Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Being an artist is not for the faint of heart - especially not financially

Grendizer 7ay fina - artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Larry Gagosian opened a gallery in Rome just for him to represent Cy Twombly.

But the lot of us are not Twombly, and rarely do we get to deal with Gagosian. Someone told me that famed gallerist Leo Castelli (yes, the man who launched the pop art movement to great heights) was "the best boss to ever work for". But again, artists rarely land on such a gallerist.

My first proper exhibition dates back to 2001 - it was a collective. The artwork was printed by someone else, and in January 2002 - I had my first solo. SupermARTket at the now defunkt SD Gallery. Long story short, artists need warehouses to keep their unsold work, because inevitably they are going to end with a lot of them.

One of the main reasons I moved to multimedia/digital art was because - even if lucky to live in a duplex house where I can store my unsold pieces (most of which thankfully is printed without being stretched on wood - which means I can easily roll it and store it). Just to be clear, I have no hick up about me not selling and having a backlog: A long time ago famed gallerist Saleh Barakat, during the opening of one of the exhibitions he was hosting, told me to look at the pieces shown, then he said even if they were great, they will not sell. And then launched the bomb "Tarek, there are artists who sell, and artists who don't, this artist does not". Well, just for you to know in all this life Vincent Van Gogh sold just one piece, in comparison I have sold more.

I know when I say multimedia art, it sounds snotty and pretentious. Believe me my art is not once you forego the original medium. In 2013 I had the pleasure of being the opening exhibition of the - again, defunkt - 392Rmeil393, as I was installing the work there was an installation among the lot. Fragments of a Grendizer (Goldorak) sculpture mounted on sets of old soft drink crates (both items stolen from original locations). 

The Syrian workers who were painting the gallery asked me what it was and I answered "Grendizer 7ay fina" (Grendizer lives in us - which is a riff on the Bechir Gemayel slogan after his assassination) and I explained that in the Arab world we needed both martyrs and causes for little or no reason. I think they laughed heartily for several minutes straight. At that moment I knew that the exhibition was going to be a roaring success - all right I sold nothing but the amount of people who visited was astonishing.

The leftover work is now stored upstairs.

But people fail to understand that as artists we need to pay (depending on the gallery) - a percentage of the sale of the works (which varies from 30% - a common number in Beirut - to 50 in places like New York), rent of the premises (sometimes electricity included, sometimes not), opening cocktail, this, that in addition to having our own list of people to invite on top of that of the gallery. Of course, the works need to be printed - sometimes framed - at the expense of the artist. 

I have a specific exhibition I would like to mount. And I am trying to fish for venues. I contacted one recently and - without delving too deep into the numbers, turns out I need between 4000 to 5000 Dollars for the exhibition. Considering that my work is digital to save on the expense of printing and eventually storing and therefore there is nothing to sell, it means all this is incurred from my pocket without any revenue.

No thank you. Because all this financial strain just does not make sense. Truly, being an artist is not for the faint of heart, especially not financially.