Private Collections Public Museum at Venkatappa Art Gallery

The Venkatappa Art Gallery, adjacent to the Venkatappa Museum, is a public space which artists have been able to rent for exhibitions since the early 70’s. Due to a recent dispute over its future, the Bangalore art scene has been the beneficiary of renewed interest in artists making use of this space on a regular basis. During April and May a continual series of diverse art events resestablished Venkatappa as a venue important to the local art scene. The events mixed energies of younger artists with well established international artists. A three day ”art marathon” included performances made for video, painting and drawing, as well as works which questioned ideas of “What is art?”

The recent three day exhibition ”Private Collections Public Museum” explored ideas of the nature of the museum collection by exhibiting the private collections of 20 artists. The concept is also a democratic gesture in relation to the museum – to allow each artist to express ideas about the nature of ”collection”. What and why do we collect?

Other conceptual artists, such as Mark Dion and Fred Wilson, have  mined this area of research  into the museum, its collections and functionsince the 80’s. Fred Wilson is known for reconfiguring histories by bringing forth objects from museum storerooms, or pointing out what is not represented in the collections. Mark Dion re-creates specific museum genres in art or public spaces. One can also think about Andrea Fraser’s institutional critique through performances of museum tours and lectures.

Diverse strategies were at work in the Venkatappa group show. One of the artists, Suresh Kumar, explained that the artists invited brought and installed their own work also with unique methods for display.

On the conceptual/minimalist side of the collection as phenomenon, Abhishek Hazra presented ”My collection of interesting conversations: A sampling” on a white cube between two sitting mats. The top of the cube has built-in card-file boxes where each card was titled with notes from an interesting conversation such as ”Marker and the sea” and ”Shipping container yet again.” The work of Raghu Wodeyar, bits of leftover colored tape collected into a soccer ball sized sculpture, sits on a pedestal size table.

Other strategies lean more to the ”wunderkammar” style. The term wunderkammar comes from renaissance Europe and refers to a room installed with objects of personal significance, regardless of monetary value. Objects of geological, botanical, historical or other interests were gathered into a room of memories, a microcosm of the world used for contemplation: a precursor to the museum. The artist Surekha’s text states ”Each object is a memory….of people we have met.” A myriad of objects from crocheted bird, to stones to an LED sign with a misspelled German word bring to mind the ”cabinet of inspirations”. Dimple Shah’s collection seems to reflect a timeline of her concerns from the grouping of missing head statues of the goddess Venus to cow stamps and other items used in her performances. Some of the objects are arranged into boxes reminiscent of Fluxus boxes.

From the Sheela Gowda collection, a series of drawings of nudes are paired with actual bird’s nests on pedestals in front of the drawings. Prabha Meppayil arranged objects used in her family’s metalsmith business as “tools and memories on their way to becoming art objects” next to a spiral bound collection of works she would like to have in her collection.

Displayed on tables, in vitrines and piled on the floor, mostly studio photographs are assembled with the title ”Found by Ayisha Abraham” with a list of the sources of the photos. The families, couples, groups, formally posed, look soberly into the camera.  It is a memory of these people but also a marker of pre-selfie photography.  Next to this work is a collection of figurines of Surech Jayaram, with different characters from classical to folk posed in porcelain.

Detritus Emeritus presents a tabletop covered with newspaper clippings with headlines such as ”Protest Against ‘Happy Farmer Advertisement’ in Karnataka” and ”The Era of Resort Politik”. Underneath the table are bulging plastic garbage bags. What collection resides in these bags? The unread, the insignificant, or the good news?

Of historical interest: one of the artists, Gurudas Shenoy, is the son of G.S. Shenoy who in 1971 slept on the pavement outside the building demanding that the government provide a public art space, bringing the history of the gallery again to an uncertain present.

This exhibition is an unusual opportunity to know artists and their work through their collecting. It is well situated in an independent public gallery space, where the artists investigate the meaning of ”collection” and public space; appreciated by a steady stream of visitors; from families to culture workers.


Private Collections Public Museum was on view at Venkatappa Art Gallery in Bangalore, India May 3-5, 2016
Photos courtesy of the author.

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