National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), the expansive white structure located on Palace Road, exudes a certain kind of warmth that not many government-owned cultural spaces do. It extends an invitation to a passer-by to come and discover its treasure trove of modern art. Bengaluru’s artscape deserved an institution of this stature and it took some effort on the part of cultural fraternity to convince then Chief Minister JH Patel about it. What took longer was the selection of a building. But finally, the sprawling Manikyavelu Mansion was chosen for the task. Architect Naresh Narasmihan restored this colonial style 90 year-old structure, which once belonged to Raja Manikyavelu Mudaliar, a Mysuru royalty and also added a new gallery block in harmony with its existing aesthetics. NGMA Bengaluru opened its doors in 2009 with Sobha Nambisan as its first director.
With all its greenery, the three-and-a-half acre campus is nothing less than an oasis. After you are done with seeing the massive collection on display or an ongoing exhibition, you can sit under its myriad Ashokas, sandalwood, raintrees, banyan to catch a breath of fresh air. Soak in the beauty of the place sitting on stone benches near the mirror pool. For a visitor, there is so much to experience besides the art display.
“I think, it is the best NGMA in the country. Its warm inviting appeal, the kind of events which happen here, make it a beautiful place,” says SG Vasudev, senior artist who was one of the few who rallied for NGMA’s counterparts in Bengaluru. The other two NGMAs are located in Delhi and Mumbai.
NGMA houses a permanent collection of more than 500 art works. Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy and other seminal names comprise the collection charting the trajectory of modernism in Indian art.
“I felt intimidated by art till I came here. I thought, I can never understand art and you need to have knowledge about it before you walk into a gallery. But here, it is different. You can get a glimpse of the evolution of Indian art,” feels Sumati R, a banker who lives in Vasanth Nagar. The art reference library, auditorium, cafeteria, sculpture garden and museum shop are other highlights of the structure.
Its permanent collection aside, it regularly hosts exhibitions of the artists from the country and across the world. Walk throughs, workshops, panel discussions, retrospectives and major career surveys of artists are regularly held here. Transforming into a cultural hub, it also hosts film screenings, other performing and cultural arts festivals. One can hope to catch rare documentaries on Rembrandt, or a famous Iranian film by Majid Majidi or just walk into a celebration of any kind.