In this article I would like to raise some points about two topics: the encounter of civilizations in art, and, the process of selection of artistic trends, in the international art scene. Although in the art world, galleries and art dealers focus on the individual artist as a brand, but there are nevertheless ‘artistic trends’ which dominate the market of art during different periods. What makes an art dealer choose one artistic trend and not another, when trying to represent a civilization on the international art scene, or when presenting art from another civilization in the Western market?
Artists hear often from art dealers and gallerists: “Have you sold at Art Basel? If not, sorry we are not interested”. “Have you exhibited at the Tate or the MoMA? If not, sorry we are not interested.” “Your style does not correspondent to the trend we sell”.
These are typical questions and remarks posed by art dealers when approached by artists. Well, gallerists and art dealers, share the same fragility and difficulty of the artists, when it comes to selling art works. A safe way out of that fragility and huge risk which it carries, is to either rely on an artistic trend which is already selling well (give the market what it wants), or rely on the approval of that artist by a highly prestigious art institution or museum (like of the artist has already exhibited at the Tate Modern, or so).
This is a fully understandable situation for gallerists and art dealers, because if anything they do take care of the business aspect of art rather than the practice of art in itself.
While fully acknowledging this reality, I would like however to draw the attention of gallerists and art dealers to two other concurrent realities which are shaping the life of artists and the very practice of art and its development, consequently also the art market itself:
- Centralization of artistic prestige
- Economic sanctioning of artistic trends which are not market-driven
So if an artist has been approved by one of the very few prestigious institutes (MoMA, Guggenheim, Tate Modern, etc. - and those few happen to be only the ones in the Western world), then it is safe to promote that artist and give a space to his voice. Consequently also, if sales at ‘known salons’ have happened, that would be a guarantee of investment by collectors, therefore again it is safe to promote that artist, and give a space for the voice of that artist.
What is the way forward for those artists who are creating with an artistic expression other than the current market demand, and those artists who have not exhibited yet at top prestigious museums? There are I believe possible ways how gallerists and art dealers can play a role to uplift the invisible economic sanctions -on the artistic works which are not in line with the current market demand- and to decentralize artistic prestige in order to allow space for the voices of artists who are sincerely practicing art as their vocation and are contributing to the development of art practice in itself. This consequently also contributes to a healthier, and more balanced society.
The artist is voicing something with his work, which is meant to be heard. Gallerists and art dealers with their level of sensitivity to art creation can get to know the artist’s level of commitment in his work and the quality of the work he is producing. If there is a clash between the work that the artist is producing and the market demand, there can be creative channels for allowing a space of introduction of the work to collectors, once every now and then in their activities. This is to avoid that the artist’s voice goes unheard by the affluent collectors, and also by the majority of public who get to see mainly the art that is shown at ‘mainstream’ salons and shows, or museums.
The unspoken economic sanction which shapes the trends we get to see, and the centralization of artistic prestige create an unbalanced art scene. Unbalanced in the sense that we need high ranking artistic institutions as a reference point for ‘showing what’s new’, everywhere, and not only in very few capital cities. The art market itself also becomes unbalanced because at art auctions, dealers and collectors exaggerate their prices for the sake of corrupt goals like money laundering, rather than actual art business.
I recently had an exhibition at the CAM Contemporary Art Museum, in Naples, Italy. While speaking to the director of the museum, he was telling me how hard it is in Napoli to sell art works because so many artists come to that city. This is exactly the issue of centralization of artistic prestige. The more artists go only to one centre and not another, the more there will be a lack of balance for both the cultural scene and also for the art market scene. I have recently come to paint my next paining collection in a small city Struga, in Macedonia, next to the Ohrid Lake. The breathtaking nature and historical caves here are so inspiring, that it baffles me why many people tell me “As a successful artist you should be living in a famous capital city like Paris, London, New York, etc, and not an unknown place in Macedonia.”
Well, my response to that typical remark is that I believe we need decentralization of artistic prestige.
Also familiarizing the public with the different voices of artists, is a healthy way of dialogue in society, and consequently a democratization act in itself. The allowing of space to the voices of artists whose works do not match the current market demand is important for that. Creative ways can be found for showing such works in way which does not cause a ‘loss’ to the gallerists and art dealers.
Artists who are travelers and love learning about other civilizations, or have mixed backgrounds, consequently also have mixed aesthetics and socio-political subjects, which again do not always fall under the mainstream expectations. The ‘mixed’ characteristic of the art of travelling and artists of mixed origins, makes it hard for their art to be categorized under one single civilization. Is there any space we can give for ‘mixed civilizations’ in the art scene? For example at the British Museum, there is Middle Eastern Art Department, African Art Department, and Western Art Department. What about art which has mixed aesthetic characteristics and subject matters? That is also under the leadership of our centralized artistic institutions and museums.
Breaking the cycles of unwritten economic sanctions is very important not only for the sake of artists, but also for the sake of a healthy investment environment, whereby collectors won’t easily exaggerate their prices in shady auction arenas.
The decentralization of artistic prestige is also very important not only for the sake of artists, but also for the sake of a healthier and more balanced international society.