The position of Art Gallery in art scene and art market: reputation, rating and credibility – 1 part
3. Show write-up and catalogue: some galleries publish decent catalogues, while others just publish brochures, if anything at all, beyond the obligatory artist bio, CV and requisite price list. In my humble opinion, a brochure is good for promoting a take-away restaurant, not for art. Catalogues and substantial text are important to educate viewers about the concept of the show and the process behind the work. The accompanying texts that should be part of any exhibit, whether in a museum or commercial gallery, should be written by professional art practitioners who have interviewed and/or studied the artist and are able to reflect his/her visual artwork in a clear written format. Some galleries, to save on cost, make their administrative assistant do the job, or even worse they cut and paste from previous catalogues.
* Gallery Question: what kind of catalogue do you publish for every show? Who writes it? What are the efforts exerted to represent the visual and conceptual aspects behind the artworks in the written word?
4. Publications: this is an extremely important issue, which differs from the previous point, as publications imply a book or monograph. Regionally, few galleries have the vision to invest in their artists producing strong publications in the shape of very decent books and retrospective publications. This adds to the gallery’s credibility both regionally and internationally, and is also important for the artist. Selling the artworks makes a profit for galleries and part of this profit should be re- directed to invest in their artists, for example, via publications. Unfortunately, this practice remains a very sporadic initiative within the region at the moment.
* Gallery Question: do you regularly publish books and monographs on your artists?
5. Public collections: usually an artwork, once sold, goes to a private collection that can be seen/enjoyed by a small (exclusive) group of people. Public collections make the artwork accessible to a wider audience in addition to often adding to the reputation of the artist should their work be placed in prominent public collections.
* Gallery Question: what efforts are you making to place your artists in public collections, especially in reputable museums and foundations?
6. Art fairs as outreach: it is no secret that art fairs provide exposure for the gallery and the artworks they represent to a massive number of people who might not always have access to the gallery due to geographical constraints, all within a very short period. It is admirable that some Middle Eastern galleries participate in art fairs internationally, besides the regional fairs. However, when talking to many galleries in the region, they often comment on how they refrain from participating in art fairs due to the cost. This is a very poor answer indeed as it indicates that they perceive art goods in the supermarket treating it as “asset conversion cycle” (buying at x and selling at y and making a margin) treating their galleries as profit & loss centers (a polite way of saying a supermarket).
* Gallery Question: how many art fairs have you attended in the last five years? How many of them were international?
7. Auctions: no one can deny the role of auction houses in the art cycle and the economics of the art world. However, it should not be looked at as the sole aim of a gallery to put artworks into auction to set new, higher prices for the artists they represent. Auctions have a value and are an integral part of the art world’s infrastructure. Auctions are another vehicle for wide exposure, they serve as a way to document artwork and in theory, although in the Middle East auctions often lead to inflated prices, auctions establish prices and value based on market demand. However, one cannot deny that auctions can be part of the foul practices of galleries who can put forward artworks and inflate the prices exponentially. Such practice should be discouraged, especially when putting very young, emerging artists into auctions at ludicrous prices. As we see now in 2012, market economics are expelling such a bubble-effect in the long term. For example, an Iranian artist who had an artworks reach seven figures USD at auction in 2008, is now selling at a fraction of this price, with many of their works passed-by during the 2011 auctions. It is to be mentioned that this was not the gallery’s fault as it was not them who placed the artwork in the auction; rather, it was inflated by a group of collectors who, over time, lost interest. Another very clear example is an Iraqi artist who sold one artwork in 2011 also at a 7 digit USD price, which I personally feel is neither justifiable nor sustainable.
* Gallery Note: evaluate your efforts with regards to the above mentioned point and be ethical when putting artists you represent into auction.
8. Open to showcasing experimental and conceptual art: galleries should not only be focusing on making a profit through solo and group shows. Many art forms, whether installation, performance, film or new media, might not be as marketable as more traditional forms of art, such as painting and sculpture, yet all art ought to be supported by the artistic infrastructure of galleries, even commercial ones. We live in a community that is rapidly changing. The effect of revolutions can already be seen on the practice of many artists from the region, especially within the past year, who are producing work that is profound and full of socio-political commentary, but perhaps not the most ‘marketable’ in the traditional sense. Showcasing these kinds of works, especially in experimental mediums, which costs money to produce, but often does not have any return, should not dissuade galleries from showcasing these kinds of artworks. To date, very few art spaces have been showcasing experimental work and tackling heavier, critical issues in art. The ONLY good example in the region is “Traffic”, which consistently shows experimental and highly charged, critical artworks. and which recently collaborated on a two-site show with another gallery, a surprising positive and highly important move from the side of the commercial gallery. Now we await more galleries to adopt such responsibility.
* Gallery Question: what have you done with regards to the abovementioned point? If your answer is nothing then start considering an action plan.
It is worth mentioning that some galleries turn themselves to non-for-profit to apply for grants. Utilizing their connections they usually land themselves with good grants that they claim are used in art. Utilizing my x-banker calculative mind to evaluate expenses versus grant value………… I can easily sense fowl play.
In the end, my opinion about the Middle Eastern region (excluding Turkey) is that there are only a handful of galleries that match the above criteria. I leave it to every gallery to look, evaluate and decide on where they stand. Also leave it those who really want to have longevity, regional and international credibility to never stop developing and improving themseles while remembering to treat artists with respect and integrity.
About the Writer
After many years in corporate finance and private banking, in 2007, Omar Donia co-founded Contemporary Practices Art Journal, a specialized semi-academic art journal concerned with contemporary art in the Middle East, Iran & Turkey, which he oversees the management of through a mandate while being supervised by an international advisory board. Contemporary Practices is the first journal dedicated to art from the Middle East, Iran and Turkey and is published twice a year.