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July 26, 2017

Madhuvanti Ghose On Fuelling Her Passion By Spending Time At Museums

Text by Huzan Tata. Photograph by Nancy Stone

“The juxtaposition between the past and present is exciting to me especially in a place like India where there is such continuity of traditions”

Exposed to the arts from an early age, she spent most of her growing years exploring museums and galleries around the world. Madhuvanti Ghose grew up in Kolkata, before landing her current role as the first Alsdorf Associate Curator of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art at the Art Institute of Chicago 10 years ago. An avid globetrotter who hopes to visit Iran soon, Ghose is currently geared up for the opening of a mammoth exhibition on M.F. Husain this month, as well as the reinstallation of the Alsdorf Galleries next year.

“I grew up in a home surrounded by art as my mother was an artist. It was not a conscious decision, one thing led to another and I specialised in Asian and then Indian art. Spending time at museums all over the world really fuelled my passion. Working at the Ashmolean Museum — the oldest one in Britain — was very special.

“I curate our permanent collections relating to Indian, SouthEast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic Art. I enjoy working with art of all periods, from ancient to contemporary. The juxtaposition between the past and present is exciting to me especially in a place like India where there is such continuity of traditions. I also work within the community to engage participation in our programmes, bringing the cultures of these countries to the Art Institute’s audience. Some of the important exhibitions include Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice 3, Gates of the Lord: The Tradition of Krishna Paintings on India’s pichwai traditions, and Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects from the Barbara and David Kipper collection.”

“As a curator, picking an artist is like picking from your children! There are many I admire, but my eternal favourite is the Pahari painter, Nainsukh.”

“What’s amazing to me is that many of the ancient cultures our works sprung from are still alive. Take for example Nathdwara, where a community of artists uses techniques passed down through generations. Maintaining that continuity is vital to its survival and I’ve made it my personal mission to bring international attention to what they’re doing. Whether finding something unexpected by walking into a gallery in London or New York or visiting Nathdwara, Thanjavur or Kumbakonam to meet with artists practising age-old methods, I’m always discovering something new wherever I go. Sometimes in going back, one discovers something afresh!”

“I am currently rediscovering M.F. Husain thanks to my forthcoming show, so I am obsessed with all things modern at present. It’s exciting to bring his work to audiences who haven’t had exposure to him before. For such a great artist, his work has been under-represented in Western institutions. The Indian Civilization series that will be on display was commissioned and loaned by Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal, and are the last works the artist completed.”

“Curating Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice 3 was a great experience. I was oblivious to the significance of what we were doing at the time. Running the Vivekananda Memorial Program for Museum Excellence was a challenge too. The Ministry of Culture, Government of India awarded the Art Institute a four-year grant between 2012 and ’16 to help train professionals working across museums in India. Curating Gates of the Lord was phenomenal and humbling; it included working with artists whose methods were passed down over hundreds of years. I’m grateful for the privilege of being able to bring their work to prominence worldwide.”

“My visions for the future of museums mirror those I’m implementing in my current role — to be part of an institution with diversity and globalism on every level. From the art on the walls, to leadership, to the visitors in the galleries, I want to see cultural and intellectual curiosity — a true meeting place where people of all backgrounds can learn and share. I’m looking forward to more accessibility for audiences who may not have access to museums. I can’t wait to see the revitalisation of Indian museums! Continuing my role in making that happen is very important to me.”

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