France has the Louvre, America MoMA and Britain, Tate. For all the buzz that Indian art has been making across the world, we still lack a world-class international art museum. If everything goes according to plan though, five years down the line, the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art (KMoMA) will fill the void.
On July 14, auction house Sotheby’s will place some 90 works of art by 70-odd artists including Tyeb Mehta, Somnath Hore, Ram Kumar, Jogen Chowdhury, FN Souza and Ganesh Pyne, under the hammer in New York. The proceeds of the sale — expected to be between Rs 10 crore and 20 crore — will go to the KMoMA kitty.
According to a McKinsey feasibility report, a whopping Rs 570 crore is needed for a first-tier museum. But as Dadiba Pundole of Mumbai’s Pundole Art Gallery, and consultant to Sotheby’s says, "The amount expected is minuscule. It’s really about creating a buzz."
Rakhi Sarkar of Kolkata’s Centre of International Modern Art, and Managing Trustee of KMoMA, agrees. "I have been travelling in Europe and now in America and the response has been incredible, not only from galleries but also from governments."
This will be the first time that private players and the government will partner in a mega cultural-artistic project.
"In other countries, the state takes a great deal of initiative and interest in culture. Sadly, that’s not the case in this country. And when the government does get interested it takes over, choking any artistic enterprise," says Pundole.
KMoMA trustee and artist Jogen Chowdhury agrees, "To get one thing moving you need to fill up five forms. Bureaucracy can be extremely constricting. Private participation in art happens everywhere else, so why not here?" So why need the government at all? "Issues like permissions, insurance and country-to-country exchanges make government participation necessary," says Chowdhury.
Sarkar underlines the fact that West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the chief patron of KMoMA, is extremely enthused about the project. "During his first term as chief minister, Buddhadebbabu was quite appalled that the travelling Picasso exhibition could not be hosted in Kolkata due to lack of proper facilities," she says. "KMoMa will not only provide worldclass infrastructure for such exhibitions but it will actually facilitate in bringing them here under one roof."
The Bengal government has already provided a 10-acre area in Rajarhat near Kolkata for the project. And there is talk of the proceeds from the sale of land that had earlier been sanctioned to KMoMA coming handy.
Help has been sought from the Centre. Culture Minister Ambika Soni has given a verbal assurance to Sarkar that New Delhi would chip in. KMoMA, to be designed by a yet-to-be-commissioned international architect, will have three wings catering to 18th century-contemporary art from India, the West and the Far East, and another wing dedicated to research, conservation and curatorial practices. "It will cater to the best of world art, visiting shows and even cultural experiences that include food," says Sarkar.
So if things go well, you may not have to go all the way to the Munch Museum in Oslo to view Edvard Munch's The Scream or to the Prada in Madrid for those masterful Goyas. You could simply go to Kolkata for your dose of art.