The 400-year-old Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur, which had lost its purpose and relevance for contemporary times has been reinvented as the venue for a Sculpture Park, showcasing artists like Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Anita Dube, Stephen Cox and Asim Waqif.
In its ornate rooms are displayed works of nine international and 15 Indian artists. There is no theme – the spectrum is wide and includes multiple disciplines, and scales that range from table-top busts and an old Ambassador car, to a fibre head that takes up the entire courtyard. There are works that have never been exhibited, such as the gigantic bronze sculpture by Bharti Kher. And then there are artists that have never shown in India before, like the celebrated French-American sculptor Arman (Armand Pierre Fernandez). The artworks displayed in this edition are made with, or reference, found objects, or ones that are of everyday use – an old car, pieces of furniture, a cooking stove, used utensils, and a ladder.
The idea of bringing back Madhavendra Palace at Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, to life was seeded nearly two decades ago. “I was involved with the Jaipur Virasat Foundation in 2000-’01, taking care of the visual arts. We showed works at the old Jawahar Kala Kendra and several other venues in the city, including a Ram mandir,” said Peter Nagy, a gallerist who is part of the core team behind the project. Other members who supported the initiative include gallerist Aparajita Jain, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and her cultural advisor, Malvika Singh.
Nagy revived the idea of showing sculptures at a fort after observing several cultural initiatives by the Rajasthan government, such as the renovation of Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur and Bikaner House in Lutyens’ Delhi, both of which now boast of active programming. After much thought, he zeroed in on Madhavendra Palace at the Nahargarh Fort as the perfect venue for the project, which has moved from conception to opening in under a year.
“We did not have the time or budget to commission new works or site-specific works,” said Nagy. “At a minimum, it would need a visit by the artists to the fort to see the space. We just did not have the resources this time round. Curatorial thought process consciously led to picking works that would sit well in a monument, juxtaposed with history of a fort and domesticity of a palace. As a result, all but three of the 55 works displayed were already existing.”
“We have placed descriptive text in English and Hindi with each artwork,” added Nagy. “The plan is to have other reference material to help contextualise the art. But, for now, I deliberately did not put a map to force a specific flow to view the works. There are six identical apartments in the palace that are said to be that of the six maharanis. As a result, it’s a bit of a maze-like feeling.”
The objective is to make the experience a bit of a treasure hunt, that of discovery and amazement. Installing the show was not easy either, since no structural adjustments could be made to the site. “Some of the works had to be dismantled and then reassembled on site, and others had to be placed at a different spot than what was planned because no one realized that it weighed 900 pounds,” Nagy said.
The larger idea of the initiative is to offer visitors a rare chance to engage with contemporary art and to give artists a space outside of conventional galleries. Nagy is confident that people are bound to find something at the Sculpture Park that they will love and something that they will hate. And that fits well with the entire purpose of art – to evoke a reaction.