The much-anticipated Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), which was expected to open on December 5, in a five-storey building located in the heart of Bengaluru, was launched digitally on Saturday after months of hectic remote working amid the pandemic.
The result is a week-long series of free events being held each evening until December 11, that will include performances, conversations between curators from museums around the world and MAP, and introductory talks by the likes of writer William Dalrymple, artist Rekha Rodwittiya, fashion designer Ritu Kumar and photographer Raghu Rai.
At a time when the pandemic has forced galleries and museums around the world to close, Abhishek Poddar, founder and trustee of MAP, says the museum doubled its workforce to get the digital museum ready.
It has helped launch what could be a vital art education programme, Museum Without Borders, which MAP director Kamini Sawhney says is a collaboration between MAP and museums around the world to “share knowledge of collections and perspectives”.
“When we were hit by the pandemic, people could not travel and visit museums or galleries. So we said, let’s take one work and juxtapose it with a work from the partner museum; it can create an interesting conversation. We have reached out to at least 50 museums around the world (for this),” Sawhney says.
Among the events of the launch week — referred to as Art is Life — are six videos in which art objects from MAP will be thus juxtaposed. For instance, on December 7, experts from MAP and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, US, will speak about the works of two indigenous artists in their respective collections, Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam and Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak. On December 12, designer Divya Thakur will speak about the traditional Pida chair from MAP’s collection, and experts from the Vitra Design Museum of Germany will weigh in about the 20th-century modern icon, the Rietveld Red Blue chair.
There will be performances — pre-recorded in situ — by hip hop artistes Dharavi Rocks from Mumbai, a troupe of Yakshagana perfomers from Udupi and jazz artist Rajeev Raja and his band, among others. Each centres on works from MAP’s collection, which spans an eclectic mix of Bollywood posters, textiles, journalistic photographs and modern and contemporary art. In all, the museum holds 18,000 works and artefacts.
Poddar, who began collecting while still in school, is a well-known patron of the arts. He started the Tasveer galleries in multiple cities (all now closed) to showcase only photographs. In 2011, he established the Art & Photography Foundation. MAP was one of its main projects. Poddar’s collection — much of which has been donated to MAP — was a result of his interactions with stalwarts like Manjit Bawa (“he took me under his wing,” Poddar says), former director of the Crafts Museum Jyotindra Jain and art historian BN Goswamy (both of whom are on MAP’s advisory panel), and photographer Dayanita Singh. Thus, MAP’s collection, while vast, is also reflective of the idiosyncrasies of a private collection as most good private collection-based museums are.
“What matters is what a private museum does around its collection,” said Shukla Sawant, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Arts and Aesthetics. “While MAP is doing a lot of interesting things, it needs to ensure the future vision is shaped by professionals trained in the field. This work also should be viewed in the backdrop of what government institutions are failing to do, whether to support artists or create engagement with state-owned collections.”
The road to MAP hasn’t been easy. In 2015, the Tasveer Art Foundation started by Poddar signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Karnataka government to adopt the state-run Venkatappa art gallery. Many local artists protested against what they called a private takeover of cultural commons and the plan went into cold storage. In 2016, Poddar and his wife Radhika put up several works from their private collection for auction by Christie’s India and raised Rs 35 crore to fund MAP. A year later, the foundation secured land and architect Soumitro Ghosh was roped in.
Poddar’s “passion project” has not sought government funding, but turned to individuals and private enterprises for funds. Patrons include Tata Trusts, Citi, Infosys, Wipro and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, among others. Still, Poddar says, “the economics of running a museum never add up, even during a boom, forget a recession.” “We don’t even have an acquisition budget, because we’re still building our endowment and this was the year we were hoping to put our endowment together but that’s gone for a toss because of the pandemic.”
Yet, there is hope, as the digital launch indicates. “MAP has been in the works for years but it has grown more ambitious over time,” Poddar says. “At the start of the pandemic, sure there was despair, but we quickly pivoted when we saw what technology and the digital space could do.”
(To view the launch events, register at artislife.events)