Rome has its St Peters Basilica and Colisseum, Paris its Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, and London its Trafalgar Square and British Museum. One could go on endlessly about the tourist attractions of these three cities and those of of many others, but I wish to concentrate on Bangalore, the capital of the State of Karnataka in Southern India.
Until recently, the tourist sites of Bangalore were few and far between, and none of them are as memorable as those which I have listed above. Given the extremely unlikely chance of the city's roads being clear of the normally highly congested traffic, it would not take long to 'do' all of the tourist sites of Bangalore. Traffic permitting, a few hours would suffice to visit and enjoy Tipu's Palace, Lalbagh Gardens, Cubbon Park, Vidhana Soudha, the Iskon Temple, The Bull Temple, and Bangalore Palace. Of course, there is much more to see than these commonly listed 'attractions'. I would add to these, amongst other places, the colourful City Market, The Chowdeiah Memorial Hall, Malleswaram, and the crowded streets of the old City Area. However, none of these undoubtedly fascinating places could honestly be described as being 'world class' tourist attractions. Recently, in February 2009, the situation changed: the National Gallery of Modern Art Bengaluru ('NGMA') opened its doors. Bangalore now possesses a site worthy of a great detour.
The NGMA stands near a petrol station on Palace Road between the Bangalore Golf Club and Mount Carmel College. Its collections are housed in a beautifully restored old palace, which used to be a government office for the so-called 'Backwards Castes', and also in a tastefully designed modern annex attached to it. An expanse of water separates the old building from another new building that houses the Gallery's shop, ticket hall, offices, and cafeteria.
A shady garden filled with modern sculptures, all properly labelled, separates the NGMA from the hooting of the autorickshaws and other vehicles speeding along the busy Palace Road. I always enjoy looking at sculptures in the open air.
Usually, the old building houses the NGMA's permanent collection. This consists mainly of paintings, mostly of Indian subjects, dating from the late 18th century up to modern times. The works of a wide range of artists are displayed including many by Bengali artists including members of the illustrious Tagore family from Calcutta. The presence of one particular painting always surprises me. It is by the British Pre-Raphaelite Alma-Tadema, and appears to have little to do with India. Why it's hanging in Bangalore, no one has been able to tell me.
The recently built annex contains contemporary works and is often used to house temporary exhibitions. A year or so ago, we saw an exhibition of the paintings of Rumale Chennabasavia (1910-1988). His vividly coloured paintings of Bangalore and other places in Karnataka certainly make his reputation as the "Van Gogh of Bangalore" well-deserved.
While I am writing these words, both parts of the NGMA, the old palace and its annex, are housing temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection of art in the old part has been displaced to make room for a travelling exhibition called 'Homelands'. Organised by the British Council, this showcases some pieces by contemporary British artists. The name of the exhibition alludes to its theme of multi-culturalism in the UK. It is a sort of immigrants' home thoughts from abroad. It is a tribute to the ever present theme of 'political correctness' that pervades life in contemporary Britain.
The new annex houses another exhibition. It is a collection of paintings by Bengal's cultural genius Rabindranath Tagore. This splendid display of paintings shows how Tagore's painting developed from decorative doodles on his literary manuscripts to sophisticated artworks that could be hung without hesitation next to works of his better known contemporaries, such as Picasso and Matisse.
Whether you see these two exhibitions, or others, or even just the permanent collection, the NGMA will not disappoint. Its architectural excellence - both historical and modern - and the superb skill with which the artworks are displayed makes the NGMA a tourist atrraction that can be truly described as being 'world class'.
Sadly, the NGMA is poorly publicised. Many Bangaloreans do not know of its existence. This is also the case for the city's numerous foreign visitors and its huge ex-pat community. It is a great shame that the NGMA cannot find the funds to give it the publicity that it truly deserves. In any case, I hope that this short article will help to put the NGMA onto every tourist's itinerary in southern India.
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