For weeks, hundreds of artists in the Indian city of Bengaluru have been protesting their local state government. The reason? Officials have decided to turn over control of a public art gallery to a private collector. Now, Bangaluru’s artistic community fear that the Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG) will become less open to the public it was built for.
The gallery was founded in 1974 in honor of the artist K. Venkatappa, a renowned painter from Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore). Since the beginning, VAG has been operated as a public art space run the government of Karnataka, the Indian state that Bengaluru is the capital of. In 2015, however, the Karnataka government signed agreements with several corporations and private foundations to take over several popular tourism sites – including the VAG – as part of a drive to boost tourism in the region, Muralidhara Khajane reports for the Hindu. Though the deal was signed nine months ago, it only went public in March, sparking a series of protests by local artists.
According to a Memorandum of Understanding between the state government and the private Tasveer Foundation, the art gallery will be under the foundation’s management for the next five years, with the option to renew for another five after that. The agreement states that the Tasveer Foundation will build new facilities at the site of the existing VAG and transform it into the Museum of Art and Photography. In exchange, the foundation will have control over “all curatorial, exhibition, and programming decisions” and will house the private collection of its founder, Abhishek Poddar, Deepa Bhasthi reports for Hyperallergic.
“The proposed redevelopment of the VAG is a significant step forward for Bangalore to have a modern museum facility,” Poddar writes in a Facebook post. “We want the citizens of Bangalore, and the large number of tourists it attracts, to make this new museum a must visit site and an artistic hub of activity for people of all ages and from all walks of life.”
While this may sound like a good deal for the museum, many artists in Bengaluru are upset over the secrecy surrounding the deal and fear that putting control of the previously public art collection in the hands of a private organization will stifle public access to the artworks. In response, many in Bengaluru’s artistic community have formed the VAG Forum – a protest group aimed at drawing attention to the deal.
“Artists are not against the Museum of Art and Photography coming up in Bangalore. We are against it being built on the land of the Venkatappa Art Gallery,” local artist N. Pushampala and VAG Forum member wrote in an essay. “VAG has acted like an incubator of art for us, and we want to keep it for future generations.”
For decades, the VAG has hosted gallery shows for up-and-coming artists as well as exhibiting works by more established painters, photographers and sculptors. The artists say they will continue to march—brandishing black umbrellas, whistles, posters, and hugging local landmarks, as Vandana Kalra reports for the Indian Express—because they worry that if the gallery is handed over to a private collector, the VAG will no longer remain that center for Bengaluru's artistic community.