IN office for over a month now, the new Director General of Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is busy chalking out future plans. “I am 52, I can work for 18 more years, since the upper age limit for the post is 70 years. I am not sure if I will get extensions, but in any case, I have three years at hand,” says sculptor Adwaita Gadanayak, who moved to Delhi from Odisha. His predecessor, Rajiv Lochan, had spent 16 years at the helm.
“I want to do a lot of things here. There are no facilities for the staff. They (staff members) are coming to me with ideas; even they want things done. No work has been done in the last one year, they say,” adds Gadanayak. The first thing he has done here, however, is to change the direction of his chair. “I used to face a blank wall. So I wanted to place my chair in a way I could look out of the window — at the sculptures placed in the campus and the greenery,” he says. The placement of sculptures is, in fact, a big concern for the new chief. He is unhappy at the way “priceless artefacts” have been casually strewn around in the elaborate campus. “Look, how the overgrown shrubs are covering these artworks; and how some other works are placed — totally hidden from the view of the passers-by. This isn’t done,” he says.
When asked about his plans for NGMA, Gadanayak says, “I want to bring Picasso to India”, and adds, “It won’t cost us much since we can get the works on loan; we just need to get security clearances. I am already talking to the ministry (Culture Ministry) and the French High Commission for the same. For a place that is called the National Gallery of Modern Art, we have to bring Picasso, one of the biggest influences in Modern art, here. I don’t think Picasso’s works have ever been exhibited in India.”
Gadanayak is candid about having attended RSS shakhas in his youth and his connection to the BJP, as convenor of the party’s art and culture cell in his home state. “At various points in my life, I have attached myself to people and organisations who I thought could help me achieve my artistic vision (and not my personal ambition). But I remain an artist at heart,” he adds. But is it alright for an artist to have political leanings? “Even Picasso was a Leftist. In fact, he was the one who started political art. Before him, art would just be spiritual. Now we have come to a point where artists are seen in relation to political parties. An artwork is not appreciated due to the artist’s affiliations, or caste for that matter,” says Gadanayak.
Coming back to his plans for the NGMA, he says he has been making some trips to the store, to look at the in-house collection. “First thing our collection needs is cataloguing. Besides, I want to increase NGMA’s collaborations with other cultural organisations like the Lalit Kala Akademi and National Museum. I am also exploring collaborations with various embassies so that we can initiate art exchanges,” says Gadanayak.
His attempt begins with the cafe, however. “As of now, visitors can’t even get a proper sandwich inside. On priority, I want the cafe here to function well,” he says. Gadanayak says he wants to open up the place to all, for the public to feel like they own the campus. “Let people come to the lawns and eat their lunch here, and let them own this place; it should not look like an imposing, intellectual building,” says Gadanayak, adding, “The HoHo bus stops right outside our gates but no one walks in. I see youngsters peering through the grills but not coming in. I want to open up this place to all.”
Gadanayak has primarily spent his life in Bhubaneswar, and was last posted there as the head of the School of Sculpture at Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT). Now that he’s the Director General of NGMA, the sculptor has moved base to Delhi and is gradually settling down. “The first thing I did when I came here was to go to Raj Ghat and look at my ‘Dandi March’ work placed there. It was as if I was checking up on my son who has got a job in Delhi,” he says. During weekends, he retreats to his art studio in Delhi and tries to tinker with stone. His wife is a sculptor too. “Even though I’ve become an administrator, I can’t lose touch with practical art since that will keep me grounded,” he says.
Gadanayak, who studied at London’s Slade College of Fine Arts, says Tate Modern is the model he wants NGMA to emulate. “I want to make Delhi a global art hub. I want big-ticket international art awards to be launched out of here. I don’t mind corporate partnerships. For instance, British Telecom funds a Rs 2-crore award at Tate every year. We should also do something like that here,” he says. But adds a note of caution, “I had made a vision before coming here. I know all of that is not practical. As of now, I am just taking stock, observing people, and talking to them.”