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 fa├žade 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)


Anant said...

Once a curator,art-critic from mumbai said,those who have surfaced are artists,who have not, are not. Rest ,time will tell.

~ said...

@ Anant - When there is a flood, shit and garbage floats. So , you Know , obviously the mumbai art critic / curator deals with such floating matter .

@ JOHNYML ... It was very insightful reading your 15 point observations on the Indian Art gallery practices.

The questions you raised are pleasantly trivial, so I try to answer

Q - why don’t these intelligent artists outside the galleries and residency spaces don’t find a place within?

A - They must wait, everyone has to wait .Those who are doing "good" right now have waited for a long time as well .Some will persevere, others will leave the queue, That is life.

Some of the greatest artists we speak of now were never recognized by the "system" in their lifetime .


Q - Is it because we lack intelligent curators or the galleries do not listen to the curators?

A - Neither,
galleries are financial enterprises, when there is a demand,
they will supply , short supply means higher ceiling price, so to sustain "good" returns, a simulation of scarcity is essential for this business model. Curators can only shape/create a brand/awareness, they have no power, though it benefits the market value of an artwork if everyone assumes the curator to be a powerful agent.


# To be realistic I should say that all the artists will not get a space in the gallery system.

# True.


Q - But if the galleries, critics and curators work together many of those outsiders will be inside.

A - As I mentioned before, such all inclusiveness will only sustain average profits over long term ( a point you correctly made in your article, about galleries unaffected by the boom or bust), not huge profits in short term.


Q - Who will bell the cat, is the question here.

A - Only the cat itself.


Q - Who should take the initiative? The galleries or curators?

A - Both . Together .


Q - Have curators got autonomous power in the present scenario?

A - A "scenario" implies "zero autonomy" . But No, the system will attempt to destroy any autonomous activity by ignoring it.


Q - Can galleries work without curators in our times?

A - Yes . It (curation) will fall under the administration column of the balance sheet.
But, it is not feasible even in the short run as curation adds a exponential amount to the "perceived value" of an artwork.


JohnyML said...

Hi Anant, thanks..

The other person...I tried to locate your identity. But in vain.

But your observations are really good indeed.

Thanks for taking time to read and comment on it.

I feel seriously good when such provocative responses come...

thanks again....


~ said...

In answering the queries, it was omitted to mention what initially triggered the response.

Undeniably, this past decade has been the golden age of the Living artist in South Asia. This has occurred due to variety a of causes, which you realize, perhaps much better than me.

But it is being corrupt in assuming a sense of pity / sympathy towards "non gallery" artists. A decade and half earlier 90 percent of the artists in your country would have been "non gallery" artists.

That is just how a capitalist system works, it is very efficient in providing great returns to some, and below average returns to a lot.

So, the greatest harm you can do is by showing pity/sympathy to every talented "undiscovered" artist.

To really help them, the best help to be given is - Completely ignore them and act like they do not exist.

Though this sounds rude, but this is the only way these people will ever make powerful provocative works, that force attention upon itself. If people get things too easily they will never value it.

In fact the greatest fault happens when young artists nearly a year or two out of college expect solicitation / recognition from galleries. This acclimatisation to a Instant gratification set up, may give the works immediate monetary value, but the resulting quality is pathetic and unsustainable.

Again, it should be kept in mind that , words like "fresh", "novel" associated with young artists is again a un critical response generated by a internalization of a consumer culture, where new objects are constantly desired to accommodate happiness.

Psychologically, humans do not need such close frequency aesthetic gratification, but under a capitalist setup, such a notion is tolerated and celebrated.

It would be unfortunate if artists and intellectuals get entangled so feverishly in the consumer spectacle that they end up becoming something they were not to start with,
else they would not have joined art schools in the first place.


It is very important to have a decent lifestyle and enjoy good life, but this urgency to outsell every other contemporary and receive high privileges too early,
should not be tolerated.

More benefit is done by highlighting all the idiots who get undeserved attention for producing criminally
inarticulate works and making explicit formula based artist selection that you have done very well which short sighted "curators" with no imagination resort to.

Allow the young to suffer.

The only way to help/respect them is by being violently critical of their output and making them uncomfortable.

When they start asking the right questions, the system will consume them and flood their bank accounts anyway.


Benjy said...

Interesting discussion. Incidentally, the observations made in context of Art are valid for many other fields as well. Life is tough and there is a huge pool of talented newcomers out there. Success in professions as diverse as TV, theater, music, writing,law and medicine is largely dependent on perseverance and a bit of luck.

Jinson said...

good to see your blog

sujata tibrewala said...

John your observations are quite right. After coming to art field I have experienced the same thing. Well to find answers I have formed a group of artists, curator and some art lovers to democratise art. We hold regular shows cum workshops to educate people. Hopefully one day we will be out of the clutches of these people.