The Work's the Thing
Having said that, it can be a brutal business and I do have those moments when I consider whether I would be more content on a ranch in Wyoming (Bambino might have something to say about that, but ...), but all in all, I know I'd miss it.
Anyway, this got me to thinking (not because the gallerist above mentioned anything near this maudlin, but because it's the natural conclusion of such thinking): Nearly every gallerist I know has ups and downs and those moments of sheer panic, when you do the math for what's owed out and what's coming in and realize you might have overestimated the latter. It's a business. Likewise, nearly every gallerist I know has contemplated, if only for a brief moment, what it would feel like to be forced out of business, by a downturn in the market or some other misfortune. How long would you still fight the good fight? How drastic of measures would you take to stay in it? When do you finally call it a day and close up shop?
The thing is, we do so from a position of extreme comfort, relative to some: Meet Hasan Nassar. He owns what's very likely the last fully operating gallery in Baghdad:
It's a rather sobering article, with opposing viewpoints by artists (ranging from those who now argue that "their lives as artists were better under Mr. Hussein" to those who insist "Then we were just breathing. Now we have hope, hope for a good future.”), but it's the story of Mr. Nassar and his keen understanding of what's at stake...what his gallery represents to Iraq and to himself at this point in time, that got to me:
Amid the violence, the crumbling economy and rising religious and political intolerance, Hasan Nassar can see a peaceful, democratic Iraq close at hand, one in which ideas, not bullets, are paramount.
The incubator for his vision is his small art gallery in northern Baghdad, which he opened in early 2006 even as most others were shutting down. He has kept it alive with a relentless rotation of exhibits, lectures, poetry readings and film screenings.
There is urgency to this schedule. Mr. Nassar believes that culture can provide a pathway out of the hate and fear overwhelming Iraq, and he is trying to marshal like-minded Iraqis to join his movement.
Few people outside the shrinking Iraqi art world know of Mr. Nassar, and the trickle of visitors to his Madarat Gallery suggests that many Iraqis would find his notion quixotic. Furthermore, the gallery, the only one left in Baghdad with frequently rotating exhibits, is far from profitable.
But Mr. Nassar persists all the same, passing his days drinking cups of sugary black tea with a scattering of artists and bohemians in the gallery’s courtyard cafe, decorated with friends’ paintings and a stand of tall ficus plants. They talk about culture, politics and their shared belief that the salvation of Iraq rests with the redeeming and ennobling virtues of art.
One recent morning, in preparation for a lecture by an Iraqi sculptor, Mr. Nassar arranged two dozen plastic chairs into rows in the gallery. He said he made no guarantees to any exhibitor. “He may not make money,” Mr. Nassar said, “but at least he can say: ‘I still exist. I’m still working. I’m still alive.’ ”This US market, too, shall pass and along with it most of its galleries (and the pecking order). But those who make their art or run their spaces because they love the work will persevere. The work itself...that's the reward...that's the thing. The rest...eh?
Labels: art galleries