Art falls prey to commercialism

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The owners of art gallery in the federal capital opine that they are promoting the culture displaying diverse art pieces at their places, the doors of which are open for the budding artists who want to exhibit their work. However, majority of art galleries in Islamabad fail to prove their claims, as it is observed the established veteran artists’ work repeatedly occupies the walls of these art venues. While people have become materialistic so are the artists and the art houses owners – hence the contemporary art has become a victim of commercialisation as over 15 art galleries, working according their owners ‘for the sake of promotion of art and artists’, are actually promoting few of established personalities. Furthermore, every gallery has its own a lobby, comprising veteran and fresh artists.
Therefore, one has no iota of doubt that these galleries are promoting and displaying the artwork on regular basis of those artists, who are in demand and whose work sells like hot cake, which ultimately exposes the galleries owners’ manifesto of being an advocate of new artists. A recently example was witnessed when Karachi-based artists – AS Rind and Mashkoor Raza – were on display at various art galleries so frequently that the young artists have to left with no option but to think about their future. Another point to note that the galleries – both private and government-run – are offering art pieces at exorbitant prices, which is proving a hindrance in ensuring patronage of art and culture.
As many as 15 known private art galleries exist in various posh sectors of the capital city, while 14 spacious galleries are available for display of the selected paintings and other art work of national and international repute, but the price of a single art piece is unfortunately higher than the monthly salary of many people. This scribe when contacted a number of these gallery owners, they were unanimous in saying that different people bought art pieces for different reasons. “Collectors hoard art as a passion, multinationals buy and display works of established artists to assert distinction, some buy to beautify their homes, some for investment and others to merely demonstrate their affordability. By and large, to the common man, buying artwork is a speculation, but getting the same at an affordable price is a dream. While affordability in art is notional to many, to the common man of the middle-income group it is always with respect to his purse,” they said.
What drives people to buy art? What kind of art appeals to them? And above all can art proper be acquired at an affordable price? These are the questions for which one needs to probe gallery owners, art collectors and artists. The gallery owners and artists say that they will never be able to sell works for less than Rs 20,000. He would have to cut down on the quality and produce more works if he wanted to sell for less,” said an artist. He also feels that he cannot cut his cost as it will hit the galleries that support him. According to the artist, who sells his works to galleries, people have become more aware of art today, but the spirit to go to galleries is still not awakened. And only prints of established artists can be available for an affordable price.
Nageen Hyat, who owns ‘Nomad Gallery’ in Sector F-6, opined that galleries too could participate in activities aimed at common people.
She feels that if one has an eye for good art one might pick up something from an upcoming artist and if that turns out to be a great piece of art in future, in case he is lucky. But very rarely young artists hold on in the market. “I myself go to other art galleries to art promotion and if I like any piece, I definitely put my hand on it, as I can not resist good work,” Nageen said.
When asked if an art lover in Nomad have a crush to get some art piece, despite the fact that his or her wallet does not allow him or her, how would she help the art lover, she replied Nomad had no specific targeted clients as it was open for people belonging to all segment of society.
“Nomad is not an art gallery but a culture centre, that offers 50 percent discount at times to art lovers and if he/she could not afford the price, we give art lovers an incentive to pay in instalments in two to three months,” she said.
But galleries often bank on multinational companies and architects for their sales and hardly cater to the middle-income group. How frequently do we see a common man stroll into a gallery looking for a nice piece of art to buy? Another art gallery owner in F-7 said her gallery had lot of works ranging at affordable prices but not many people come to buy. “I don’t know why galleries put people off? It is a notion that our prices are costly, but there should be some way of getting rid of this notion,’’ she noted.
Talking to this scribe, the other gallery owners in F-6, F-7, F-8, G-10, and F-10 said people had to be convinced that what they keep was of a higher quality and of a higher value, that they were there permanently, had to spend on the establishment, staff and overheads and earn only through commissions. “Galleries are not making a lot of money with a booming business, we are selling art for the love of it and not as a business,” they said. They feel disturbed by the fact that artists move from gallery to gallery and price their works differently. “Basically for the artist whether he sells at home or in a gallery, the market value has to be one, isn’t it?” They ask. “Perhaps the galleries could get together and break the barrier of erratic pricing”, they add.
However, the gallery owners admit that buying art is an investment today.
Few artists feel that low pricing might help the common man to learn something of art. “But one must see that quality is maintained,” says a local artist. Ali Shani, an old art collector, believes that the gap between contemporary art and the common man can be bridged if the common man takes more interest in learning about art, its manifestations, dimensions and objectives. “Art has travelled a long way and man has to meet it in its present condition. Art cannot come to the common man but the common man has to go to it without bias and he will find newer ways of looking at life. Collecting art can be very profitable and enjoyable. It is one of the few areas where you can have your proverbial cake and eat it too. Anyone can become a successful art collector. All it takes is to learn a few ground rules, most of which are common sense,” he said.
“And as for affordability, if only artists decide to bring down their prices it will be a utopian world for the art buyer,” he added.
Kamran, another art lover, said for the common man buying a piece of art was a dream. “It is not that Pakistan had not inherited a rich cultural past but the excellence has continued to diminish from the gamut and all forms of art and culture have capitulated rather unceremoniously to mediocrity over the decades. There has been a sheer dearth of state patronage in this regard and public followed suit in recognising art forms as a luxury and not a need,” he maintained.
The galleries owners say when a new artist emerges, his work is carefully scrutinised for technical ability, the presentation, and the ability to sell himself. As soon as four or five of the paintings have been sold, the artist is bought out immediately. “If you keep the work for a while, you can net a hefty profit, particularly if the artist has marketed to the right people and managed to go abroad.” According to Pakistan Today’s findings, observing this lucrative business, many multinational companies have invested heavily in the local art sector, and have agents scouring the market for cheap art to earn a good profit. Whenever there is an auction or sale in the name of charity, get large cheques in exchange for helping put the red dots over the work. It is a good little spot to put your money in. There is no tax on it, so it is untraceable. The art makes the office walls colourful and inspiring, and is a good profit to boot. Big companies are often seen buying a good amount of art for their annual calendars.
But the field of art has greater problems than a high price. The market is full of fakes. Gulgee and the Ali Imam’s and other the works of other great artists are being copied and sold. A number of art galleries in Islamabad are owned by collectors or other middlemen, although the identity of these cheaters and their employers is a closely guarded secret. With the absence of an art loss register or a gallery registration system, tracking the original is difficult. Paintings are swiped away right under the noses of artists and buyers.
Art in federal capital has evolved past the modern into post-modern forms. Gone are the days when art was used merely as a medium for free abstract expression of ideas in tangible form. In today’s art, the heavy influence socio-political connotations are visible.
The art lovers demanded there is a great need for more massive permanent art galleries which catalogue the great art that this nation has been producing. A registration of the artists or their work would greatly help in spotting fakes and put an end to art piracy. There is also a need for the general public to educate themselves and take the hideous contorted metal pipe installations off our major roads and put up some real art. For some, this explosion of art is the golden egg they had been waiting for so long. With art earning Pakistan some much needed foreign exchange as an unknown export of great value, we need to be sure as to where this path may lead us so we can plan a better future for all concerned.