With a lot of amusement I read a blog post by Abhay Maskara. For the beginners, Abhay Maskara is the director of Maskara Gallery, 3rd Pasta Lane, Colaba, Mumbai. It is one of those rare galleries in India that has a high ceiling and totally an unconventional space. Recently it was at the verge of a closure. Abhay, in one of his interviews in a reputed newspaper (the Times of India Crest) said that had it not been the help of some foreign collectors, he would have closed his gallery long back.
Anyway, the issue here is different. Abhay does not like my ‘takes’ on his gallery and its ideology in my article titled ‘Art, Ideology and Galleries’ in Take on Art Magazine (Vol I, Issue 2, 2010) edited by Bhavna Kakkar. Abhay speaks for himself (and against my takes) in his personal blog, which surprisingly does not have a provision to publish ‘comments’. So what I understand is that he does not want a ‘dialogue’. He wants to convince those people who are ready to be ‘convinced’ by his arguments.
At the outset of his article, Abhay says, ‘Ordinarily I would have chosen not to respond to such rash and baseless remarks but JML has trivialized our efforts as a gallery thus far and raised questions about our motive, intent and funding. Not to mention the alleged misguidance to curators, collectors and artists.’ Interestingly, he titles his article, ‘MisTake on Art.’ Hence, I would like to call my article, ‘MisReading by a Gallerist’.
Those who have gone through my article in Take on Art Magazine, know it for sure that my idea was not to implicate any particular gallery or person. My intention was/is to delineate the ideological maneuverings that take place consciously, sub-consciously and automatically within the gallery and museum structures. I could not have done it without citing certain examples, even when I know that by doing this I would be making enemies out of friends and strong enemies out of already existing enemies. Theorizing of a context and process cannot be done without examples that are strong and glaring, even if that incur disappointments and disagreements.
You may notice, the play of the subjective ‘I’ and the collective ‘We’ coming up again and again in Abhay’s accusations leveled against me. By collapsing the subjective I with the collective ‘we’, he deliberately obscures the role of the players behind his gallery. As he argues on, Abhay makes it clear that he is the sole decision maker of his gallery (so I need not worry about critics and curators) and in the same breath he talks about ‘We’ enjoying the goodwill of the collectors.
If you read between lines, you will come to know how this collapsing of I into We or vice versa helps Abhay to hide his ‘ideology’ (for details on ideology, refer my article in Take on Art). In Abhay’s article, which could be termed as a pack of contradictions, he laments how I am oblivious of his personal sacrifices by putting even the last penny from his savings to support the kind of art he believes in. The next moment, he comes up with ‘We’, saying that this ‘we’ recognize the fact that the market would take time to understand the art, which Maskara is trying to promote. At times, he says that there is no market of his kind of art (read TOI interview). At times, he complaints that my article is an effort to ‘negate the goodwill we enjoy with out collectors and community at large’. How can you have no takers and enjoy the good will of collectors at the same time? Who are this ‘We’ that Abhay is talking about?
It is in this ‘We’ that my article focuses on vis-à-vis ideological functioning of galleries, which Abhay does not understand at all. It is good that Venkanna T and Shine Sivan are going places through the efforts of Maskara Gallery. But Abhay demands that I should be talking to his artists to know their current status. Sorry Abhay. I am a cultural observer and a critic, who uses his observations to see culture as critique and critique as culture. I am not a journalist (many former journalists are fast turning into curators these days) and you cannot expect me to run around your artists and ask for their whereabouts. However, I am happy to know that your artists are doing quite well.
But I don’t understand this statement of yours in the TOI on 3rd July. “The situation became dire when six of our last shows went without a single work selling to any local buyer.” Either you are telling a lie or you are just trying to play a double game, exactly the way you are collapsing ‘I’ and ‘We’ in your statements.
Now you accusing me of having no grasp on ‘the commercial aspects of the gallery’. As an art critic and curator, it is not my job to know the commercial aspects of the galleries (the case is different when I am working within a gallery and functions as an institutional curator I am supposed to handle the funding aspects). That does not mean that I am completely unaware of what is happening in the financial front. If you had any grasp on the commercial aspects of a gallery, I don’t think you would have spent even the last penny from your pocket to support your kind of ‘art’. Who would fritter away his life savings to support art during these days of late or post capitalism? If you are agreeing with the capitalist market theories, you have made a fool out of yourself. Or if you are an anarchist and a rebel, then don’t complain that you spent your money to support art.
You quote Rekha Rodwittiya in order to endorse Shine Sivan’s show ‘Sperm Weaver’ at your gallery. Rekha is a good friend and I read all her articles. They are emotionally charged, highly subjective and she never minces her words. She writes what she feels. So if you think that her words replaces all the critical voices from Indian contemporary art scene, I would say that when she forwards critique that also should be taken in the right earnest, which I don’t think any gallerist would do. The moment Rekha becomes critical, suddenly she becomes a woman, a Sakshi artist, a modernist etc etc. Come on Abhay, I have been around for the last two decades.
Now Abhay says,’I will end by restating that the role of a gallery is not simply to cater to an existing market but to create new markets. My job as Curatorial Director is not simply to sell what is easy or fashionable but also to propose what is not easy to understand or consume. It is a great responsibility and one that we take with utmost pride and seriousness.’ If you look at Abhay’s blog you will come to know that this young aspirant gallerist has been looking ‘only’ at the mainstream market till a few a years back. Just check out his blog archives. It starts in 2006 and Abhay’s whole interest is in where Souzas, Razas, Ramkumars and so on are bought or sold or auctioned. Even ten to fifteen years before from the beginning of Abhay’s blog, in Delhi I was working with the Venkannas and Shine Sivans of that time who are huge names today. Any doubt? And tell me where were you then, Abhay?
The same Abhay who tells me that I need not worry about my contemporary curators and critics, thereby proving himself to be an absolutely private entrepreneur finally wants to get endorsement from the public (he has asked the readers to write to him if they have any questions on the funding tactics etc). Why do you need endorsement from the public, Abhay?
I stand by my statement, ‘Unless these galleries prove themselves to be commercially viable, through ideological manipulations they would be misguiding a set of artists, curators, collectors and son on towards a no win situation, where ultimately the artist are left to suffer alone.’ I can give you at least twenty five examples of those artists who were the darlings of the galleries and curators at some point of time. Anders Petterson had once observed that a selection of auction catalogues from the last ten years would tell you that majority of the artists featured in those catalogues are no more active (means, they are not in the scene or have fallen out of grace from the system).
I would like to quote Nancy Adajania from her article, ‘Probing the Khojness of Khoj’ (The Khoj Book- 1997-2007- Contemporary art practice in India. Editor. Pooja Sood): “If ours is to be a healthy art world, expressive activity must proceed in dialogue with discursive activity, and not with antagonism towards it……It must therefore also recognize that the work of the critic is a related but independent project of research and inquiry; that the critic is the artist’s fellow contributor and collaborator in the production of culture.”
Any clue, Abhay? I want to take this as a dialogue because who knows tomorrow we don’t work together in a project!