The following essay is not about India, it is universal. But then India is part of this universe and, therefore, it applies to the dwarf copycats of India too.
I am old-school so I actually STILL delude myself believing primacy always belongs to the artist. I always look for first-causes there. Mega-galleries must emit seductively powerful honey scents to artists who must require and crave the big-rock-candy-mountain clusterfuck of business, ballyhoo, and attention galleries like these promise. Artists are always interested in doing what is creatively best for their work. But, to me, signing with one of these jumbos sometimes seems like the LEAST creative thing an artist can do. Zwirner lists over 40 artists on its site; Hauser Wirth over 50; Pace over 70; Gagosian lists over 100 artists! This is what artists want??!
Often when artists join these galleries they soar in the parallel market. Good for them. Really. Yet they disappear from the discourse and conversation. Instead of regularly seeing their work behind the desks or in smaller spaces of their former galleries; or feeling like it's an important link to the gallery's vision and the artist's history, continuity, and nuanced changes over time, the work essentially vanishes from view. Except once every two years when there's a super show of like 50-60 works. Bells and whistles go off! PR firms crank into high-gear. Certain writers write puffy profiles. Mediocre mid-careerists are hailed as the latest thing. Every bad Chinese Photo-realist painting of Mao and a Coke can is lauded as a crucial step in art-history's development. (Really, this is just a form of mutual colonization. China to the West: "Here, hold our paintings while we take your money." The West to China, "Here, hold our bible (art-history), while we use you to prove our art history is THE art-history. It's all bullshit of course. But everyone makes out like bandits and rubes and good-little-humanist hang these things on their walls telling themselves how open-minded and global they are. It's all good.) (Later the luxury auction houses slither in and sell ALL of this awful work again. And again. And again. Making the same bogus claims, only with better looking, taller, thinner chicer assistants and alluring European accents. All of it making being around art less special.)
Other than all of this selling, after the splash, the only other thing that happens is that these artists are turned into press-release machines.
A couple of cases in point. When the art-mob returned from Art Basel Miami Beach last December the news they all buzzed about was "Jeff Koons' next show will be with David Zwirner, not Larry Gagosian." They also were all on about "Damien Hirst left Larry." When this news broke in New York while the Florida horde was gone, NO ONE cared or talked about it. Why? These things only matter when all the people around you think they matter. Or if you become so insular it's all you know. A month after Miami a friend told me she saw Hirst in London and he was bragging "I finally did it, man! I leaped. I left Larry. This changes everything. It's like the fucking old days." She was like, "Are you kidding? You show with Jay Jopling at White Cube, which is the exact same as Larry. Only worse!" Meanwhile, if you actually think Gagosian is going to go quiet into Koons' night, you're crazy. It is already rumored that Gagosian will mount a massive Koons show at THE SAME TIME as the Zwirner show. That should get everyone really excited about the Whitney's building-filled Koons show 13 months after this. NOT!
As I wrote in my galleries essay, and going out on a limb here, at this point I'm really not sure if what some of these artists are doing can actually be called art anymore. It really just seems like empty product sold to monsters who don't care about expanding fields of vision but are only interested in adding zeroes to prices. If the artists aren't making art and the collectors aren't collectors, the galleries selling this product to these people aren't really acting like galleries anymore, either. They've just become selling machines. Since they're not going away maybe the rest of us can just stop talking about these macher-artists, as it's all become totally predictable.
Then again, we should all have the problem of being this predictable. Again, being old, I just sometimes wish there'd be a seven-year moratorium and have galleries not be larger than 1500 square feet and that there be no art costing more than a Cadillac Escalade to produce. Or be bigger than one.
But I dream.
-Jerry Saltz - one of New York's best art critics on Facebook