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Where are the art lovers?

The National Gallery of Modern Art has avant-garde works alright; it is only admirers that it lacks.

art and culture Updated: Jul 23, 2010 00:54 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

It is no city secret. Going by the number of visitors, however, you wonder if Delhiites are aware it exists at all. What else explains the 17,000 artworks at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi’s Prada museum, lying ignored? Is it the gallery’s hours? When malls stay open till 11 pm, why does this wonderful hangout zone shut its doors at five?

Set up in 1954 at Jaipur House near India Gate, NGMA’s old wing, with its marble flooring and arched corridors, is stately. But we are asking you to visit the exciting new wing that opened last year.

Five floors, divided into two interconnected blocks, take you to the fabulous world of modern Indian art, from the 19th century to the present. The first level, on the basement, shows Indian miniatures and European artworks.

The next level displays 19th century India as an Oriental fantasy. The sharp-lined temples, mosques, devdasis, brides, kotwals, sweepers, warriors and governor generals were painted by Indians for their British masters.

Bunched to a school called ‘company painting’, these artists married the miniature tradition of Rajput and Mughal painting with the perspective of the Western style. Raja Ravi Varma’s oil masterpieces, the pinnacle of this Indo-Western style, are on this floor.

The third level pulsates with sensuousness. The works of Amrita Shergil, the Lahore-based painter who died at 28, is NGMA’s principal attraction. The naked brown girl, the woman with sagging breasts, the two European ladies, a group of Brahmin boys.

Shergil’s people throb with emotional vitality. Her self-portrait is the most flamboyant: the shoulders are bare, the hair is loose, and the smile shows bliss. Even Shergil’s Still Life, with its three eggs and a water jug, has passion.

The fourth level is like a government mint. Some of India’s contemporary master painters, also the most expensive, are here—BC Sanyal, Tyeb Mehta, FN Souza, SH Raza, MF Husain and Satish Gujral.

In the new wing’s second block, the giant Connaught Place by Jaswant Singh must not be missed. It shows a man with one eye and no face, behind whom are the corridors and pillars of Delhi’s British-era commercial centre, which gives its name to the painting.

This block has photographs by Raghu Rai and Dayanita Singh, and has paintings of film stars like Madhubala and Nargis Dutt. Bollywood lovers will feel at home. NGMA is a rich world, which must be filled with more people.