Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Jehangir Nicholson collection

The Jehangir Nicholson Galley opened last week, after a long delay, at the Prince of Wales Museum (which is now named after Shivaji like everything else in Bombay). I couldn't make it to the opening, but caught the inaugural exhibition on Friday, and came away disappointed. It didn't feel like a well thought-out museum show accompanied by thorough documentation; more like something thrown together fairly quickly and haphazardly.
I don't envy the task of the curators. They had a fairly small space to work with and must have been aware that the best of Nicholson's paintings had been displayed at the capacious National Gallery of Modern Art in 1998. Still, the show on view at Shivaji Museum doesn't really give us any insight into the mind and taste of the collector, or seek to underline the collection's strengths and biases. Instead, it just hangs one or two works from each of the city's canonical artists. The exception is three large Tyeb Mehta canvases, which one is drawn to immediately and which are the best things in the room.
Nicholson's favourite painter, Laxman Shreshtha, is underrepresented. The choice of a black-and-white Shreshtha marked by geometric motifs was bold, but I believe misguided. It would have been wiser to choose one of the painter's magisterial stormy abstracts, though these are better known than the picture finally chosen.
The museum trustees hired an extremely capable and dedicated curator, Zasha Colah, to tend to the collection, but have evidently not given her much latitude in selecting works for the first show. I hope this will be rectified in the future, so we get truly museum-worthy exhibitions.


DS said...

It is an unremarkable space to work around and hope future exhibitions will be more imaginatively mounted by perhaps transverse partitioning and being more focused. On the other hand, in terms of footfall being what it is at the museum, it's a fantastic opportunity to inform a larger public, and one that is not too familiar with modern and contemporary art with more documentation and well curated shows.

Girish Shahane said...

Exactly, DS: it's a great opportunity, but one that needs to be grasped. Few visitors will leave the current show more enthused by modern art than they were when they entered.

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