Sunday, March 28, 2021

Dear artists, galleries are a dime a dozen!

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Hmmm, why am I writing this at this time?

Because maybe there are no ads to talk about, and the reality is already bleak enough for the Lebanese to go on about more talks about daily life and banks and other morose topics. But also because, I am creating art very very seriously since last lockdown. Now that before my art was not being created seriously, but rather the whole theme came together and I am exploring it to the end of it (see here). Of course, you might ask - how do you make a living out of art? Well, the answer, as with my personal life: "It's complicated".

But then again, as with everything, I had a clear strategy. The last time I was represented by a gallery - that would be 2013 - which was a smash exhibition with the public though it did not sell (no shame in that, rarely anyone sells despite bragging of the contrary). Anyhow, my first gallerist had shoddy ethics, my second gallerist simply did not like my work, my third was young and inexperienced, and my fourth did not gel with my style (despite excellent ethics from his side). But you might say: Oh that's your personal experience Tarek, look at Gary Gagosian, he built a full gallery in Rome just to represent Cy Twombly (who happened to reside there!). Yes, but that's Gagosian and Twombly. 

Which brings us to. Ok smarty pants, what's your strategy? Since 2013, after that famed exhibition and basically my disillusion with the gallery world, I promised myself not to put any penny in the production of my art. And it worked. All the exhibitions which I have done since, were paid for by other institutions. Space? For free. Printing? For free. Cocktails? For free. Communication? By myself, ergo, for free (I took control of all the material surrounding my exhibitions since 2013). Because it case you did not know, artists produce, frame, rent, pay for the reception cocktail, are expected to mount and dismantle (with the help of the gallery staff), and on top (in Lebanon at least) are expected to give 35% of sales to galleries (50% in New York for example). Which basically means, once all costs added, makes exhibiting via a gallery a losing prospect.

Now, some artists participate in municipal exhibitions, or in gardens, or such venues, I have nothing against. this is their strategy and I respect it. But this is not the one I had set for myself. With strong emphasis on concept, on execution, on scenography, and overall presentation, it does not reflect well on my work to be immersed in such environments. Still, between Instagram as a showcase, my books, and other online presences (this blog included), I have established a solid identity as an artist and control my narrative very meticulously, something no gallery can match (actually, I went through the website of all of my previous galleries and I realized the sites no longer exist - all four galleries), which means had it not been for my own archives, there would be no traces of the exhibitions.

Now thankfully, all of my archive is neatly preserved. Now just the large amount of work, but also the "making of" section (which comes in handy when one wants to replace or redo an artwork), the exhibitions, the published books (and again the pages and images), the video art (frame per frame when hand-animated).... So there, the day will come when all of this will be asked for (by whom I know not!). But of this, am sure. And no gallery is going to take credit for that. 

They are a dime a dozen, trust me!