Thursday, October 22, 2009
Fifteen Ways of Selecting Artists
Certain pictures prefer to stay in zoom in mode always. Time does not pixellate them in memory.
Year- 1996. Place- Delhi. Location- a private gallery.
A young artist from some village in North India comes to this gallery. A lady, who is a receptionist-cum-typist-cum-accountant sits at the desk. The artist wants to show his works, which are rolled up under his arm.
She asks him to unroll it and show. He sits on the floor. Unrolls the papers one by one. She says, ‘next…next’.
Expectation fills in the eyes of the young artist.
‘Leave them here or come back with more works later,’ she says.
Artist rolls the papers again. Silently he walks out. She goes back to the opened ledger before her.
Anger seethes in me. I too am young, frustrated and arrogant. I feel like slapping her.
But I too walk out with castrated turmoil inside me.
Year- 2009. Place- Delhi. Location- another private gallery.
An artist comes inside. He does not carry any paper rolls with him. He is neatly dressed. He has a stylish bag hanging across his chest. He waits for someone to attend him.
Finally the gallery director walks in.
Expectantly, he approaches her. And he fishes out a CD from his bag.
‘I want to show my works to you,’ he says with a lot of confidence.
The gallerist looks at him and says, ‘I don’t have time.’
The boy walks out as if nothing has happened to his dignity. But I could see a flash of pain in his eyes.
But this time I don’t feel any anger. I say hello to the director and walks into her chamber with her, yes for my business.
Between these two incidents there are thirteen years.
Artists have grown in confidence. They know how to approach a gallery and also they know how to handle rejection.
But, I believe, behind the façade of helpless and the newly gained confidence there is a streak of pain that cannot be wished away.
I find more artists who are rejected by galleries than the accepted ones.
Does it show that all the rejected artists are unworthy of being called artists? If not, why they don’t find success in finding a gallery to show their works?
These questions lead to another question: How do the galleries choose their artists?
I have noticed a pattern during the last five years: 1) Trial and error basis (okay, let’s try this guy. If clicks fine, if not just forget). 2) Facilitate curated group shows and pick and choose those artists whose works are asked for by the buyers/collectors. 3) Talent hunting through campus recruitment. 4) Selecting the award winners. 5) Peer pressure selection (if some young artist is supported by one established gallery, going for the same artist or similar artists). 6) Taking those artists with foreign education tag. 7) Selecting those artists who could successfully handle the existing trend. 8) Taking in those artists who are part of international residencies/ workshops. 9) A set of interests come together to project certain artists as ‘intelligent’ ones. 10) Looking for those artists who are NRIs. 11) Selecting those who are supposedly cutting edge. 12) Absorbing those artists who are in the ‘camp’ of certain curators. 13) Successful artists’ wives. 14) Going by auction results. 15) Cutting nose artists (Five people say someone is a great artist. Then the others fear that if they don't parrot the same they might look fools).
There are only a few countable galleries who choose their artists through intelligent discretion, work on them consistently, build up their history, place them in the right shows and right places. These galleries are not affected by boom or recession.
But unfortunately, we have very few galleries like that.
Those artists who do not fall into the 15 categories I pointed out before, are the artists who move around with the CDs. Interestingly, they read all the art magazines, visit most of the shows, discuss aesthetic issues with successful artists, participate in seminars, keep themselves updated with the contemporary debates and try to be intelligent and intelligible always.
Having said that, I do not mean that those artists who have already found the galleries, are unintelligent.
But why don’t these intelligent artists outside the galleries and residency spaces don’t find a place within?
Is it because we lack intelligent curators or the galleries do not listen to the curators?
To be realistic I should say that all the artists will not get a space in the gallery system. But if the galleries, critics and curators work together many of those outsiders will be inside.
Who will bell the cat, is the question here.
Who should take the initiative? The galleries or curators?
Have curators got autonomous power in the present scenario?
Can galleries work without curators in our times?
These are the questions we have to answer. May be your views will help me to understand this issue better.
(Picture: A still from Coco Fusco’s performance piece ‘Rights of Passage)