Is there an innocent viewer in art scene? Whenever I see a new face in an art opening I get curious. I am not talking about those new faces drop into the galleries as per their appointment with the public relations agencies’ photographers. I am talking about those new people who either just stray in or come to see the show only because a tenent, neighbor, relative or friend is exhibiting.
I look at their face and then look into their eyes. Do they have a pair of innocent eyes? Do they have the wonderment that we see in the eyes of children who first witness a moving creature on a marble floor. What do these people see in the works displayed on the wall, on the floor and on all the possible and impossible surfaces? How do they respond? May be they don’t express their responses at all. They go back as dejected people. They linger like shadows with an uncertain smile on their lips, behind their concerned person who is exhibiting.
However, there are some first timers, for the time being let me call them ‘innocent’ viewers (‘Virgin viewer’ will be a gender bender and sexist at the same time) who really express their responses once a few glasses of vine go into their bellies. They may not be habitual drinkers. But sometimes, a half filled glass of vine is a better companion than a real human being, especially when you are a first timer in a gallery where contemporary art is exhibited.
Recently, in a grand opening of a group exhibition in
I got introduced to a young man in his early thirties. In his three piece suite suitably worn in a winter evening, he looked dapper and I was sure that it was his first time in a gallery. We were introduced to each other by a common friend and the common friend was the reason for this innocent viewer to be in the gallery, I should say again, for the first time in his life. Even during his honeymoon in Delhi , he never thought of taking his new bride into a gallery and showed some good pieces of art. Paris
I think those people who plan working honeymoons are hypocrites. Yes, I agree, honeymoons should be working events. Ok, let’s go back to our topic; are there any innocent viewers in this hall?
So this man told me that he was absolutely new in this scene, which was, a few hours before an alien world to him. He was high on red wine and we went out to have a fag under the moonlit sky. I don’t remember exactly whether it was moonlit or neon-lit as I was engrossed in his talk and crushed under his occasional hugs. No, he was not a gay or something though he was praising my looks profusely.
This young guy was from the Indian Air-force. “We join the force early and retire early,” he told me. I thought there was a pinch of sense of loss in his words and I read out that sense of loss coming out of his sudden realization of the existence of a different world called art where long legged lasses swayed as per the wind of influence. He liked the exhibition a lot, he told me. And he hugged me again. Then he added, “One day when you are big and known, I could tell my kids that I had hugged this guy one day.”
( A viewer before Vivek Vilasini's work)
I asked him about the show and he was full of praises for the works. Not because he understood all what had been displayed there, but because he liked the intensity and ambience the works and the people together created. And he promised me that he was going to take his wife and children to visit shows in the city. I thought he would even go for a voluntary retirement scheme, only to become an artist.
So, my conclusion is simple that there are people who are really innocent till they visit a show. Once they are there, they are smitten, and once bitten not twice shy, thrice attracted. Most of them, in my experience, such innocent viewers turn out to be good art viewers in their lives.
But these are exceptional people, who come with innocent eyes and go converted. Generally speaking there are no people with innocent eyes. In a world, flooded with images, pictures and information, nobody could remain untouched by the onslaught of art. If there is one thing permanent in your life other than the smell of your own sweat, it is art. You look around and you see art. Even your property dealer speaks to you about sun rises and sunsets and landscapes and landscaping. Even the vegetable vendor arranges his goods and goodies in clear geometrical forms; artists’ envy and housewives’ pride.
As the victims or the beneficiaries of this flooding of art, in a Benjaminian sense, walking everyday in the streets that look like museums and galleries, how innocent one could remain. Even if they are coming to a gallery for the first time, even if they are finding themselves within a defined art context for the first time, they cannot be innocent. When they stand before a work of art a series of images, references and associations come to their minds and their innocent views get contaminated.
(christo in Delhi by Prasad Raghavan)
I believe, the contaminated views/viewing makes art interesting. As art professionals we cannot expect an innocent viewer. They come with their baggage and they read the works of art and enjoy them the way they want. That’s why different kinds of art exist in our society. We have mainstream established galleries in industrial areas and boutiques that call themselves as galleries in the middle of the textile and chic markets. And in both the places people go and buy/enjoy work of art.
There are no innocent viewers. They have their own discernment. In this world one cannot be an innocent viewer. An accidental spill of red ink (do we have ink bottles around?) could remind us one of those pogroms in our times. A pair of folded hands and tears could take you to the gory days of Godhra.
Let us invite all the people who are contaminated with the image pollution into the galleries and outside galleries. Let’s jam together and sing different songs as if were all in a carnival. What Happened in Mukteshwar show is all about celebrating the carnival of visuals.
And who said, there is an innocent reader and a readers’ community, who/that should be spoon fed? It must be a joke.