Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Museum Infrastructure in India

Thinking about possibilities for new museum infrastructure in India. This is a night view of the lobby atrium of the Milwaukee Art Museum in my hometown. The museum exhibitions structure itself is of course much larger. Built almost entirely with private donations. A time-lapse video is posted to my wall- Waswo X Waswo

Waswo X Waswo tagged me in the photograph posted above. And Waswo was thinking about the possibilities for a new museum infrastructure in India. I commented on his wall. Then I thought that the comment could be an open letter to my friend and to all.

Dear Waswo, thanks for sharing this. Any country would like to have monuments and monumental museums. Iconic structures create not only cultural values around them but also economic values. A whole locality would change with the presence of an iconic museum. Metro has changed Delhi. The Malls have changed the shopping experience. Multiplexes have changed the way we watch movies. When I say malls, there would be a counter debate arguing on behalf of old kirana shops. When I say multiplexes, there may be people talking about the death of B and C class cinema theatres. Let such arguments be there parallel to it.

India needs not one iconic museum like this. It needs several of them in several states and cities. Each state in India or each city in India has a different feel about it. People behave differently. Their food, dress and dialect change at every hundred kilometers. We tend to say at times that globalization has equalized our tastes and outlook. But reality is different. Even after nineteen years of globalization process we remain India, incredibly divergent in tastes and views. But the authorities are becoming more and more indifferent to this grass-root level reality vis-à-vis globalization.

People may change their dress and food habits. I believe food and dress habits are socio-culturally constructed and it has got vested economic interests behind it. Economic interests, changes and profits do not happen in isolation. They are connected. Changing public spaces facilitate a change in dress code. India's change from sari to churidar to jeans is facilitated by the changes in public transport system. We 'grab' a bite instead of opening our tiffin carriers because we don’t have much time to spend on a leisurely lunch.

I have digressed a bit, I know. I was trying to say that India is still divergent in its taste though globalization has in a way 'uniformly organized' our public spaces and apparent tastes and perspective. But each Indian city is different despite of the presence of Nike, Armani, Gucci and what not.

So we need museums that cater to different needs. We need museums that in some way reflect the taste of the cities in which they are established. We need museums that reflect the professionalism of the administrators and art managers and art professionals. We need museums that reflect the architectural experiments conducive to the environment of the place where these are set up. We need architectural wonders as museums when it comes to metropolitan cities where language, ethnicity, region, class and caste are transcended in a big way.

But we have a big problem. Like in Bollywood, we need superstars as art professionals. A set of art professionals wants to hold on to everything that happens in our art scene. They want to be eternally young, the way our Khans and Kumars and Mohanlals and Mammoottys want to be eternally young. Septuagenarians and octogenarians and those who sit partly in their coffins still want to be 'young' art professionals and rule everything. We have organizations that take the 'thekedari' (contract) of alternative art. We have galleries that manipulate the production of taste. Everyone wants to be a bollywood hero (not heroine) and remain there eternally young. To remain there eternally young, you need to be over-cautious not about your health, appearance and horning of histrionic skills but about your ability in stopping new talents from making appearance. So you pay more attention in prevention than maintenance, paving way for continuous degeneration of taste, opinion and vision.

Let decentralization and divergence of approach be the slogan for creating a number of iconic museums in India. We have a strong talent pool in this country. But it is getting stagnant ( let me use the more active verb 'stagnated') thanks to those who block the outlets of springs that make the pool fresh, new and filled with life.

If anyone thinks that he/she could establish museums in order to save their superstardoms as art professional, or he/she can make a museum out of a gallery or personal collection in order to escape the tax laws, or he/she can hold the power in all the public museum establishments, he/she is living in a fool's paradise. India is too vast to have such proliferation of singular ideological fiefdoms.

Where does the solution lie? The solution, as far as my vision guides me, lies in the vast pool of talent in India. Many of them are well trained and many are in their internship phase. Each year fresh talents come to this field. Where do they go? A future iconic museum ( in that case several of them) in India for me is an organization that has several talents coming together to do major things in art and culture, never an individual claiming superstardom.

Superstardom, according to me, is an illusion. In the filed of cinema and sports such superstars exist because they are produced, proliferated and maintained carefully by certain interests including those of the superstars. In the field of art it is impossible. The producers of visual culture through plastic art and its various cutting edge varieties cannot be superstars because the constituency that they address is limited. But artists can become superstar through their works. Picasso is a superstar not because he became rich through art, on the contrary, his works are spread across the world through museums. There are several examples like him.

India suffers from 'intellectual dwarfism'. Physical dwarf-ness can be adjusted by wearing high heeled shoes. What about mental and intellectual dwarf-ness? Have we found a remedy for such maladies?

Let there be transparent participation between private and public agencies to bring up iconic museums. Let there of hundreds of talents work to create a new art world in India, each one without a claim to superstardom.

As an end note, I would say, there are people who even oppose the idea of 'iconic' museums because they believe too much in the post modern collapse of mega narratives. For them an icon is a mega narrative, hence objectionable. But dear friends, establishment of iconic museums through the length and breadth of the country by different agencies is much appreciable than the preservation of mega narratives by certain interests in certain places and for certain people.

Let there be decentralization in the production of iconic museums. Let there be many micro narratives which in their locations play a macro role.

With Love


1 comment:

waswo x. waswo said...

To go back to the original idea of an iconic museum, here is some background as to what was done in Milwaukee...

The Milwaukee Art Museum had already been in existence, though in an older and not exceptionally attractive building. It did have a good permanent collection already established through the gift-giving of local collectors, and years of acquisitions (much like the NGMA).

The museum board, working with a group of local collectors, dreamed of a new museum space that would put Milwaukee on the art map. Milwaukee is a mid-sized American city, not very glamorous, and very much overshadowed by our much larger and wealthier neighbor, Chicago. To give the project energy, this small group of people searched for a world-class architect to give the project momentum. That architect came in the form of Santiago Calatrava, who was already very well known in his native Spain, and much of Europe, but had not yet created a building on American soil. Calatrava came up with a spectacular design, and gave the arts committee a concept to "sell".

First a group of the "very rich" local art collectors made donations as 'seed money". These were the million dollar donors, whose donations, plus the proposed museum design got the attention of the press. A campaign was mounted to collect more money through the smaller, middle-class donors, the sort who could afford to donate $100 to $1000 dollars. Fund raisers were held, benefit auctions occurred, all of which generated more and more press. It soon became a matter of local pride. Everyone in Milwaukee wanted to see the museum become a reality, and more and more people started to donate their money and time.

The politicians, just like they would probably do in India, claimed that tax money had better uses. But an agreement was made that the local city and county (district) government would pay to maintain the completed museum and staff it. The building itself grew with private donations, with minimal help from government funds.

It was a long process, but in the end it worked. The building of the Calatrava museum sparked a new image for Milwaukee. Visitors to Chicago started to make a point of heading north to see the neighboring museum in Milwaukee. Needless to say, all of this generated economic benefits as well.

OK...why can't this be done in India? I for one think it could happen. What is needed is the vision, the organization, and the work. ??