Prime Edition

The art versus the market: Abhay Maskara’s crusade

Gallery Maskara in Mumbai allows its artists the freedom to redefine visual vocabulary & spark internal dialogue. Founder Abhay Maskara tells Akhil Sood about the process of curating, art & the art market.

AKHIL SOOD  7th Mar 2015

From Shine Shivan’s exhibition at Gallery Maskara.

Q. Tell us about the beginnings of Gallery Maskara.

A. The space was acquired in 2006; it took two years to get it ready in terms of procedural things as well as whatever was required to convert this structure into an art-ready space. We opened to the public in March 2008. I spent six years in the U.S., from 1998 to 2004. Before that I was an art lover, an art collector, and art has been a part of my life ever since I was 12 years old, in some form or the other. The moment I started to make money, I began collecting whatever I earned and put it back into art. I would choose not to go to expensive restaurants or holidays and buy art instead. I would go to galleries, not amusement parks; museums, not malls. I was working at Microsoft, which has one of the larger corporate collections in the world, and art was spread across the campus. I was exposed to a lot of contemporary art, and art in general. I came back in 2005, and I wanted to convert my passion into a profession, and share that joy of living with and collecting art. That's where the thought of immersing more closely with the art and the artist came about.

Q. Did you have a clear vision in mind at the time?

A. I wanted to find a way to enable some of these creative voices which were very much there, but perhaps not seen; maybe they were working on the fringes of the "market", if you will. They were not "recognised" for whatever reason. My thought was: Wouldn't it be nice to uncover interesting talent from around the world and actually share that with people? The gallery was an extension of that idea.

Q. Has the frequency of exhibitions at the gallery surged over the years?

A. It's been kind of steady to be honest. It hasn't grown, nor has it shrunk. As we stand today, the gallery has had over... hmm, we're on our 37th exhibition. I'm proud to say that most of the artists have kind of been "born" at the gallery. Most of the people we represent had never shown before; they had their debut solo shows at the gallery. It's a matter of great pride; it required a lot of effort, work and time to sift through so many different kinds of works to finally find artists who havegone on to become international names to reckon with. You go from obscurity to fame, and we've played a part in that process. It's a really joyous experience. Image 2nd

Q. The gallery has become synonymous with promoting art that's offbeat, experimental, radical...

A. That's not necessarily been the mindset; the goal has never to only find artists from the fringes or a more radical form of art. It's partly got to do with my own interests, what I feel is relevant, what I feel about artists working with authenticity. We have artists working with complete freedom, without thinking whether their art is sellable or not, whether critics are going to love it, whether curators are going to love it, whether audiences are going to buy it... artists who are true to themselves and have been working with that central focus.

Many of them are pushing the boundaries in terms of pushing the medium, the material, their visual language, whether through sculpture, video, performance, even painting. I've always believed it's never about the medium; it's the transformation of the medium that's important, and that's been the crux of it. It's never been the objective; it's just strung together in that manner because there are some great voices who're obviously working on the periphery or the fringes (or have been), because their work is strong and perhaps not a conventionally recognised aesthetic.

Q. Tell us about your approach when it comes to curating.

A. We all come with our own preferences, biases, likes and dislikes. Hopefully, I also come with some degree of knowledge, combined with a higher degree of intuition. When I look at works of art... with everything that's happened in the past and [is] happening today, that's where my knowledge comes in. Then there's the way I respond to the work and how I feel within. It's that lethal combination of the head and the heart; that singular experience. When a work of art moves me and makes me feel joyous and thrilled, it's only then that I can share those joys with anybody else walking through the door.

“What is it about the aesthetic that draws me toward a work or makes me take a step back? Those are questions that, I think, artists need to pose to the audience, and audiences need to ask themselves. Otherwise what’s the meaning and purpose of art? If it doesn’t start an internal dialogue, if it doesn’t make you look at yourself or life differently, then it becomes a decorative wall-hanger.”

I have to be the litmus test; I am the first responder. If I don't relate to the subject or work, if I don't see strength or merit in the work, I'll never be able to do justice to that artist. Typically, the artists we feature are all artists I would love to have in my collection in my own home.

Q. Does that approach to curating not put you at odds as the owner of the gallery?

A.I recognise that every day; it's a very difficult thing to resolve. Are you working with the art or the art market? One has to make a choice about what side you're leaning toward. It's very easy to be market-centric; then, you're only catering to what people want. You're like any other shopkeeper... there will be excess demand and you will sell to people what they want or need.

I think the true test of any great artist is... often they make works that are not necessarily appreciated or understood in that moment in which they're being created; they're ahead of the times we're living in. They want us to look at things differently, they're not appealing to an already established aesthetic. It makes us question our own prejudices and preferences. When I respond to a work, I have to be excited by it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I must accept it in the first instance. Sometimes, I'll work with artists where I'm not able to accept their aesthetic but the work is doing something to me. It's making me question my own prejudices. There's a lot of internal work that goes on before we decide to extend a hand and work with an artist. It's not always about likeability; sometimes it's about absolutely unlikeability. The absolute test of art that remains and has staying power will oftentimes be art that you are not necessarily attracted to — it's not always pretty pictures that have lasting value.

It's the way we define aesthetics; it's not binary. What is it about the aesthetic that draws me toward a work or makes me take a step back? Those are questions that, I think, artists need to pose to the audience, and the audiences need to ask themselves. Otherwise what's the meaning and purpose of art? If it doesn't start an internal dialogue, if it doesn't make you look at yourself or life differently, then it becomes a decorative wall-hanger.

Q. Does this not put the gallery at risk financially?

A. It's a day-to-day thing. I look at it in an ideological, philosophical way. You have to make a choice to live life a particular way — we pick up fears as we go along, but we're born completely fearless. Every day I open the gallery, it's a new life — every day I close the gallery, it's a new death. What difference does it make if, tomorrow, I don't open it? If Mumbai, the financial, and in many ways, the cultural capital of India, cannot sustain one small contemporary gallery then so be it. It's fait accompli. But I'm not going to compromise on the language; I have no interest in working for posterity.

I don't recall the last time we had a sellout show, but artists were born at our exhibitions, opening up new vistas for them. That's an important reason for the gallery to sustain itself.

We don't do any secondary markets, we don't buy or sell from the auctions. Each artist requires a certain amount of time; my work requires time too, so I can't spread myself too thin. I focus my attention on the artists we work with.

Don't get me wrong; I'm dependent... hopeful. We're not a charitable organisation; I don't have billions of dollars stashed away somewhere. I've put all my savings in this. Each time we do a show, I hope for someone who will like the works enough to take home. It feeds the cycle of creativity — we are able to keep our lights on and doors open, the artists get money to continue their work, buy materials, rent studios, we can pay salaries and find resources to do our next shows. Selling is of course an important component; the financial aspect, staying afloat, that has been the most challenging. But the good thing is that everyone knows what the gallery stands for.

 
Newer | Older

Creative-for-SG


iTv Network : newsX India News Media Academy aaj Samaaj  
  Powered by : Star Infranet