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The Space That Art and its Market Occupy in Indian Society – Part 3

Credits: Parthiv Shah

Like any other newbies on the scene, we thus far have learned the mechanics and history of a world that deeply permeates our cultural and national identity as explored in the previous Parts. With the art market now an exponentially growing entity in the Indian and International community, there are many unsaid courtesies that come with being a stakeholder. Much like boundaries and rules that exist unsaid in society, the art community has similar courtesies that everyone must follow. These courtesies affect all relationships within the art community – personal and professional – and often set the tone and procedure of how one goes about conducting business. Here I shall also be exploring what it means to be an undiscovered artist in the art world, what it means to be a buyer when you’re in the search of art, and the role galleries play in the art world. 

Artists and Sisyphean Rises

When you are an artist in the world of Indian Art, there are a few things you need to consider. A world that primarily lies between Delhi and Mumbai, the first realisation that strikes the mind is that each stakeholder is a person and not a corporation. This changes the dynamics of relationships in the art world, resulting in no set standards for how business is supposed to be conducted. Within this seeming lawlessness lies unsaid courtesies that any artist, collector, and gallery must observe when conducting business within a commercial atmosphere. 

While the commercial sales themselves are mercurial, the trends in art, the shows and careers of an artist as they move up in the art world are not. When observed carefully, you will begin to recognise why certain artists and art end up at a few particular museums, galleries, exhibition spaces, auctions. With the lives of those in the art world, nothing is random. Instead, you will discover steadfast reasons for that orderly progression to exist, guided by certain principles and ideas that I am too much of an amateur to know. Yet, all greatness finds its roots in humble beginnings. Starting out as an artist, publicity and public viewings are key in pushing off on your maiden voyage into the unknown. It is important to frequent art shows and galleries and museums, follow them on social media, organise public viewings of your work in as many spaces that allow with only two conditions: that the viewing space be complimentary to your work, and that you attract as many roving eyes hemming and hawing as you can. Word of mouth, getting recognised by frequent faces in the art community, and establishing your own reputation of great worth are key ingredients in catching the eyes of galleries and getting your own gallery shows.

Even then, galleries will not judge you by the quality of your work, but also your compatibility with the ideals of the house they stand for. There’s also your resume, reputation, experience, accomplishments, awards, standing in the art community, social media following, your overall online profile, how you are to work with, your sales history, the quality of critical reviews of your past shows, and much more. 

Simply put, the best galleries show the best artists. They’re artists who have proven themselves over time, who started at the beginning showing wherever they could, painstakingly building their resumes one line at a time, establishing consistent track records of successful shows, convincing those who count that they’re committed to making art, favourably impressing the curators and critics, demonstrating that they’re capable of doing what’s expected when it’s expected, selling well, selling consistently, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. In short, they’re artists with firmly established reputations. And here’s the important part– they established those reputations themselves. And here’s the really important part– galleries don’t establish artists’ reputations; they only enhance them. It’s your job and yours alone to prove that your reputation is worth enhancing.

Buyers and Commissions

There exist two types of artists in the market: those who are represented by a gallery, and those who are not. Representation by a gallery can be further differentiated between in matters of exclusive representation and semi-exclusive representation. As an artist, representation by a gallery is important if you wish to enhance your reputation for yourself within the commercial world of art. With gallery representation comes restrictions placed on the demand and supply of art: safeguards placed by galleries to prevent speculation of prices in the market and filter those genuine buyers from ‘flippers’ – people who procure art only to ‘flip’ and sell it for an equal or higher price on the secondary market. 

In the matter that a collector or buyer is looking to get a piece commissioned or specially made, these differentiations are critical as they define the relationship between the buyer, artist, and gallery.  The first consideration in commission – an artwork outside the realm of what the artist creates –  is the artist’s style. As a buyer, you must first consider if the artist’s style is conducive with the work you have in mind. With that comes the medium used to create the art. Artists are often represented by different galleries for different media of art. These include but are not limited to prints, paintings, sculptures, and other media. Further considerations include the specifications of the piece you’d like to commission in terms of media, thematic tones, and the purpose for which you want the artwork commissioned.

If an artist is unrepresented or independent, then there are two ways to approach them for a commission. Firstly, if you know the artist personally, then you can suggest to them to make something in particular for you. This method allows a little direct involvement in the ideation and creation of the artwork. If you do not know them, then a carte blanche path is undertaken: the artist proposes an possible idea, and they may or may not take your suggestions as you offer your opinion on the idea. Here, the artist and buyer negotiate on the price of the artwork being commissioned. If the commission follows the specifications of a medium already exhibited by the artist with an established market price, you will settle on a similar figure. In any other case, the price is negotiable. The same principle applies to sales where the gallery is the middleman. 

If an artist is represented by a gallery, then it is frowned upon to reach out to the artist directly for a commission. Here, the gallery acts as the middleman, comes to an agreement on the price with the buyer, and takes part of the price tag that accompanies the commission for their part in representing the artist and furthering their standing in the art world. In either case of being represented or independent, the artist always receives the fee in two parts: the first being the production cost budget. This is separate from the actual price of the artwork and consists of the budget needed to procure the materials for making the artwork. The remaining amount or the market price of the art is paid upon completion of the commission. 

For a more nuanced understanding of buyers, collectors, and other patrons of art, you can watch the YouTube video below:

Galleries

Galleries have multiple roles, both visible and invisible: to incubate and support their artists, often by going above and beyond the normal work of putting on shows, promoting their artists, and selling the works; and to providing services such as financial management or book publishing, in order to help their artists focus more fully on their work. The main ‘show’ so to speak includes the exhibitions and the gallery-made publications. The work behind the scenes include but are not limited to working with an artist on their archives or working on research for an exhibition for years or maybe researching artworks that passed through the gallery in terms of the secondary market. 

Regardless of size, at the core of a gallery’s identity is its “program.” The term generally refers to the roster of artists a gallery represents, but can also describe a conceptual framework or area of focus that guides that roster, as well as other activities such as collaborations with other galleries, performances and lectures, or fair appearances. Most will stress that their primary role is to facilitate their artists’ production of great work, in any way they can.

One of the strengths of any great gallerist is really knowing what’s going on in the scene and in the conversation,” Nemeroff – founder of the Night Gallery – says. “Knowing that will also help your artists be part of that conversation and leading the conversation.

Helping their artists realize their goals for the short, medium and long term can in some cases means turning down opportunities in favor of achieving long-range objectives”, says Jack Shainman of Jack Shainman Galleries.“It’s always important to keep in mind the big picture, even when you’re getting approached with day-to-day inquiries, and constantly assess how everything has the potential to move that bigger picture forward,” he says. “Sometimes saying ‘no’ is the most responsible response.

That approach extends also to placing artworks. After museums, the gallery prioritizes collectors who will be “excellent stewards” for the art. That means not “flipping” work at auction, but cherishing it and loaning it out for institutional shows when asked. The 25-person strong gallery also tries to ensure its artists get coverage in “the right types of critical press.

You can also check out Artsy’s series on the Art Market, where one of the Parts talks about Galleries:

While these are a few of the many individuals that exist and comprise the art world and its commercial market, there are many more that remain unexplored from my side. That I shall leave up to my readers to find out. With the narrative written thus far, I hope to have provided you with a holistic introduction of what it means to exist in the world of art, and endeavour to dream that I have inspired you to be curious, to be open-minded, and seek out more troves of knowledge better written with a steadier hand and a more knowledgeable mind. 

Credit to Keshav Mahendru & Shaleen Wadhwana for their help in conceptualising the piece.

Experience Further: The waving melody reflects the invisible architecture which supports the many structures of the art world, pulling each individual and their efforts back and forth with the tide. With its sense of resolution and open endings, it leaves much to be said and desired for the potential and what already exists in art, its creators, its protectors and lovers. Like this song, they each have duties, responsibilities, and courtesies to fulfill, the disregarding of which lead to chaos in an already unpredictable world. 

About Us

Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

Who We Are

We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi-medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture by investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society.

Disclamer

All views and opinions expressed in the articles, videos are personal to the Author/Editor(s) and don’t mean to offend any individuals, organisations, institutions or communities.

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