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Entering the old wing of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi is like dipping your fingers into history. On 29 March 1954, an exhibition of contemporary sculptures at the venue marked the inauguration of NGMA by then vice-president Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Today, the same bronze works, along with some new ones, are being shown as part of Itihaas, a show to celebrate the institution’s 63 years.
The two-month-long show, inaugurated on Wednesday, is displaying more than 60 bronze statues, besides paintings and drawings, by 22 artists who defined the modernist language, including D.P. Roy Chowdhury, Ramkinkar Baij, Sankho Chaudhuri and Prodosh Dasgupta. “This show exhibits the first modernist works that came out in our country during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. All these works have been drawn from the rich archives of the NGMA; most of them were acquired during Dasgupta’s tenure (he was the curator of the NGMA from 1957-70),” says Uma Nair, an essayist.
While walking through the maze of rooms in the old wing, the first striking work you come across is Chowdhury’s When Winter Comes. “The image of a common labourer is a compassionate yet coherent example of his love for the human form. It symbolizes a man who belongs anywhere,” says Nair. Then there is Dasgupta’s Fallen Figure and Twins, “poetry in metal”. “His works have a rhythm pulsating throughout. The felicity of handling the female form, of giving it emotive beauty amid its tensile tactility, is what endures,” says Nair.
A few steps away is a hall that houses Baij’s work. There’s a portrait of Rabindranath Tagore, looking downward in a pensive mood, near the entrance. When you leave the hall, you meet another Tagore, this time with an abstract face. “This is my favourite,” says Nair. “Baij took the academic real Tagore (as seen in the first portrait), deconstructed it (an approach called Cubism) and reconstructed it to give an abstract image,” she explains.
The highlight of the show is that the storage boxes in which the sculptures were kept have been used as pedestals to showcase works. “We decided to use the storage boxes to keep the experience as raw and real as possible,” says Adwaita Gadanayak, the director general of NGMA. “The idea of this show is to bring the artist to the audience, to show the world the sojourn the 22 artists created with their own hands, to show the journey of modernism in India.”
Itihaas: Celebrating 63 Years—NGMA Treasures is on show, 9am-6pm (closed on Mondays and public holidays), at the NGMA, Jaipur House, India Gate (23382835). Entry, Rs20 (Indians) and Rs500 (foreigners).