Art News & Views

A Collection of Museums and a Museum for Collectors (Museum & Galleries at Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore)

by  H.A. Anil Kumar

When Prof.M.S.Nanjunda Rao went out on a spree to collect, re-store (and then display them) leather puppets from various villages in and in between the States of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in 1960s, he had already initiated the making of an art complex which is now popularly known as Chitrakala Parishath Art Complex. 'What' and 'how' he collected what he collected (like the leather puppets of different genre, marionettes, traditional paintings from Mysore and Tanjore, miniatures, Karnataka Modernist S.S. Kukke's paintings) had a direct bearing on the outlook of the structure of Parishath that currently includes an art school, a visual arts library, a cluster of private collections assembled together (and termed as ten galleries put together), an art mart and a network of four public galleries that are rented out round the year (for art, craft, kitsch and the fetish) and an open air theatre.

For someone looking for an ideal museum, say, according to the international UNESCO norms, the very functional aspect of Chitrakala Parishath museum(s) might seem to be an anti-thesis, a contestation and an appropriation of the very idea of Museology. For, they would be in face to face with a museum deliberately without an authenticity of chronology at its worst; and without a hierarchy (whatsoever) at its best. For instance if an uninitiated art lover of Indian art browses through these museum galleries, he would initially be promised with an introduction to Indian art since the British Raj period to the current times; and would be fulfilled with a comprehensive lack of it. The similarity between this museum and the Parishath (and College of Fine Arts or CFA) library is that they go after what is being availed to them, rather than seek for an articulated curatorial exercise of even that is being assembled together.

For instance, what is being taught in art schools (including the one run by the Parishath i.e., CFA) as art history, with a clear divide between the good and the bad; the spoken and the silenced, all seem to have a representation in these galleries. As if it is a natural justice--apart from the website whose notes fulfill the short ranged curiosity of the tourists--there is the lack of a yet-to-be-structured thorough documentation of the artworks within these museums.

The protocols of NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art) and Venkatappa gallery might be a very hierarchy based, red-tape affair, while the CKP Museum does not have any such constrains, owing to the autonomous capacity of the Parishath Trust. However, if protocol seems to be a barrier for the first two, the seemingly empirical artistic outlook (rather than scholastic) of Prof.M.S. Nanjunda Rao seems to have brought in that ambiguity within the operational structure of the methodology of CKP museums. Most art schools (and collection of artworks attached to them) were initiated by the omnipresence of individuals like Rao and suffer from a suitable replacement of a linear continuity of that individuality. Empirical decisions, instead of scholastic appropriations, are written all over the walls of Parishath museums galleries.

Often M.S.N. Rao would look out for artworks, bargain and more often would look out for donors in the form of collectors who had already done that bargaining; and were, in turn, in search of a place to accommodate them. This becomes more obvious if one keeps in mind the history of the imagination of art schools in Karnataka, though the relation between the imagination of museums and formation of art schools are mutually interlinked. Whether Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath museum (popularly known as CKP museum) was an afterthought, an attachment to the Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya now the College of Fine Arts or is it the other way round is debatable for the reason that those who initiated art schools in Karnataka were imagining a physical structure and infrastructure rather than a perceptive, insightful and ideological methodology of pedagogy, exception being Ken School of Art begun by R.M.Hadapad (begun in 1963). Others like A.N.Subbarao (80years old Kalamandir School, Bengaluru), D.V.Halabhavi (80 years old Halabhavi School of Arts, Dharwad), T.P.Akki (School of Arts, Gadag) and V.G.Andani (Ideal Fine Art School, Gulbarga) were those who fell into similar fashion of operational values, though to varying levels. Interestingly, museums like CKP galleries are extensions of the pedagogic outlook and justification of the protagonists who institutionalized modern art in Karnataka. In this sense, CKP museum is an ideal screensaver of the syllabi which was formulated by an ambiguous combination of J.J.School of Art (Mumbai), Fine Arts Faculty (M.S.University, Vadodara) and Kala Bhavana (Santiniketan), minus their discursive reaction/response to the colonial discourse on art education.

The annual prospectus availed by the College of Fine Arts, which is a part of the same authority (Parishath) which runs the chain of museums, claims that “this is perhaps the only Institution with such huge and live collection of artworks throughout the country, easily accessible to art students of this Institution and art lovers from everywhere”1).

The first thing that perhaps could be termed as the unique characteristic to this museum is its accessibility: Beginning from the entry fee (ten rupees), the collection of ten different galleries seem to be literally 'housed' in the sense it has one and the same entry and exit, without an alternative choice whatsoever, somewhat similar to K. Venkatappa Chitrashale (i.e. Venkatappa's Museum, but with a small difference the latter contains a huge balcony, therein) a few kilometers away from Parishath, in Cubbon Park. This is something very unusual within the functional aspect of museum culture. You might be made to go in and come out of the same door, but museums are houses with various doors, levels and openings although they are either shut or open. Parishath museum contests this aspect. It seems to be secure and safe, just like the way an independent house yearns for, within the apartment-tradition of contemporary Bengaluru. Here is a public (artistic) utility building yearning to be a private and intimate home. Subject to the natural temperature, the artworks are left to the mercy of the another form of the very source of light for/from which it is made up ofglobal warming!2) CKP museum seem to say that there is a stark difference and it is possible to bifurcate between a museum and a collection in clear terms.3) The artworks in themselves are a pleasure to browse and see through, if one is ready for a journey without maps (there is one small unusual Amrita Sher Gil in watercolour!), if one is ready to deconstruct any established critical list of artworks/artists in Indian art history (an artist like G.S. Shenoy next to Laxma Goud, the repeated appearance of the deviant media works by Anjoli Ila Menon in two adjacent galleries, the digital printouts of Nicholas Roerich next to the room containing original paintings by Svetoslav Roerich, Rauschenberg's prints near to an unfamiliar Sue Karry and the like), this collection could be a pleasure-walk.

However, the appropriation of this singular entry compels the museum visitors to face the temporary rented galleries on the ground floor, while emerging out, as if to let them compare what they have already seen in the permanent collection above, with what is happening in the contemporary rented out galleries upon whose quality Parishath has no control, whatsoever.

Such an arrangement, of a single entry-exit nexus, was perhaps an outcome of the limited size that the museum could be availed with, which is distantly connected to the real estate boom of the city 4). In other words, CKP museum, arguably, originates in the lack of a belief in the chronology or hierarchy within visual pedagogy.

A collection is an archaic form of a museum. Amongst Indian museums, collections have a lasting relationship with and get defined from its popularity, rather than yield to the nuances of a museum (curatorial practice, art appreciation programs, a travel show and the like). CKP museum is a firm collection with a not so very firm attitude to be or not to be a museum. It is alreadylike the Kala Bhavana premise at Santiniketana tourist spot for those who visit Bangalore. The annual 'Chitrasanthe' art fare organized by CKP and the Art Melas (Dastakar, Vastraabharana and the like) to which the premise is rented out, along with the collection is not a matter of taste, but of policy. There is nothing called as good and bad taste, either it is vague or it is genuine. CKP museum, due to its strategic urban location and pedagogic positioning needs to come up with a structured outlook to balance between how art education and Chitrasanthe; art collection and an absence of a white cube concept; populist and epistemological premises can co-exist. In other words, Carol Duncan's notion of museum-visit as a ritual should not end up as a jay walk.

1) See: College of Fine Arts Prospectus 2009-10, for instance. I specifically like the articulate characteristics of the italicized words in this sentence ('huge, live'), without specifying whether the scale and liveliness are referring to the qualitative nuances and also whether the addressal is about the 'artworks within' or the 'building itself'. Museums likeVictoria & Albert (London), Louvre (Paris), Hermitage (St.Petersburg), the Library in Vatican (designed by Michelangelo) – thoroughly possess a certain 'dualistic character' about themselves: Often one is not sure whether they are focusing upon the museum-itself-as-a-collection or the collection 'within' the Museum.   
2) NGMA, close to CKP, has already adopted and installed appropriate temperature-control system, despite being only a couple of years old.
3) For reference log on to: for a physical detail of the collections. The galleries within the museum are: Nicholas & Svetoslav Roerich Galleries, Krishna Reddy Gallery, Kejriwal Gallery, S.S.Kukke Gallery (1991), Sculpture Gallery, Mysore Traditional Gallery, International Gallery, Folk Art Gallery, Leather Puppet Gallery.
4) The land being on lease from the State Government, CKP houses the museum-galleries, rental-galleries, College of Fine Arts, open air theatre together constitute four acres, padded between an old age pension house and Gandhi Bhavan to the South-West and Kumara Krupa guest house, Hotel Lalit Ashok and the Golf Club to the North-East. It is a posh location and shortly one of its wings CFA College would be converted to a residential college and shifted to another space of 15 acres, about 20 kms away, at the city's outskirt. This will not only provide but also widen the felt-space of CKP museum.

Images Courtesy: The Author


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