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Mumbai's CSMVS rotunda displays diverse 'Ancient Sculptures' collection for ambitious exhibition

Updated on: 02 December,2023 07:38 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Hemal Ashar |

As ambitious exhibition showcasing 5 ancient civilisations opens today, the minds behind it explain what to expect

Mumbai's CSMVS rotunda displays diverse 'Ancient Sculptures' collection for ambitious exhibition

Dr Sabyasachi Mukherjee at CSMVS as final touches were being given to the Ancient Sculptures exhibition. Pic/Sameer Markande

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) at Fort has pulled off a coup of sorts. The museum’s rotunda is the breathtaking venue for a project called ‘Ancient Sculptures: India, Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Rome’. Art pieces from five cultures have been brought together and will be on display at the venue till October 1, 2024. 

The project opens today (Saturday, December 2) and will go for 10 months.

The debut

Ancient Sculptures is the first presentation under the museum’s ‘Ancient World Project’ umbrella which aims to bring great works of art from other cultures to Mumbai. This initiative brings together 20 art works and expertise from the CSMVS, The J. Paul Getty Museum, The British Museum and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, along with some museums from within India.

Dr Sabyasachi Mukherjee with one of the ancient sculptures on display at the CSMVS. Pic/Sameer MarkandeDr Sabyasachi Mukherjee with one of the ancient sculptures on display at the CSMVS. Pic/Sameer Markande

At home

Overseas experts/partners are in the city, as the exhibition takes off. Some are slated to speak about the exhibition later in the week. Said Neil MacGregor, art historian, scholar and advisor to the CSMVS, “Not everybody can visit other countries to engage with these historic objects of art for a deeper understanding of a shared, ancient past. For citizens, this is a fantastic opportunity to do so, right here in their metropolis.”

The project is part of Getty’s ‘Sharing Collections’ effort, one that aims to promote a global understanding of the ancient world. Dr Joan Weinstein, Getty Foundation director said there were pieces from the Getty Museum for this 10-month window to the ancient world. “This is sheer magic,” added Dr Weinstein. Talking about the significant exhibition duration, she said, “Besides bringing the pieces to India, we needed time to see how the masterpieces “interacted with the climate here, in this city, when they were brought in.”

It explores

This exhibition, museum spokespersons stated, explores three themes: the role of nature in our lives, the divine form and ideas and paradigms of beauty. It also wants to address questions like: Were there any connections between India and the ancient Mediterranean? Why were most Greek sculptures depicted in the nude? Why did the Greeks and Romans give so much importance to a trained and perfect body? Was Egyptian philosophy only about death and the afterlife?

The duration

Dr Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General, CSMVS, smiled as he looked on at the preparations on late Friday (November 30) evening. He said, “The presentation and content is exceptional. We have had exhibitions/projects of three to six months earlier, this will be the longest time. Interest and attendance will sustain for all these months, no question about that. The CSMVS museum gets over a million visitors every year.” Mukherjee, who said the exhibition will be part of the overall museum ticket price and there is no extra charge for it, added, “These sculptures are strangers to the citizens right now. These will, I am sure, spark conversations with visitors, build a lot of curiosity.”

Like the adage goes: Rome was not built in a day. And we may add, Roman culture sculpture was not brought to Mumbai in a day too. “It took four years from conception to implementation,” Mukherjee explained and added, “The COVID shuttering and slowdown all over gave us more time to talk to each other about the processes to bring this together.” Looking at the rotunda from the museum’s conference room above, Mukherjee said reflectively, “The past helps us understand human history and different ages right till the current, digital age. It reminds us of the contribution of the ancient world in today’s knowledge system.” The director stressed, “We believe in collaboration. Knowing about other cultures is so important. It helps shatter that: my culture is better than yours mindset, there is a realisation that all cultures are great in their own way.”

Share show

Prof. Dr Andreas Scholl is the director, The Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. He said, “As a first presentation the monuments are significantly large and so is the space. Unlike paintings, these are three-dimensional pieces, people can walk around them, it is a very interactive experience.” Scholl added, “Initiatives like these illustrate how cultures were linked, no culture existed in isolation.” He summed up memorably like the final flourish on a signature, “It is not about one country owning the piece but about sharing it with the world.”

‘Ancient Sculptures: India Egypt Assyria Greece Rome’ is on from December 2, 2023 to October 1, 2024. For more information:

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