Artists act and react. When they act they are called artists and when they react, then also they are called artists. When they act against a system that oppresses them or that denies them due visibility then they are called reactionaries. They are called reactionaries not by their friends and well wishers but those people who belong to the other system of hegemony. As you know hegemony needs reactionaries because reactionaries make ‘different’ art and ‘different’ voice. And it is in this ‘difference’ that mainstream culture thrives. Take music, cinema, fashion or food, anything that has once been against the hegemonic system is now a part of it. Difference invariably gets co-opted by the mainstream.
Somehow it does not happen in India. Our country and its art scene seem to be thriving in the ordinary and it is more than complacent. It is lethargic to a certain extent and cynical completely. When it comes to the making of money from the regular everyone jumps into the same bandwagon. That’s why if you go to the history of Mumbai based main galleries during the 1990s, you could see all the galleries promoting the same set of ten artists and the same curator curating or writing all the shows/catalogues. We have to deduce two facts from this phenomenon: one, in Mumbai during the 1990s galleries were not just thinking about promoting art but were inclined to making money from the same set of artists. These galleries were once dealing with the masters, those artists who came into prominence immediately after our independence. Two, Mumbai during 90s had not produced any good artists than these ten odd artists.
(Logo of Stuckism International)
I don’t think any self respecting artist in this country would agree with the second part of the conclusion. These self respecting artists include the ones who were part of that group of ten. That means our galleries of that time were not looking at the artists who were working from the same city. For them those artists just did not exist. They existed as viewers. They existed as group show artists in the Jehangir Art Gallery. We created a caste system in this way. Mumbai started it, Delhi replicated it. Today Delhi leads it. However, I would say the birth of new galleries by the mid 90s and their maturing by the new millennium helped new artists who were lying outside the selected ten establish in a different way. If you look at the history of Bombay Boys or the moving and shaking after that you could feel that. New galleries were trying to formulate new ideas with new curators, artists and writers.
By the new millennium, as we are into the second decade of it, we have a new trend. Every year, we have a new set of artists as stars. Had those galleries in Mumbai in 90s were promoting only ten, today all the galleries irrespective of their geographical location aspire for the same trendy artists. When they do not find trendy artists for their own activities they create a few. Hence we have trendy artists doing trendy shows and participating in trendy fairs and becoming short lived stars. A couple of years back every gallery in India was talking about cutting edge art. Many gallerists who did not know what is the meaning of cutting edge jumped into the bandwagon and got their edges cut. A few galleries downed the shutters. Many surreptitiously went back to their original position. This failure was covered by saying that the young art is yet to be matured and it is time of the masters. Auctions results substantiated this unhealthy argument. For the time being the faces of the galleries were saved. But the losers were those artists who started off with cutting edge art. Today I see them in many camps.
(Bra-hminical Art? From Gagawaka by Vivan Sundaram)
What has gone wrong in our system of art and aesthetics? First of all we should accept that there is a caste system in Indian contemporary art scene. Brahmins are those who move along with the cash rich and visible galleries. They are considered as the trendiest and happening artists at the same time they are treated as ‘intellectual artists’. Young but foolish young art scholars from reputed academies refuse to see a studio based work because they are brainwashed to believe that trendy art is the best and intellectual art. So even amongst the art appreciators we have a caste system. Those who go to Khoj will not go to Lalit Kala Akademy. They all go to Palette because their booze is abundant. Those who got to Nature Morte and Talwar will not go to Kumar Gallery. Those who go to Neb Sarai for a happening art will not step into NIV Art centre that shares a common wall with the above mentioned project space.
So we have Brahmins. Then we have kshatriyas. They are the artists and art operators who get occasional chances to be with the Brahmins in art scene. They get respect and they are Kshatriyas because they fight for the Brahmins when it comes to public debates. Then there are Vaishyas. They do good art and aspire to become Kshatriyas if not Brahmins. They often get shows and success but never considered as intellectuals. Interestingly, most of the Brahmin galleries operate by selling the Vaishya art. Then there are Shoodras. Last in the hierarchy they make good, bad and ugly art. But they have all the potential to grown and topple the system. But they are often denied visibility and success. They move around as viewers. And interestingly, the first section of this hierarchy is the one that makes art against the general caste system, very vocal against it but perpetuate the same beautifully in their own field of operations. Such an irony.
(Bra- clinically analysed)
Why does it happen? In an ideal situation a gallery is supposed to cultivate a limited set of artists and see them through their highs and lows and take them to the museums. That means make them really interesting and relevant artists through devoted promotional activities. Seen against this backdrop, if galleries in India promote a set of artists only, it should be appreciated. But here it does not happen in that way. Here one set of galleries promote the same set of galleries with the same verve, direction and monetary aims. If you look at the major art fairs in India, you could even see that five prominent galleries, sharing adjacent spaces in the very visible fairs and flaunting the same set of artists without much qualms. Another set of artists is promoted by the second rung of galleries almost replicating the first model. This goes on like.
Then the problem lies in the lack of vision of the galleries and their operational formats. When everyone wants the same thing there occurs monopoly. If each gallery promote a set of artists and if they don’t poach each other and if we have enough number of galleries in this country, and above all if we have enough number of patrons, then there would be a different cultural ethos taking place in this country. Now in the name of art business we are not doing business. What we do is monopolizing markets. If a country produces reactionary artists then the reason should be sought in the very ethics and ethos of culture production itself. If you look at the history of the Stuckists in London you will come to know how monopoly gives birth to reactionary art.
(JML- Hyper Masculine Radical Imposture Turned into a Marketing Middleman- Picture by Somu Desai-2009)
United Art Fair 2012 is an attempt to set a few parameters where the caste system could be beautifully represented and collapsed at the same time. We would like to highlight the fact that there should be more and more galleries in this country catering to different tastes. As one of my artist friends says, it is not that with recession all the liquidity of this country has drained itself into the Arabian Sea. It is still there. People are still enjoying money and the comforts that it brings. But the patrons with money have lost trust in art because art market during the boom years has shown the worst form of greed and gluttony.’ We shall overcome this situation by highlighting the need for more visibility for artists and demanding the need for more galleries with multifarious aesthetic approaches and their determination to promote their artists to both the national and international art platforms. United Art Fair 2012 aspires to create this situation because we believe in god but not in caste system.