Monday, October 6, 2008

Learning to Give and Take a ‘No’

Saturdays are for retrospection and introspection. People switch from their formals to T-shirts on Saturday- that is also another way of introspecting a week that has gone, lean back, relax, browse through the mails, make some phone calls, fix up some ‘dates’, arrange a Sunday movie or dinner and be away from all what defines your profession. I do the things other way round. I wear T-shirts during the working days and on Saturday I wear formals and I feel that is the best to way to do introspection. Today (another Saturday) I think about the shows that I saw in the last few days. Yes, I saw good shows and bad shows. I heard friends’ commenting on the shows that they saw during the week. All of them agree on one thing- good works alone cannot make a good show. I can’t do nothing but agree with them.

If good works cannot make a good show, then there is something wrong with the whole conceptualization of that show. I refer to this particular group show titled ‘Popular Reality’ at the Stainless Gallery, New Delhi. A few close friends are the participants of this show and that was the only provocation for me to see the show. I went there and was greeted by a cycle rickshaw painted in red and decorated with some motifs. On it I found one signboard, obviously got written by some professional signboard painter, with the name of the show, name of the curator, name of the organizing gallery, names of the participating artists, and the time and duration of the show. Hmm…I hummed to myself. So it is about ‘reality’ and it is about ‘popular’; both these notions are there on the signboard. But something clicked in me. Yes, exactly on the same spot, I had seen mutant motorbike (a jugaad machine), red in colour, done by the artist Chintan Upadhyay and his collaborator designer. This work was a part of the opening of the Stainless Gallery and was put together by Sangita Jindal of the Jindal Group. Was the curator of this popular reality show, trying to comment on that particular work or it was just a gimmick? I could not find any theoretical or practical connection of this rickshaw with the entire show.

I saw a painting done by Josh PS, an accomplished young painter, another by Gigi Scaria, now internationally acclaimed multimedia artist (I mean, an artist working in different mediums including the so called ‘multimedia’). I see the beautiful drawings of Apuraba Nandi, the decorative pop-induced paintings of Dilip Sharma, some hazy works of Murali Cheeroth, a high serious but ironically reminding Joseph Kosuth kind of works by Vivek Vilasini and a few eminently forgettable works. Josh has done his job well, though the work looked hastily done. Gigi’s painting is clean to the maximum. Murali Cheeroth still struggles with idea and image selection. Vivek is intellectually smart. They look good in the show. But the show fails to evoke anything in the viewer.

Whenever I fail to engage the works of art on display, I do generally grab a glass of beer and drink it quickly so that I get some kind of high which would make my doors of perception open. This time, I did not even feel like having a beer as all my imaginative faculties were benumbed by such a dumb show. But then this question came to me: Why do these artists participate in such shows, even after knowing well that it is not going to click? Artists have always this answer: Our job is to work, and it is the curator’s job to make it click. I simply refuse to agree with this explanation of the artists. By now artists are aware of the quality of curators and quality of the fellow artists’ works. And also they are all intelligent enough to know what the curatorial concept means.
Many artists have refused to work with me only because the other artists in the list are not ‘up to their mark’. I never feel bad about it because I do understand that certain artists have set certain benchmarks for their works. They don’t want to be seen in a ‘crowd’. But there are many other artists who ‘just want to be there’. I don’t think, Josh PS or Gigi Scaria kind of artists now feel the need ‘to be there’. They have proved there mettle and worth in the art scene and it is high time that they resist offers from all kinds of ‘curators’. There could be obligations, the curators-cum-dealers might have helped many artists during their struggling days. But that cannot be a reason for giving their works away for shows that just don’t make any impact. It is important to learn to say ‘No’ and it is important to learn to take ‘No’. I think I have learned it over a period of time. These days I take ‘No’ very easily and I don’t feel any grudge against those artists who say ‘No’ to me. That’s the reason why I don’t do too many shows. That’s why I refuse to visit ‘curated’ shows that have the works from Gulam Mohammed Sheikh to Alka Raghuvanshi.

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