art beneath the sky

As Madhavendra Bhawan in Jaipur’s iconic Nahargarh Fort opens its doors to one of the country’s largest sculpture parks, curator Peter Nagy tells us about putting it together

There’s something exciting and intriguing about spaces that are away from whitewalled galleries, and artists are always on the lookout for unconventional places to showcase their work. As the owner of a Delhi-based gallery (Nature Morte) myself, I look for open spaces, and curating the first edition of the Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Bhawan (Palace) in Jaipur’s historic Nahargarh Fort, to be inaugurated on December 10, has been delightful. The support we received from the Rajasthan government for this project, involving such an important piece of heritage, has also been extremely heartening.

Open spaces
In 2001, I worked with Faith Singh, who co-founded the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and a craft-apparel store with her husband John Singh, because it allowed me to travel out of Delhi, explore the rest of the country and interact closely with Jaipur’s artists and craftsmen. I was involved as a volunteer and worked for a number of years
doing shows at Jawahar Kala Kendra, projects at heritage hotels and installations at Mandir Shri Ram Chandra Ji in Jaipur. At that time, I had an idea of placing sculptures in Amber Fort, but it did not materialise. Using open spaces to exhibit works of art has, therefore, been on my mind for many years.

Finding the right space It was not until recently, while I was talking to a friend about the possibility of utilising spaces in heritage properties, that we considered the Amber Fort again as a potential exhibit space. But it was too spacious and spread out to contain the proposed sculpture park. We finally settled on Madhavendra Bhawan (Palace), because the space is self-contained and of a good size. And being housed in the Nahargarh Fort lends to it additional historic appeal.

The exhibits

When the project had just begun, we had to proceed with great caution and could not afford to get too involved in the minutiae of art. So we kept it simple, selecting simple objects and subjects for display.

Almost all the artworks have been drawn from the participating artists’ existing body of work. There were artists who wanted to see the place and do site-specific work too, but we decided otherwise. We approached artists whom I knew and had worked with, such as Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta among others, and we chose from their existing repertoire what we felt was appropriate.

Participating artists

For 2017, artworks by 15 Indian and nine international artists, including Huma Bhabha, James Brown, Stephen Cox, Evan Holloway, Matthew Day Jackson, Hans Josephsohn, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Gyan Panchal, Ravinder Reddy, LN Tallur and Asim Waqif have been selected.

Selection process

We had to keep the display spaces of the palace in mind during the selection process, because there were constraints in getting the artworks to the site. The doors to the courtyard are spacious, but the ones to the individual apartments are quite small. Even the staircases are narrow and we did not have the facility to bring in cranes because of the nature of the structure. We did not want to cause damage to the fort in any way. We had to exercise extreme caution.

Vision and manifestation

For me, this project was about bringing a sense of life back to the palace. It was originally built as a summer abode. I could imagine the maharaja and his wife living there during the day, the drama and intrigue that must have unfolded within those walls, the grand parties that must have been hosted there and the rich furnishings.

A lot of the works exhibited, therefore, deal with domestic objects – specifically furniture. There are also figurative sculptures to create a sense of human presence in the palace.

Installing the artworks

The installation relied on practical considerations. A lot of the exhibit spaces are outdoors, where the artworks are going to face the harsh sun or rain. So I placed works of stone, bronze and other sturdy materials in the open areas.

The largest and most sturdy sculptural pieces are in the courtyard and the heavy sculptures are on the ground floor, because they could not be taken upstairs. Some artworks are fragile, and were placed in individual quarters that I knew would keep them protected.

The author is a curator and gallerist and the views expressed in the article are his own

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