The mantra of 2009 is the word “recession” and from what I hear from friends and strangers about the cost-cutting measures that different companies are implementing, I’d say there’s grave cause for concern. Take Sotheby’s for example. Art Radar Asia has a first-person account of attending a recent Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong.

… tongues have been wagging about prices at Sotheby’s nevertheless ….the prices of the coffee not the art.

This season for the first time Sotheby’s is charging auction attendees HK$20 (US$2.25)  for a cup of coffee at a stand-up bar. Even the chairs, tables and sofas are gone. The impact of this offense is somewhat softened by a large, professional-looking notice suspended on the wall telling us that a portion of the proceeds is to be contributed to the Sichuan earthquake relief effort…that’s good…. Though we did wonder whether the cost of making and hanging the sign exceeded the contribution from the sporadic coffee sales.

Now over to the catalogue section to pick up the free thumbnail summary. It is HK$40 did you say? – No we don’t want that one,  we want the free one, you know the booklet that you always give out for free. Ah yes I see, you are charging for it this year are you?

By this time we are wishing we had not arrived so early, no coffee, no chairs, no lecture programme…..and no one here, no wonder.

There’s global recession so Sotheby’s answer to the problem is charging clients for coffee? Just how much of a dent was coffee making in the auction house’s earnings, which include multi-million dollar sales for every well-known modern and contemporary artist known to man? Sotheby’s isn’t alone. I’ve heard about cost-cutting measures like reducing the variety at the office cafeteria, charging for water and insisting employees use trains rather than cabs. You’ve got to wonder about the corporate sector when all it apparently takes to pull a company out of recession is rejigging the “Miscellaneous” section of the budget.

On the other hand, there are some things that do make more sense to me than they used to. I finally understood what was going on in a Neha Choksi show, for example. Yay! Then, when a friend wailed mightily about how it was stupid and bizarre that people weren’t coming to see Moonwalk, I could see why. Admittedly, it’s a bit worrying if even the lure of airconditioning in the Indian summer won’t get people into galleries but keep in mind the show’s title does reference Michael Jackson, which is dodgy at the best of times. Admittedly when he made the moonwalk cool, MJ wasn’t a paedophile made entirely of silicone but he was compulsively clutching his crotch with a gloved hand.

Aaditi Joshi's plastic sculptures

Aaditi Joshi's plastic sculptures

Moonwalk, however, doesn’t have anything to do with Michael Jackson, walking or the moon. It’s very difficult to figure out what it is about. Thanks to the their shared interest in using transparency in their installations, Aaditi Joshi and Tatheer Daryani’s works feel like they perhaps could be part of the same show. Unlike Daryani’s works, Joshi’s plastic sculptures look like a messy cluster. She did the same thing a few years ago with used plastic bags and that was much more interesting. During recession, the used bags would have made for an interesting debate about consumerism, recycling, value and other such themes that would give Marxists paroxysms of joy. This time, however, she’s gone with pristine plastic bags and they seem to be as empty of meaning as they are of character. Net result: the sculptures look vaguely like giant pomeranians.

Between the two ladies is Nityanand Ojha’s huge bone; very literally the haddi in Daryani and Joshi’s kebab. The damn thing dangles in between two sets of delicate-looking works and doesn’t connect to anything in the gallery. Go up close and it’s dirty yellow colour is revealed to be the result of the bone’s surface being encrusted with cheap imitation jewellery. To quote 90210, whateverrr.

Untitled by Tatheer Daryani

Untitled by Tatheer Daryani

Generally, this gallery hangs its shows beautifully. Consequently, even strictly average works by debutants like T. Venkanna look pretty darn amazing at first glance. Moonwalk, however, has been laid out more like an obstacle race than a show. Aaditi Joshi’s sculptures set up a barricade the moment you enter the gallery and essentially cut off the viewer from the strongest works in the show – Tatheer Daryani’s installations, which are tucked in the far corner of the gallery. Using your own blood in an art work is far from new as an idea but Daryani’s work looks beautiful and fragile. Rather than the bloody chandelier – not sure if I’d want that hovering over me, pretty as it may be – it’s the works using the transparency of glass and the silvery shine of  metal that caught my eye.

But would I go back? Would I urge someone to see the show? Probably not. Because it makes so little impact. The works don’t lend anything to one another or tie into one another. It’s like seeing three solos, two of which are strictly ordinary. Charging $20 (HK) for a coffee may not make sense but Moonwalk barely sliding into the city’s must-see list does.

2 thoughts on “Cutting edge

  1. i think a lot of companies see the situation as a chance to get away with the kind of petty stinginess they probably wanted to indulge in forever but were afraid to for fear it would look bad.

    this exhibition sounds so redundant … :-/

  2. The smaller businesses seem to be doing just the opposite. They are doing fun little things and “specials” and other incentives trying to survive.
    Not sure what that contrast means.

    “Giant Pomeranians” LOL! They DO.

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