After the death of legendary sculptor Somnath Hore last autumn, it fell upon his daughter Chandan to execute his last requests. Bedridden for some time from bronchial illness—he was 85—Hore had indicated his wishes well in advance. One bequest was especially important. During his illness, Hore received a letter inquiring if he would donate a work for an upcoming charity auction aimed at funding a project, which Hore must have known he was unlikely to see in his lifetime.
Partnered by the West Bengal government and the private sector, the trustees of this venture aim to build a modern, international-quality museum for contemporary work called the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art (KMOMA). “It is our dream programme,” says artist Jogen Chowdhury, a member of the trust set up to organize funds and realize the museum.
Chowdhury and Rakhi Sarkar, the curator of the Kolkata art gallery, the Centre for International Modern Art, were part of the team that approached the West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya two and a half years ago to set up a museum for contemporary and modern art. “But it wasn’t possible for the government to do the whole thing,” says Sarkar, managing trustee.
What resulted is a public-private partnership that aims to pull in Rs500 crore, out of which Rs100 crore has been pledged by the state government. The state will also furnish some 10 acres in Kolkata’s Rajarhat.
This is one of the most ambitious plans ever made for an Indian museum. Museums generally tend to be the purview of the government, with rambling and lofty ideals like New Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art and Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya. But here, the approach is focused on practicality and public viewership, rather than instruction. It is inspired by spaces like UK’s Tate Modern. To begin, some 100 donated works of masters such as Chowdhury, Hore, Sakti Burman, Ganesh Pyne, Paritosh Sen and 65 other artists from across the country, will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in July to raise funds; a preview of the auction was held in Mumbai last week. “I have given two paperwork drawings. I think it is important for this museum to be born,” says Chowdhury.
The museum has been envisioned with four major areas: National Galleries, Western Galleries, Far Eastern Galleries, and an academic centre. The building of the museum is a five-year plan, with the basic infrastructure scheduled for completion by late 2008, while the rest of the project will be completed in phases. “We will house collections donated by several families, who right now don’t have the space to keep their art,” says Sarkar. The KMOMA team has also short-listed a number of international architects for the museum, and the list includes luminaries such as Frank Genhry. “It will be one of its kind, not just in India, but in Asia, and once there’s a prototype, maybe other parts of the country can follow the example,” says Sarkar.
If we weren’t talking about artists, the scheme might seem far-fetched, but “a Rs500 crore dream is not too big to achieve”, says Chowdhury.
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