural aspects that the gallery seeks to highlight, it also wishes to rejuvenate the common man’s sense of appreciation for heritage and art that is ebbing away. “What we want is awareness on art; it should be done everywhere, right from school. Only then will the people be aware of art and what it means for our daily life. We want more people to attend exhibitions and understand art in depth and also ensure that people make it mandatory to visit museums once a month,” said Patro.
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