On the edge of the Aravallis, the Nahargarh Fort overlooks the city of Jaipur. Built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1734, its colourful past is evident in its name (meaning ‘abode of tigers’), its stories of ghosts, and its presence in films like Rang de Basanti. Within the fort’s environs, Madhavendra Bhavan — a two-storey palace with multiple suites built by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II (1880-1920) — is its most finely preserved part.
Now, under an initiative of the Government of Rajasthan, it will house the Sculpture Park, a one-of-a-kind venue for contemporary arts. Opening its doors on December 10, 2017, the park is a public-private collaboration between the government of Rajasthan and the not-for-profit Saat Saath Arts.
Malavika Singh, advisor to Vasundhara Raje, says, “The Chief Minister wants Jaipur, and Rajasthan, to have public spaces for arts, which will draw a national and international audience.” Singh, who facilitated the project, roped in Peter Nagy, owner of New Delhi’s Gallery Nature Morte, about nine months back, with the missive, “Won’t it be wonderful to do contemporary art in a traditional space?”
The government gave the property, providing security, electricity and general maintenance. Support grew with many corporate sponsors coming forward. Aparajita Jain, co-director of Gallery Nature Morte and director of Saat Saath Arts, says, “Peter and I had been speaking about the lack of public art venues in India as well as arts being a part of our living heritage. Among the Jaipur forts, Nahargarh is beautiful and not as busy. Madhavendra Palace was chosen for its contained space that allowed for a more focussed presentation and better security.”
The perfect foil
Nagy’s curatorial approach entailed finding important works that could command presence in the impressive setting, simultaneously engaging the everyday visitor who is not familiar with contemporary art. As he explains, “It is an empty monument, but it was built to be a pleasure palace, a site of luxury, eroticism and intrigue.” Desirous to bring alive ghosts of the past, he chose domestic art such as furniture and clothing.
Responding to the lavishly decorated interiors, he also picked works with a relationship to the decorative arts, a trend he observed amongst sculptors for over 20 years. “Our first edition has 24 artists with approximately 50 works. The second edition will most likely have only four to five artists, with perhaps eight to 10 works by each,” he says. Indian artists in the first annual show include Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Vibha Galhotra, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta and eight international, such as Stephen Cox of the UK and Americans Arlene Shechet and James Brown. International galleries contributing artworks include Hauser & Wirth (London) and Salon 94 (New York).
Capitalising on the palace’s ample natural light, Nagy has concentrated large works in the main courtyard and others in the interior suites. On a lighter note, he says, “Vikram Goyal, a furniture and interiors designer, is creating a group of works specifically for the roof. This proved the most challenging as the works had to be able to have monkeys climbing on them!” And since it is a heritage site, everything had to be designed without damaging the property. “The opening of The Sculpture Park will coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Chief Minister taking office,” Jain concludes.
|Positioning it right|
|It is India’s first sculpture park to be housed in a historic fort. It is also an attempt to boost the popularity of Nahargarh Fort, which is located on the opposite side of the ridge from its more famous cousin, Amer Fort. As there will be an effort to bring well-known international and national contemporary artists, the fort also allows for more security.|