Sunset from the Sculpture Park

My first trip to Nahargarh fort, high above the city of Jaipur involved taking in the magnificent views with a beer (the onsite cafe then sold it, it no longer does). It was a splendid way to wind down the day, and I was pleased to have ticked it off my Jaipur to-do list, as many do.  

How does a heritage site on the outskirts of a city encourage repeat visits? By putting art in it, says gallerist Peter Nagy of Nature Morte.

On my most recent visit to Jaipur, I had reason to return to Nahargarh, to visit India's first sculpture park. A collaboration between the government, the private sector and not-for-profit Saat Saath Arts, the late 19th century Madhavendra Palace inside Nahargarh's walls currently houses works by fifteen Indian and nine international contemporary artists .

Organised by Nature Morte co-director and founder of Saat Saath Arts, Aparajita Jain and art collector Shreyasi Goenka and curated by Peter Nagy, with over fifty works by artists such as Arman, Huma Bhabha, Subodh Gupta, Anita Dube, Jitish Kallat, Vikram Goyal and more scattered across the palace courtyard, rooms and terrace, the Sculpture Park is envisioned as an annual exhibition lasting eleven months.

 We chatted with Peter to find out more and visited just in time for sunset. 

Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace x.JPG

Peter, take me to the very inception of this project.

We have always been intensely aware of the lack of public art venues in India as well as arts being a part of our living heritage. There is an urgent need for more spaces for contemporary art in the secondary and tertiary cities of India and I have always wanted to use heritage structures as containers for contemporary art.

It made perfect sense and then we spoke to Malvika Singh, an advisor to the Rajasthan Chief Minister and responsible for many of the cultural initiatives taking place, and she loved the idea too. We need public spaces for art, for contemporary art to be viewed by the masses and to use culture as a conduit for job creation, tourism and economic growth of areas. Specifically vis-a-vis Jaipur, it has multiple tourist spots, but amongst the forts, most of the visitation is restricted to Amer. Nahargarh is beautiful but not as busy. For repeat visits, one needs to come up with something new. Culture is a great way to reinvigorate our existing heritage sites. We are doing an experiment here, let's see if it works.

Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace-0628-4.jpg

How did you home in on Nahargarh? 

Nahargarh Fort was chosen because it contains the Madhavendra Palace. Other forts were considered, such as Amer, but they were too large and rambling and the works would get lost within them. The Sculpture Park is contained entirely within the Madhavendra Palace, providing a more focused presentation and better security. This being the first edition, we needed to be careful and take things slowly. We may consider other sites at Nahargarh Fort for sculptures in the future.

Could you give us a brief history of the palace?

Nahargarh Fort, built in the 1730s by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, was a place of retreat high above the city. From 1883-1892 Sawai Madho Singh built the Madhavendra Palace, a symmetrical plan of duplex suites for his multiple queens and at the head, a suite for himself. The rooms are linked by meandering corridors and many of the rooms still have their original decorative frescoes in place.

Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace-0574.jpg

The Sculpture Park is a collaborative effort between a lot of different people and organisations. Who are they and what are their roles?

As the project had to be non-commercial, it is a joint venture between the Government of Rajasthan (specifically the Department of Forts and Museums) and the Saat Saath Arts Foundation, which was established by Aparajita Jain in 2010 to promote contemporary art in India. 

The government has been gracious and provided the palace and the staff which were already in place for security and maintenance at the Fort. 

The private sector funded the rest which is curation, insurance, transportation, etc. It's been a great blend. The funds were raised by Saat Saath Arts, primarily from corporates within India, who are finally waking up to the value of contemporary culture after years of supporting only traditional music and dance. They too were hugely supportive and funded the project because of the same reason - its accessibility to the masses. 

Many renowned international galleries also came forward to support this initiative by lending the artworks including Hauser & Wirth, London, Salon 94, New York, Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York and Livingstone Gallery, The Hague.

Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace-0560.jpg
Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace-0568.jpg

Peter, tell us a little bit about how you curated these works.

I wanted to show important works that could command the setting, which is rather impressive. But the palace, as one experiences it now, is an empty monument and it was built to be a pleasure palace, a site of luxury, eroticism and intrigue. So I wanted to bring something of this back into the palace through the sculptures displayed. For this reason, I have chosen many works that use domestic objects (such as furniture and clothing), to bring a sense of the ghosts within the palace to life. Second, the palace is a highly decorated space, with elaborate paintings covering most of the walls. For this reason, I chose works that have a relationship (either in their materials, techniques or references) to the decorative arts. This has been a trend among sculptors in the past 20 years that I have been following closely. But, in the end, the great diversity of works exhibited in the palace will certainly illustrate the wide range of sculpture being made today to the visitor who is not familiar with contemporary art. Our first edition has 24 artists with approximately 50 works.

Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace-0592.jpg

What are the advantages and also challenges of exhibiting in such a space as opposed to the white cube?

I think it makes for a richer experience for the viewer and makes connections between the art of today and the arts of the past, which certainly already exist, we are just making them more visible. Of course, taking on a project such as this, in an unusual location that has not housed an exhibition of contemporary art before, brings on many challenges (such as lighting, shipping, signage, security, etc). Of course there are many, however, we chose not to focus on them. 

Our artists are great, the government has been super supportive and all our patrons have come forward. I honestly think the support for this project greatly outweighs its challenges

Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace-0605.jpg
Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace-0622.jpg

The art is scattered across the palace almost like a treasure hunt. What is the best route to take to be able to view all of it?

There is no ideal route to take. I want people to wander through the palace and get lost, discovering works along the way. It's even OK if they miss some.

How long is this current exhibition envisioned for and is there another in its future?

The current exhibition is on display until November 2018. The second edition will most likely have only 4 or 5 artists, with perhaps 8 to 10 works by each.

Thank you Peter.

To view all the various artworks on display, via the Sculpture Park website.