In the second session of the “Beyond Contemporary Art” series, art critic, poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote will examine the future of museums
How do you view the role of a museum as a cultural chronicler in India today?
The museum acts at multiple levels — it is a space where collections of objects are built up and conserved; it is also a site where knowledge is produced through research and publication; and it is also an interface where the public is invited to participate through education, exhibition and dialogue.
Its role in contemporary India must be to act as a guarantor of the plurality of our inherited pasts, and a custodian of the diversity of our possible futures. The museum cannot act on the basis of a sectarian agenda. Its duty to posterity is to reveal and celebrate the manifold, dazzling and sometimes contradictory elements from which history is built. The museum must bring back to light what has been lost or left in obscurity; it must place in perspective what has been overplayed.
The institutions are often perceived to be too academic. How can this be changed?
While the academic aspect is extremely important, it could be balanced by the enthusiastic inclusion of an audience. A number of our museums, such as the CSMVS (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum) in Bombay and the National Museum, New Delhi, have been transformed in recent years into dynamic hubs of activity, which attract numerous audiences. We must also celebrate the emergence of private museums that have developed thoughtful programmes and emphasise on a close relationship with students and young people, such as the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi and the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon.
You will be focusing on the practices of certain curators who have sought to make the platform an interface between the art world and society.
The practices of three curators, who came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, have inspired my own work. These people worked within the parameters of museums, but also extended its conceptual possibilities to engage with revolutionary practices emerging in the visual arts, humanities and in society and culture at large. They are Harald Szeemann of the Kunsthalle Bern, Kynaston McShine of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Jean Leering of the Vanabbe Museum, Eindhoven.
The CSMVS today has a vibrant cultural atmosphere, with events that showcase slices from different parts of the country.
The CSMVS is an excellent example of the way in which cultural institutions can be transformed by a model of visionary leadership that combines four vital factors: first, a capacious and imaginative understanding of culture; second, administrative efficiency; third, a constant re-calibration and renewal of the institution’s relevance; and fourth, an approach attuned to the interrelationship between the regional and the global.
Avid Learning’s The Mutating Museum will be held on October 6 at The Indian Express Gallery, Nariman Point, Mumbai, at 6 pm.