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Venkatappa Art Gallery's long wait for restoration

'MONUMENTAL' REVAMP
Last Updated : 14 January 2023, 07:48 IST
Last Updated : 14 January 2023, 07:48 IST
Last Updated : 14 January 2023, 07:48 IST
Last Updated : 14 January 2023, 07:48 IST

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Paramesh Jolad, an artist who wanted to exhibit his artworks at the Venkatappa Art Gallery in Bengaluru after the Covid-19 lockdown was disappointed when he found out that the space was not being rented out to artists.

“The officials said that they will not take any responsibility for my artwork, so I took full responsibility for my work and gave it in writing. The first exhibition was in September and authorities told us that they will repair the building soon, but, when again after three months I went to the gallery the situation was the same.”

When Jolad exhibited his artworks, the officials said there are no lights essential for the gallery exhibition and asked him to make his own arrangements, which he did. An official connected with the issue says that the gallery is not being given to artists due to infrastructural problems. “The building does not have a generator, no lift facility, and the lighting is poor. We asked for funds from the government but there is a delay in allocating funds,” said the official.

The Venkattapa Art Gallery (VAG), established in 1975, in order to preserve and display the artworks of Karnataka’s celebrated artist K Venkatappa, is located next to Government Museum on Kasturba Road. While it displays the works of other renowned artists like C P Rajaram and K K Hebbar, it is also a platform for several artists in Karnatka to exhibit their works.

Problems galore

Managed by the Department of Archeology, Heritage and Museums, the building has been in a bad shape for long, due to poor maintenance. The Covid-19 lockdown and lack of visitors worsened the neglect. Today the roof of the auditorium is leaking. The plaster is coming off the walls. Pipal saplings are growing on the building, and cracks on the walls are a common sight. The soot from burnt garbage and plastics on the premises only makes the exterior look uglier.

There are not enough signages in the building. The artworks have no descriptions with information and context about the artwork and the artist. This affects the experience of the viewer. The gallery looks like a haunted space with no sense of aesthetics. The pond in front of the gallery has an overgrowth of weeds. The art gallery, frequented by tourists and locals alike, does not have a canteen or proper toilet facilities.

There have been many efforts by private parties and artists to renovate the building in parts, but the part solutions have not helped much.

Artists prefer VAG because the gallery rentals are affordable, and they can make use of it independently, unlike other places where the artist needs to receive an invitation to conduct exhibitions.

Sureshkumar G, a member of Venkatappa Art Gallery Forum (VAG Forum), said that the forum has written to the Archeology Department Commissioner indicating the problems. He points out that the building, designed at least five decades ago, does not have modern facilities to display various art forms. Several rooms in the gallery have been used for official purposes.

Private vs public

In 2015-16, the Department of Archeology, Heritage and Museums and the Department of Tourism signed an agreement with Tasveer Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, which proposed to transfer the renovation, curation and management to the NGO.

A group of artists opposed this proposal as they feared it would make the gallery unaffordable for artists and will be considered private. They formed VAG Forum to spearhead a movement against the private takeover of the public gallery and initiate a dialogue with the government over the issues. The agreement with Tasveer Foundation was shelved later and the foundation went on to establish the Museum of Arts and Photography, which is also on Kasturba Road.

After the plight of VAG was highlighted sometime ago by the media, now, yet another private entity has shown interest in the restoration of the gallery. Officials of the Archeology Department say that Brigade Foundation, the corporate social responsibility wing of Brigade Group, is interested in it, but the project is yet to be approved.

A Devaraj, Commissioner of the Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage, told DH that a team of engineers has visited the VAG and inspected the building’s condition. Though the government has given in-principle approval, details of the deal need to be chalked out, he added.

Officials from the department and foundation sources say that finer points have to be discussed, such as reaching out to artists, shifting of artworks, the timeline for restoration and other terms and conditions.

Sources say that the firm is planning to do the restoration work pro bono and later hand it over to the government, unlike the previous instance. Both sides seem positive, and the restoration work will take a year if the government and the NGO manage to strike the deal.

Artists cautious

Alaka Rao, a member of the Venkatappa Art Gallery Forum (VAG Forum), told DH that the members of the forum met after getting to know the news. “Artists were not aware of this. In the meeting, two things were decided. One was to meet the minister and seek details regarding the plan of the realtor. Another is to ask the government to maintain the gallery. For more than four years, we have been trying to get the gallery maintained properly by the government itself but the situation is gone from bad to worse. We have written several letters to the concerned, but, there is no response to this day, nor is VAG being maintained well,” she added.

“Kerala has 17 State Art Galleries across the state, and we have just this one. Why is the government unable to take care of it, just this ONE Gallery?” she asked. “We have a complete list of what can be done to make the gallery a vibrant space, like other private galleries. We are going to share it with the government,” she added.

Artists unanimously feel that the revamp of the building by private firms is not an issue, but the functioning of the gallery should be managed by the government. However, which department gets to manage the gallery and museum is also important.

Sureshkumar feels that the archaeology department officials know nothing about visual arts, and the visual art galleries and museums should be managed by the Department of Kannada and Culture.

Thousands of visual arts students passing out every year have no spaces to display their works. There are two other spaces meant for the exhibition of visual arts. One is in Kalagrama, which is meant for painting exhibitions, but the work is not complete yet. The space is being given for theatre activities, but there is no space for exhibitions here.

Another space, Chitra gallery located in the Kannada Bhavan premises, has become a godown over the years, says Suresh. “We are not asking anything for free. We have only three spaces for exhibiting visual artworks. Let the government make them available to artists for nominal charges,” he adds.

Demands from artists

  • The entire building needs urgent repairs, including fixing leakages that damage the artworks, dysfunctional lifts and AC.
  • Offices of tourism and archaeology departments need to be relocated and space should be free for smaller and medium-sized galleries In addition to the existing single large gallery.
  • An inventory and archiving of the works are necessary. The government has acquired many paintings of various artists over the years which have been removed and their status is unknown. They have to be brought back to the gallery and displayed.
  • The ground floor needs proper lighting and hanging facilities. The artworks need urgent conservation, proper signage and display boards.
  • The ground floor auditorium walls are leaking and fungus-ridden. It has dysfunctional projectors, speakers and mikes. The seats and carpets are old and torn. These need to be repaired.
  • The first-floor rentable gallery needs a total makeover, including walls, railings, electrical wiring, pest control and light fixtures.
  • The tile roof and rainwater channels of the first-floor terrace used by artists during show openings are damaged, it needs to be redone and a sink installed.
  • The second floor K K Hebbar Gallery is in need of repair.
  • The gallery premises including the water body, the garden and the backyard needs better maintenance.
  • The washroom facility at VAG is the only one available for visitors both the Bangalore Museum and the art gallery. Separate toilets are required for museum visitors.
  • Benches should be installed outside all the gallery spaces on all floors and on the front lawn.
  • An Exhibition Officer is to be appointed to oversee the daily operations.
  • An advisory committee of artists should be set up, which will function as an intermediary with the larger artist community through regular consultation meetings.
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Published 14 January 2023, 07:36 IST

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