Conspicuous absence in Kolkata
Where has all the radical art gone, wonders Anirudh Chari, as he tours two of Kolkata’s leading galleries of yesteryears.
In Kolkata, as in the rest of the country, artists have become brand names and prices of art works have risen astronomically in the last eight years. It is not unusual to find commercial galleries taking up the challenge of cultivating art initiatives – especially as public cultural institutions in the city have failed abysmally in providing quality exhibition spaces and facilities.
The Academy of Fine Arts, where generations of artists have displayed their work in appalling conditions is a case in point. Formally established in 1933, it moved to its present location sometime in the late ’50s or early ’60s. The space is a large one comprising eight galleries on the ground floor and a very impressive permanent collection, a treasure trove of Bengal art with some works of interest and significance from outside the region, on the first floor. The state of the Academy, though, is truly shocking. Peeling paint, an absence of proper lighting, paper-thin partitions separating the galleries and a complete lack of discernment in the choice of artists being exhibited has led to what should have been the city’s foremost public space being treated with scant seriousness. Also, the apparatchiks of culture who administer the Academy are, in most cases, strangers to art – contemporary or otherwise.
The state of the Birla Academy of Art & Culture is much the same. An impressive, five-storeyed structure with high ceilings and a vast garden for exhibiting large pieces of sculpture, it opened in 1966 and could well have transformed itself into a vibrant space to exhibit contemporary art. While its permanent collection of medieval sculpture, manuscripts and textiles is of some importance, its exhibitions of contemporary art have been less than impressive. A large number of artists of significance have shown here in the past – largely for want of alternatives – but it is today little more than a venue hired by artists of not very great merit to exhibit their works.