Thursday, July 28, 2016

Think of that Five Rupee Gain

(picture for illustration purpose only)

“What all could be bought”, I think
“In fifteen rupees?”

Maximum a quarter of lady fingers
Or one kilo rice or potato
But I can’t feed a family
With a quarter of lady fingers or potato.

They say I could get mobile recharge coupon
For ten rupees, but I do not have a mobile.
They also say I could buy fifty grams of peanuts for ten.
But what would I get for rupees five?
“Will give you a banana,” someone says.

We, myself and my wife went to the shop
To buy some poison to end it all.
But a packet of poison they sell for twenty.
None gives poison on credit.

In the next shop they have
Rice, wheat, kerosene and all what we want
But we owe the owner fifteen rupees
Lucky we are, he hacked us to death
With each measured cut.

What if we are dead?
Think of that five rupees gain.


The Follies of International Curatorial Practice, Indian Ones Too

(Francesco Bonami, Italian Curtaor)

I do not know the renowned Italian curator Francesco Bonami exactly the way he does not know me. But not knowing mutually does not make any difference to the world, politically as well as culturally. However, the views on curatorial practice that he had recently expressed in the online magazine ‘artnet’ make me think about him and many like him in the world because I too belong to their tribe; the tribe of curators. According to Bonami, curators have ‘become self delusional characters and at the same time totally irrelevant in relation to the market and the artist’s career.’ The context of this interview is the growing involvement of the artists, artists’ collectives and even non-artists taking up the curatorial reins of many a project in the global visual art scenario. Bomani, considering his unshaken position in the international curatorial circuit, is a bit sarcastic and condescending while he speaks of the curators’ role in today’s world. His sarcasm is accepted for he has earned the right to be so. But the pointers that his views leading to, are not so funny as it seems.

The platitude that the curators ‘validate some kind of intellectual content that even the most callous dealer seems to need in order to maintain some kind of credibility’ in the context of Bomani’s interview assumes a deeper significance because even if he does not say that the new age curators or even the star curators or the non-curators curating the shows internationally lack in such authority to validate the works of art that they curate, the case is so. The danger of non-curators curating exhibitions all over the world today, pushing the trained and traditional curators behind the scenes or almost rendering them jobless is futurist in many ways. First of all, the future markets need validation for the works of art irrespective of the star value of the curator who has exhibited these works. His /her star value does not count because the intrinsic meanings of a work of art are not context specific of its exhibition but invariably a continuity in time and space (in other words within the frame of the work). If that is the case, the star curators devoid of academic abilities to ‘validate’ these works of art would eventually supply nothing to these works in the future market. It would be pushed into the columns where provenance of a work of art is printed in micro fonts whereas an academically trained curator’s words would remain a permanent vehicle of validation for the particular work of art in the future market. The presence of star curators is good to grab eyeballs and some page 3 spaces and maximum innumerable shares in the social media. Beyond that no additional value will be given to a work of art with the attachment of a star curator’s name to it.

 (JohnyML, Indian art historian and curator)

I am not an apologist for the academic trained curators for I do not have too much of regard for all the academically trained curators. At the same time I respect a lot of curators academically trained in certain disciplines but with eclectic interests in visual arts and have this particular ability to interlink his/her expertise in the academic field and the visual art forms that he/she fancies. No issues if such academics come to the curatorial scene even without a degree in curatorial practice. I generally do not approve the curatorial practices of non-curators in the field of curatorial practice. However, I have a great respect and regard for those non-curators who have in-depth knowledge in the subjects that they take for curation. For example there are a few artist-curators who have very close relationship with their subjects both personally and academically and are capable of doing wonderful curatorial projects. There are also non-curators who would curate certain exhibition only because they have a first-hand knowledge about the subject.

Post-modernism allows anything to be taken seriously; that is good to certain extent. But at the same time post modernism has its own emphasis on human discretion because permissibility of anything anywhere in the name of culture and politics could be counter-productive. Hence, we cannot say that non-curators should not curate or non-art historians should not write art history. But there should be a discretion why certain people or celebrities are chosen as curators or given prominence as curators, almost discarding the academically trained curators. This preference is pre-meditated because the presence of a celebrity as curator or a non-artist celebrity as curator or a famous artist as curator could liquidate many a work of art into money besides the exhibition getting a lot of press mileage wherever the celebrity curator’s name is familiar. That means the employment of celebrity curators or star curators or celebrity artist curators is not basically for validating works of art for the future markets but for its immediate currency in the national or international art market. In that sense, the celebrity curators here function as trade representatives than intellectual mediators who validate the works for future markets. A celebrity’s dumbness could bring attention to the exhibition while the works of art would be permanently dumped by history for the very lack of ‘history’ around it. Our market has been failing to see it.

(a curated show- image for illustration purpose only)

Bomani points out that the young and academically trained curators are now almost pushed out of the market. And in their place the market has propped up celebrity curators, celebrity artist curators and non-curators. Perhaps, this is trendy for the sheer fun of it. While the market celebrates these new arrivals, it does not have a basic work ethics to see what the trained curators including the art historians are doing. Many years before I had pointed out that the potential curators, art critics and would be art historians are campus recruited by the gallery system in India and made all of them back room researchers or the front desk personalities curbing their urge to become potential curators. Either they cease to become art professionals or they remain permanently as assistants in the galleries, with frustration growing, which eventually makes them cynical and prematurely retired from the art scene. This is the great injustice that most of the galleries have done to the practicing curators in India too. Their frantic search for quick liquidation, media attention and selective footfall they all started employing celebrities or artist curators to add value to their shows. I would never say that artists are bad curators because artists while thinking about their own works they self curate often. But when a few artists are brought together and their works are displayed in a curated show, the artist curators job become that of the display strategists. I have seen artists curating while the historical validation is done by other writers in the same catalogue. I would say the most celebrated artists curators in this country are basically socialites with some sense of design. Where the content of the show is shallow, they make it more lucrative by conjuring up quirky titles.

I insist that celebrity artist curators or collectives-curators, despite their celebrity quotient are bad curators always fearing about their reputation as celebrities and to protect it making their projects more and more spectacular and facile devoid of deep intellectual content and as a result of it their statements about the shows would always be contradicting with the statements that they have made just a minute back. We have seen it in front of our eyes. To understand the shallowness of such huge projects curated by celebrity artist curators, one should just try to remember the number of works or the names of the artists who had participated in their shows. We would only remember the names of the celebrity curators. It is like the build up of a movie and the star who acts in it. The discussions are about the fan clubs, the distributors, the money that it would make in the box office, the overseas frenzy of the fans and so on, without heeding much to the real movie which gives a context for all these madness possible. The exhibitions curated by celebrities therefore become celebrity affairs with no emphasis on works of art or the artists. For the future markets photographs in the page 3 really do not make a good provenance.

 (a curated exhibition- for illustration purpose only)

The worst thing that Indian art scene could do to its artists and to its curators is this that either the galleries started employing celebrity curators or the gallerists themselves becoming curators. The logic is simple for the latter. “It’s my gallery, my idea, my money, my artists, my people displaying, my friend writing the catalogue, I am paying for the publicity, I am even controlling the number of bottles of wines to be distributed on the opening day, I am sitting at the reception desk, I am socialising with the guests, I am going to sell the works....if so why should I need a curator?” This is a typical way of thinking many gallerists did immediately after the collapse of Indian art market. Then came a hoard of untrained people from the rich class who started calling themselves as curators. Even the two articles old art writers started printing their visiting cards with the tag line, ‘curator’. The hierarchy created within Brahminical structure of the art scene also created Brahminical structures for curatorial practices. Girls and boys coming from rich backgrounds, and those boys and girls who are willing to accept some kind of trends in the scene are always trained by the so called curators in certain curators’ hubs, which in my opinion are largely unproductive but they do it because it gives the people behind it a tremendous amount of credibility in the international circuits as they want the colonial left over still remaining intact in the future market called India so that they could perpetuate their kind of art and related practices into the Indian sub-continent. I have never seen curators coming up such hubs and doing shows elsewhere. Getting married to foreign curators could be one short cut to become cross over international curators or even organizing large scale events and self appointing as curators. But none of them would make future markets. The future markets are entrusted in the writings and curatorial practices of the academically trained, diligent and self innovating curators. The earlier the market sees their potential the better their chances of making money out of ‘validated’ works by valid curators. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Better than Straight Lines to Life

(image for illustration purpose only. Image courtesy net)

How does my death come, I do not know
(All poems that are meant to go wrong
Perhaps start with invoking death.)
I would like to do die seeing snow
Falling into the wintry white nights
Where birds sing songs of redemption.
If not, eating dried meat and sipping vodka
Near a dim lantern light, like a Russian character.
Perhaps, I would like to die like Hamlet
Who keeps chanting ‘to be or not to be’
Or else like Ravi who was bitten by a snake;
But I am not sure about any of these deaths.

Death could come by anything else
So mundane like a stray bullet
Or by pellets that make designs of darkness
And blood in eyes and raw flesh.
Death could be by severing tongues
And fingers, one by one.
It could happen while four men
Hold you like a hammock and the rest
Beat you into pulp; broken bones and teeth
You could die rotten in dungeons
Carrying the burden of being an anti-nationalist.

You could invite death by writing
You just need to write.
It would come by motor bikes.
It would knock at your door
Instead of a good morning or a packet of milk
It would simply pump a couple of bullets into your chest
At times, it could come to you
When you are in a jogging track.

Death is a great tempter
It could help you prepare your own gallows
If not, it would help you to severe
Your own tongues and fingers.
It gives fire to torch your library
And lead you gloriously into that pyre.

Death could come at any time
That is a sort of surety
But today it is a deed signed and sealed
‘Shut the fuck up’, says death, ‘if you want to live’

I do not have any weapon to fight death
However, I wield the whip against the
Wholesalers of death, sometimes stones
And some other times words and tears.

It is better to have the curves of words to death

Than to live the life in a prescribed straight line.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Death

When the news of that death was broken to me suddenly I broke into tears. I did not know where to keep the knife.

Don’t mistake me. I was just trying to balance the phone between my shoulder and ear, a feat that I am yet to excel. As a man living alone without a cook and someone to sleep with, I was cutting onion to make an omelette.

Then this friend’s phone call came. I was surprised. Generally, he sends me memes, picture trolls, jokes, limericks and porn-cartoons. We laugh sending emote-icons to each other. He rarely makes a call. As he does with his digital messages, in this call also he did not fail to amuse me.

Some deaths are awaited like an unbroken pimple on your cheek. It stays there for a long time, full of puss but refuse to burst. People avert their eyes while talking to you during those pimple seasons. But they do talk to you, appreciate you and congratulate you for the contributions that you have made.

I am a sports reporter, who is currently jobless due to the arrogance that I had showed towards my editor. I was with one of the biggest dailies in the city. Sports lovers took my words for truth; players, instead of looking at their as well as their opponents’ games in slow motion to learn strengths and weaknesses of the other, read my incisive reports, word to word, word by word.

I used to be like one of those much revered music critics. Even the best of maestros would shiver when the critic who had become a comma in his physical stature due to age, wrote a few lines in his celebrated column in the same newspaper where I worked as the senior sports reporter.

Death put an end to the veteran music critic’s stint as a critic as arrogance did to mine.

However, when the news of the death of a yesteryear tennis star came, I felt like laughing. He had been around for decades, playing some good games both in the national and international level. I grew up looking at his black and white photographs in action along with those of Mike Belkin and Pierre Barthes in the sports pages of newspapers.

He was a clay court specialist. But he loved to play in grass courts too. His tennis academy drew so many young boys and girls. Some of them made it to the national level and a couple of them made their mark in the international grand slams, under his tutelage.

It was in 1990s. I was transferred from Mumbai to Delhi. 22nd World Tennis Association Tournament was going to take place in Delhi. I was happy for the transfer.

In one of those hectic days, I came to know about the story of a young tennis player who committed suicide in her hotel room while on a tour. This man was the head coach of the team. Everyone knew what had happened. But he was very powerful; politically connected and wealthy. There was no media trial in those days and channel wars were yet to start.

I was the one trailed the story despite the opposition from the editorial. I met many. So many sob stories I heard. But none of them saw the light of the day. He was powerful. And everybody respected him as a person and his contribution as a player.

I stood staring at the flames of the gas stove. The man is dead and gone.

My cell phone pinged once again: “the bastard is dead.”

I did not know who it was and I did not care to know. I knew many felt the same.

Then I cried, this time I shed real tears. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fake Profiles

Now everyone could sleep

If not, talk sweet nothingness

If interested you could gossip

On the sex lives of your female colleagues

In titillating whispers.

Women could speak endlessly

Of their men’s escapades.

In summer, after lunch

Without moving an inch

From the air of air conditioners

And coolers, like rag dolls

You could push your

Government branded bottoms and legs

Under the tables where

Heaps of files decay slowly and steadily

In winters, out there in the lawns

You could eat salted fruits

Knit woollen gloves and socks

Speak so high of the diseases you have

And those are eagerly anticipated.

Play cards, spit expletives, chew tobacco

Smoke cigarettes, crack jokes, fart

Belch and go back to your seats.

‘We are in those good old days,’

You could exclaim each other

And go back to your free cells

And mine sweepers, till you drop dead.

You could forget all pains

No need to chat with faceless people

No need to cheat your partners

No politics, no opinion.

If you have anything good to say, say

About the cow protectors, anti-beef eaters

Soldiers at the borders and nationalism

Please, go ahead, we are all ears here.

Please clean up all your opinions

With ample sprinkling of Ganga water.

No need to have an opinion on anything.

Be faithful to the ones who give you

Your subsistence, or get ready to bite bullets.

Why do you still carry those smart phones?

When you do not have any opinion,

Nothing to say, nothing to share

Nothing to like or nothing to emote

Why should you have a smart phone?

Please give it here in this counter

We could supply you those clever phones

That could make calls and take calls.

After some months

One fake id asked the other fake id:

“Did your boss sanction the arrears?”

Monday, July 18, 2016

O,P, W- Nay, it Should Be P-O-W: A Fascist Move to Categorize Indian Creativity

(One of the most revered symbols in India....will it be the same?)

When two Indian artists meet, now on wards, they should be asking each other which category they belong, O,P or W? For the beginners, this is the new way of categorizing India’s artists (that includes fine artists, writers, dancers and so on with their contemporary and folk categories) by the Cultural Ministry headed by Mr.Mahesh Sharma. According to this, the artists from all over India could make an online application to the cultural ministry, a committee comprised of bureaucrats would judge them and put them into different categories, O,P and W. And this will be a benchmark for the selection of the artists to represent India in the major cultural festivals conducted or sponsored by the government of India, in abroad as well as in India. Now, for the anxious ones, the alphabets O,P and W stand for ‘Outstanding’, ‘Promising’ and ‘Waiting’.

The justification for this move is simple: most of the artists who are representing India abroad on the cultural platforms are not up to the mark. With this cultural ministry’s certification, ‘the right kind’ of artists would travel and represent India, making the true gold of Indian democracy shine phenomenally in the foreign shores. Nepotism, which has been rampant in the government sponsorships (for the artists, dancers, musicians, writers etc.) is one of the reasons cited for this move by the cultural ministry. Apparently, the move and the reasons behind it sound too good and ideal but a deeper look simply reveals the nefarious agenda. All of us know that the artists who get to exhibit abroad or travel and perform in the international platforms generally are hand in glove with different authorities who sanction these trips. Many ‘artists’ (of different genres) travel quite regularly and showcase their talents abroad. Though there have been private complaints, sort of gossiping, bickering and salacious understatements pertaining to gender and sex, none with some sense of public dignity does bother to make these complaints obvious for the nepotism in such avenues are by now taken for granted.

(How to apply for creative permit)

However, fighting nepotism cannot result into the creation of a much more organized and fortified structure of favours, which would eventually shame the license-quota raj prevalent in Indira Gandhi’s time and has been percolating in various forms till date. The move of the present cultural ministry to certify or categorise the creative people of this country as ‘Outstanding’, ‘Promising’ and ‘Waiting’ is in fact is never a suitable way to do away with such favouritism and nepotism in the cultural field. On the contrary, this move would bring back the licence quota raj in its fiercest forms and would divide the creative community along ideologies. True, that artists in any country, as they too are citizens of these countries, have their ideologies, often expressed covertly and at times overtly. Only the changes in socio-political climates make them come out with their ideologies. Such times of crisis and conflicts bring out the true nature of the artists and intellectuals. It has recently happened in India with the large number of the members of artistic and intellectual communities coming out in hoards against the right wing ideas of the present political regime at the centre.

An analysis of the move of the government to create three categories of artists is in fact a sort of census or stock taking of the ideological partners of the government from amongst the creative communities of the country which is going through the terrible times both in politics and social engineering in terms of handling sensitive issues of political inclusion and exclusion of states within the confederacy of Indian republic. The Cultural Ministry says that the artists in this country could apply online CCRT website and simply fill in their applications to be assessed by a group of bureaucrats who would eventually put the creative people in different baskets. The ministry claims that it has already processed 185 applications and out of that 112 are in the P (promising category)m 46 got O (Outstanding) and 27 are put in the W (waiting category). Those who are in the O and P categories are eligible to ‘represent’ India abroad. The 27 waiting in wings should do that till the bureaucrats take their applications up for review. How? We could see that against a renewal application. The ministry says that it is ready to process another one crore applications which have already come in. It is going to be real creation of mediocrity, for sure.

 (Culture Minister Mr.Mahesh Sharma)

Interestingly we have two scenarios developing here; one, the artists who have been kept outside the ‘nepotistic’ circuits now can apply to prove their worth by open application. Two, those who do not apply and get categorized by the government could, at best operate for themselves and exist or die. The former set of artists who would apply would naturally be those people who agree with the categorization process; that means, their creativity could be assessed and marked by the nameless and faceless panel of judges comprising of the ministry’s bureaucrats who definitely agree with the ideological stance of the government. That means, the artists who apply for certification to exist and work and even exhibit in this country as well as elsewhere prove themselves to be the fellow travellers of the government’s ideology. The second set of artists who do not apply is then seen as the renegades and rebels who do not want to agree with the government ideology. That means those who do not apply could be seen as anti-national (for they do not want to go with the norms of the ministry), anarchic (for the same reason) and even seditious (for the refuse a chance to represent India in global platforms). To put it simply, eventually you need a certificate from the cultural ministry to read, write, paint, sculpt, sing, dance and do anything creative. It is a new way of licensing creativity. If you do not apply and not get categorized by the government, then the government (at least the ministry of culture) do not virtually take any responsibility of your creativity. If someone barges into your studio and heckles for the art work that you are doing or a novel or poem that you are writing, the government could say that you were doing a work without license that’s why people attacked you. This is the time of moral policing. If the food in your fridge could cost your life, what about your poems, paintings and all which are not kept within the fridge?

The Cultural Minister of India, Mr.Mahesh Kumar means well when he says that this certification is purely for letting the real talent have its exposure nationally and internationally, on the platforms legitimized by the government. Considering the kind of nepotism existing in this country, we would tend to say that such a move is welcome. But there are always trap doors. How can you rate or categorize a work of art or poem or a song etc without enough expertise or critical authority and historical knowledge on those areas? How could bureaucrats judge works of art and literature, even if they are writers and painters in their own rights? Now, if at all the ministry appoints a high level committee comprising of experts from the respective fields, how could they be the ultimate authority in rating the works of art by the artists? A work of art or literature is adjudged by critical as well as mass communities together and separately. At times, what a critical community acclaims as best may not go well with the public judgement. Some liked by the majority of population are disliked by the critical community. But the good thing is that through pertaining cultural studies both these views are accommodated in writing the critical histories not only of those creative forms but also of the country in general. Licensing is a way of killing such pluralistic and critical approach. It monopolized opinion and it is a fascistic move.

 (A ticket wending establishment)

All the fascist countries have tried to curb creativity or they have tried their best to bring the critical community to their side either by buying out or by coercion. Those who don’t are simply eliminated. Unfortunately in any country we have millions of creative people who simply walk into the traps of the governments without knowing the implications of the ideologies upon which they build the governance or simply walking to this willingly because they belong to such oppressive ideologies. Soviet Union had done this. So was Mao in China during the Cultural Revolution. This was how creativity was curbed and disparaged in the Nazi Germany. So many countries where fascistic regimes still hold power create government literature. There will be a huge exodus as a result, of the creative people leaving such countries barren in intellectual activism. The histories of those periods will go down in the drains only come back as nightmares in the hands of the strong creative people enriching the worlds once again.

Thanks to the growing intolerance in India, many creative people had given back their awards to the academies. They are still fighting their case and we know who stands where. Mr.Mahesh Sharma had admonished and rebuked the writers of this country, telling them to ‘stop writing’ instead of making noises and gestures of resistance against intolerance.  There is no wonder the same minister is now bringing this move to ‘rate’ the artists in this country. Licensing of creativity is as severe as silencing of creativity. It is time that once again the creative forces in the country gravitate against such moves. Our artists have been surreptitiously enjoying the perks of the previous governments. They should also come out clean to fight this case. The private sector has been aiding many of our artists in this country to travel and exhibit abroad and gain international acclamation. They are known as Indian artists, whereas the artists who are sent to other international platforms on behalf of India are often not taken seriously, for the nepotistic moves that they have been resorting to. Mr.Mahesh  Sharma is recruiting for mediocrity. At the same time, the talented ones should not just sit silently only because they are supported by private agencies. Silence is a way of participation. Licensing is a coercion to participate in their ideologies. It is high time that we all realize it. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

When a Gallery Closes Down, Should it be Accountable to the Artists?

Man proposes, god disposes. If you don’t like the word ‘god’, say something else disposes. It is not necessary that life progresses the way we want. Seen in its totality, life is a series of prioritizations of choices of which some may find fruition and some may not. When it comes to priority, there cannot be steadfast rules. A staunch business professional could put everything down, risk millions of dollars and cancel high profile meetings and fly back home to attend his daughter’s pet dog’s imaginary birthday. Another one could even ask his relatives to keep his mother’s dead body in freezer for a few days till he finishes a series of high worth engagements. It all depends on priority. Hence, when a gallerist decides to wind up his operations in the art scene and prioritizes some other things for whatever sake, we can neither object nor ridicule such a decision. Life does not treat people well always. Facing the rough edges of life could change the course of one’s philosophy and action. It could even change the nature of one’s remaining life.

However, winding up a business or shutting down an establishment based on prioritization of life’s demands could also affect a series other lives directly or indirectly depending on the longevity of the said establishments. The laying off of a work force all of a sudden could change the complexion of the society itself. It has happened before. But the character of the working class is this that they learn to adjust. They could move from middle class neighbourhoods to slums in order to survive. They could take their kids out of the good schools and put them into badly run government schools. Human beings generally adjust to the changing situations and they too prioritize life. Like human body, human minds also take pain and suffering with equanimity, provided it is given in slow doses over a prolonged period time. Though too many galleries have not shut down so far, the shutting down of a few of them has impacted the lives of the artists and their families indirectly and in some cases directly. Hence, the question that arises here is this: who is going to take care of the artists who have been depending on the sales prospectus of the galleries that one or the other day call it quits?

The famous film actor Kamal Haasan, when asked why he does a few bad movies (aesthetically bad but commercially successful ones) in between the masterpieces that he brings out at regular intervals, he replied with a lot of humility and pride that he runs a film production studio, Raj Kamal International, and so many technicians and their families are depended on the functioning of the studio. A film studio’s function is to make movies. Making of movies, whether they are commercially successful or not, assures food in the plates of these technicians and their families. As an actor and as a producer, Kamal Haasan says that he has the responsibility of those people who have been working with him for a long time and who have shaped their lives completely depending on the ‘life’ of this one man called Kamal Haasan. He also says that it is not just the technicians and their families suffer if he stops producing movies but the extended range of people who even stick the posters of his films all over the place.

What the ace actor tells here is the ethics of entrepreneurship. Vijay Mallya who has been cheating the Indian banks thereby robbing the hard earned monies of the people of India did not care much about the people in his enterprises when he shut them down without ever caring to compensate for their works or even once thinking about their lives. Kamal and Vijay stand apart in their work and life ethics. Against this backdrop, if I view the shutting down of the galleries and also the ways in which the galleries drop the artists from its ‘list’ of artists, I am forced to say that some kind of unethical practice is forced upon the artists by these galleries. Kamal speaks of accountability of work. If he shuts down his studio, he is answerable even to his light boy’s child who has just got into kindergarten. That is a great accountability that a person could show. But what about our galleries when it comes to accountability? Does anybody ask them to be accountable?

Prioritizing things in life is absolutely personal when the life led so far is personal, not public. A gallerist is not just a private person. He or she has a public responsibility even if the gallery business is a private venture. As it is a part of the larger economy and it brings the artists as makers of aesthetics in it as its work force in order to generate wealth via business deals, the privacy of the gallery enterprises becomes public. So there should be some kind of accountability and there should be arrangements with the ‘resident artists’ so that their lives post-closure of the gallery remain smooth and carefree. Now looking at the lives of the artists in India, who were once a part of the gallery system, now out of it due to choice or expulsion or exclusion, one cannot help say that their conditions are really bad. The artists now are scrambling here and there in order to eke out a living. Most of them have taken up advertising agency jobs or teaching assignments. Many of them, including the mid career artists are going to cheap camps or doing assembly line commission works, pawing their dignities for the lowest price available in the market as well as in the society. This according to one of the serious observers of Indian art scene, has given birth to ‘a traumatic generation’ of artists.

When a gallery shuts down or a gallery drops some of its artists from their lists of ‘resident artists,’ what kind of assurance do these galleries give to such offloaded artists about their works and their future? When an artist agrees to work with a particular gallery, whether there is a written agreement between them or not, a word of trust is exchanged between the artist and the gallery owner on the pivotal issue regarding the security of the artist’s life. While some of the galleries assure a steady income to the artists by selling at least one work in a month from the gallery’s inventory, some other galleries give a regular stipend to the artists against the procurement of their monthly ‘produce’. This is an ideal situation possible when there is a steady market for art in general. But today the situation is different. Many galleries do not have regular shows. They are unable to sell works from their inventories. Most of the galleries have stopped working with the artists who used to sell but do not sell currently at all. They are simply pushed out of the bus right in the middle of a desert. And there is no agency to complaint to because there is no legal validity to the kind of agreements that they have together entered into. I personally know a lot of artists off loaded like this, suffering terribly these days.

Who should be made accountable for this? When a big player like Amit Judge exited from the Indian art market, there was confusion for the time being but it recovered itself by following the chaos of the speculative art market. What Mr.Judge had started was taken further by the other galleries whether they were capable enough to carry such weight or not. Once the market collapsed in late 2008 and then onwards, galleries put up a brave face and did things that everyone thought would make things better, but in vain because the larger economic realities were different and the art market all over the world was just a big bubble. It did burst. One of the majors, though not a procurer of mid career artists’ works nor those of the youngsters, when the Devi Art Foundation shifted its gear from contemporary art to the folk and tribal art, none dared to raise the question of accountability. Perhaps it was not required then. But then there were a spate of closures. The artists were humbled and bundled out. None was made accountable for such closures of the galleries. Before closing, they did not give a plan B to the artists who worked with them. Nor did they do the same to the in house artists who had signed contracts with them. To tell you the truth, so many careers in art have been killed by none other than the galleries.

Another important thing several galleries that had been working with the artists who did painting, sculpting, print making and traditional art practices like that, side stepped those artists all of a sudden in order to promote conceptual artists, video artists, performance artists, digital artists and so on without giving any clear explanation why they stopped promoting those artists who worked in traditional mediums. None took the responsibility of explaining it to the artists. What was that which provoked the galleries to demote the artists who worked in traditional mediums? There is no accountability. Artists also have to be blamed to a certain extent for this. When they were making money through the business deals with these galleries, they entered into deals those were not really professional. The blurring of the personal and professional relationships, in terms of making home visits, attending parties, foreign travels, camps, introducing to the curators, lobbying for international fairs and shows for these artists, made the artists susceptible to the unprofessional dealings of the galleries. When they dropped the artists, they did not have the ethical right to question their practices. So today most of them nurse their hurt pride, deeper wounds in the egos and lead a life doing commission works or doing odd jobs.

This is not a fair situation because artists are not wealth creators as I said in one of my recent articles. They can just make money enough to live a good life. But wealth makers are the galleries. Hence they need to take the responsibility of the artists who were helping them to create wealth via their works of art. Unfortunately it is not happening and we do not have any public or government forum to express the deeper concerns of the artists who have been grounded by the galleries. Artists are not unionised people as in the former soviet countries. Artists are not a force at all these days. Look at the book ‘Words Matter’ edited by the famous poet Satchidanandan. There are at least five articles that refer to the forty plus writers who had returned their Central Literary Academy awards based on their conscience and their right to rebel and respond to the atrocities committed by the right wing government at the centre within its first two years, including the murder of three eminent rationalists and writers. All these articles sweepingly say that the artists were also there in the protest. But no name (except the names of Siddharth Kararwal in an article regarding the cow flying during the 2016 Jaipur Art Summit and M.F.Husain) was mentioned in the whole book. The reason is that the artists in India are not even connected in spirit and conscience the way the writers are. If some atrocities happen against the artists, more than the artists’ community, the intellectuals and writers respond. I do not say that the artists should have unions but they need unity, especially in the times when they are just removed like dispensable ingredients in a very expensive dish.

(all images from net. illustration purpose only)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Selling a Work of Art for its Real Price

Fight for capital is tedious and painful but fighting against capitalism is romantic and dangerous. Revolutions also need some sort of financial investment. Unfortunate thing these days is that the very revolutionaries, who are called dissenters or terrorists depending on the side that you prefer to take and see/read them, are funded by the capitalists because disruption and war always give opportunity for disaster capitalism to flourish. A photograph that shows the ghost towns in Syria where now the ISIS rules the roost, with dilapidated structures and perforated walls definitely help the building contractors of the capital market salivate seeing rich prospects of developing properties. So it is sure that nothing can function in this world without capital. Imagination could, but then when not translated into reality any daring imagination would not fly beyond the walls of day dreams. Artists are imaginative people who dream of a world where people live in love and peace, creating beauty and celebrate the force of life incessantly. Boring it may sound as we are too used to conflicts and contradictions, yet such a scenario is good for the longevity of life and happiness but the problem is art too needs capital to flourish. Artists are those double headed people who lives a life criticality in which they find themselves travelling in two different boats, if not vehicles one heading towards a forest for guerrillas and the other speeding towards a city of glass buildings that reflect fast moving stock exchange tickers.

Artists make capital for their lives by selling their works. However they try, there is not escape from this fact. The way a labourer sells his labour or ability to work, the artists also sell their ability to ‘work’. The ability that they have need not necessarily be converted into labour always; that is the only difference between a labourer and an artist. If an artist does not want to sell but only wants to work for the sake of creating art works this dilemma is never a problem as faced by a professional artist who totally depends on his work to perpetuate not only his art but also his life. That means, a professional artist is one who dies out (of his work) when he does not generate money out his works and reinvest it in the perpetuation of his artistic abilities along with his materialistic life. A professional artist makes his capital, which is creative and materialistic at once. But that is not automatically transformed into wealth. Wealth creators are those people who ‘sell’ the works of art and get capital back for the artists. Wealth creators work on the idea of profit making so the creative capital that they give back for the artist is a minute part of the wealth that they create. The amount of money that an artist makes out of the sales of his works really does not become a way to create wealth unless and until he not only reinvests it in his art and life but also in other avenues where the money could be multiplied and turned into profit, adding up to the mode of wealth creation. That means, if a rich artist is not indulging in other business practices, he cannot be called a person who generates wealth. He just makes money, that too some money.

If one looks at the gallerists, museum owners, dealers, auctioneers, collectors, investors and so on, one could see that their investment in art is a little part of their total profit. The ways in which they create wealth is not solely out of buying or selling art. Art is always a part of their money dealings. So if anyone nourishes this hope or idea that the art investors are art lovers then there would be some amount of disillusionment at some point when they come to know about truth. The art investors, including the gallerists are like the famous husbands or wives in a family. When they are within the family, they are husbands and wives. But just outside of the family, they are successful corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, business people, banking heads, bankers, lawyers, chartered accountants, developers, jewellers, contractors, exporters, industrialists, shipping agents, transporters and what not. They are never one role players. The artists see only one side of these people and definitely they do not generate their wealth from that one side. Like they do in the family or feel inside it, they are just emotionally happy and secure in those avenues. But the important thing in the art dealing is that the artists remain the same people in and out of the family, doing their work and expecting someone to buy it. What will happen if the investors no longer find it lucrative or they feel that the art is not giving enough worth symbolically for the real money that they spend on them? Are the professional artists going to die out due to the lack of patronage?

How long the artists would expect the wheelers and dealers of the art scene to make money for them and in turn create wealth for themselves? It would be a never ending wait if the cultural scenario of the world is going to be like as we see it today where the rich and powerful art patrons move more towards the political and ideological right therefore find the radical and left leaning thoughts and expressions of the artists more or less degenerated, defunct or rather too romantic to be real hence fashionable. The flair and success of the contemporary art all over the world was mainly because of the kind of art generated within the temporary genre of contemporary art was less romantic and less nostalgic. Those works of art were/are overtly of here and now and most of the subject matters were comfortably familiar and liberally different. They worked upon this ‘difference’ and felt that they were buying something radical but non-explosive. Contemporary art shocked but did not disturb. It worked along the lines of ambiguities evoking some sort of disguised eroticism and titillating the buyer and the possessor for longer duration of time within the given temporality. Contemporary art was spectacular and made everyone drop their jaws in awe not in terms of epiphanies and apotheosis, instead of their sheer size, volume and abject strangeness. Rest of the art, that looked for evoking critique and intended to criticise, meaningful to the extent of the artists’ life blood and had the traits of romanticism, dream and nostalgia was condemned to suffer along with the producers of it. Though such producers were less in number, those who suffered, underwent it intensely. And still they do.

There is a great reverse exodus to this arena of meaningful art. The right leaning of the capitalist world has made the artists to declare their positions, politically and socio-culturally. But the problem is that the wealth creators are not going to look at this kind of art for the fear that any shift towards the middle or off the middle or to the left and more dangerously to the extreme left would cause great dent in their business interests therefore cause the drying up of their abilities to create wealth. The only way left before the artists today is to under sell. When the artists were making money by selling their works and letting their dealers create wealth for themselves, they were not really looking at the kind of prices they were commanding and the logic of their pricing. Most of them today know for sure that the prices were hugely unrealistic therefore unsustainable. The reality has finally dawned upon them. Except those senior artists who can command the prices as they wish the rest of the artists should undersell; that means all of them should sell their works for a very marginal profit. A work of art that had been sold for a lakh could now be sold for thirty thousand. This could cut the middlemen from the scene. If artists could sell their works for 1000, 2000.3000, 4000, that progression, and make the fellow citizen feel that art is an integral part of their lives and by buying a piece of art, one partakes in the grand cultural history of one’s own country. If demand increases, proportionately increase the price. One day, the profiteers would come back to the market and make wealth out of the same wares. But then one need not worry because artists are those people who could make money but never could generate wealth for their reinvestment is never on other money making project but in their lives and art. Are you ready to undersell your works? Or to put in other words, can you sell your works in such a price so that the buyer never feels smaller in front of you? It is possible. People have done it. Just try.

(all images from web. only for illustrative purpose)