Living in London I have now begun to take some things for granted. Like I always assume that a public art gallery will always be reasonably busy on any given day and I will have to jostle for space like I would in a shopping mall. On a busy day, like a weekend or a holiday, it is best to avoid unless I have a slot booking which means that there is controlled entry. I visited two galleries in the past two months which made realise that it is not the same everywhere.

I first went to Louvre which on an average day feels like the Kumbh Mela for art. Of course, the crowd flocking to these galleries get to immerse themselves in an ocean of art and the gallery itself is beautifully designed. I only spent half a day going around the Asian, Middle Eastern, Louis XiV room among others and everything I saw was absolutely magnificent. Everything was well curated and interesting use of technology to bring together various disparate themes which go beyond visual art. Walking through the gallery is like a round trip of around the world and across different centuries and civilisation. But for me the gallery is really too large for my comfort and it is hard for me to connect with . If I was living in Paris I don’t think I would be visiting the Louvre too often. It is often called the ‘museum of museums’ which doesn’t make much sense to me. I would be happy going to different museums rather than one museum of museums. 

My next visit to a public gallery was in Delhi at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). I must have visited NGMA many years ago and the only thing I remembered was the sculptures in the front garden. Even though both Louvre and NGMA are national galleries they couldn’t be more different. NGMA has a more humble brief to display art from India and about India and even in that limited brief I couldn’t help but think about what also should have been here. I went on a weekend afternoon and the gallery was mostly quiet except for a few tourists, a foreign delegation and a couple of locals. One of the locals, I later found out, was an artist who I saw wiping off the dust from his own painting in an exhibition of his works. 

Looking through the paintings I felt a sense of calm and rootedness. Maybe its because some of the art works and themes are known to me. The paintings were very diverse as it would be if they were representing a land like India. It was a quick jog through the history of India from the mid-19th century onwards. The gallery even though it is housed in a beautiful building doesn’t have any pretensions and only aims ‘to acquire and preserve works of modern art from 1850s onwards’. The NGMA is so much old-world to the bustling private art galleries of Delhi where even the art on display is so different. In some ways I am glad that it has not changed over the past few decades as it helps me to connect with a Delhi that I grew up in. 

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