What is the discerning collector looking for? Experimenter’s Priyanka and Prateek Raja help us understand
The pivot to digital walkthroughs and 360-degree open-concept tours have predictably led to debates over the ethos of experiencing art. But Priyanka and Prateek Raja, of the Kolkata-based art space Experimenter, think that the shift to virtual consumption could lead to a utilitarian renaissance.“I think we are in times of great flux, of course, continuity in production is crucial. Many museum shows have either been cancelled or deferred, young artists without the support of gallery representation find it difficult to navigate their careers at the moment. I was recently speaking to a group of graduating artists, their situation is precarious with reduced opportunities,” the Rajas share.
Experimenter’s Generator Cooperative Art Production Fund was launched a few weeks ago, exclusively for artists who are not represented by Experimenter; the fund will award several micro-bursaries to help visual artists with their projects.
Another timely project Experimenter Labs was conceived as an inclusive addition to their onsite gallery programming, a laboratory-like space where new frontiers and modes of art consumption can be tested. So clearly, the tastemakers are ready to adapt. But can the connoisseurs and collectors rewire their classicist priorities? Prateek and Priyanka Raja help us understand how buyers can manoeuvre this unpredictable phase:
Have digital walkthroughs and virtual art rooms opened up any newer avenues for Experimenter?
The online space has opened up entirely new pathways. While working at breakneck speed to adapt better during the pandemic, we realised that only now is the online space being harnessed for its true potential. The online Viewing Rooms are digital experiences of viewing a curated exhibition online and give us the possibility to focus on a particular artist’s practice. The digital walkthroughs make it possible to reach a wide range of audiences and help us use technology more effectively.
Very early on, during the pandemic, we knew that this situation is not going to resolve quickly, so we launched Experimenter Labs, our multi-pronged vertical program in early April. Black Box is a platform for digital projects - everything is made digitally and executed and experienced digitally. Then there is Deep Dive which takes us into the artists’ workspaces, Experimenter Reader is a guest-edited, e-anthology of critical writing. There’s also Experimenter Radio consisting of music playlists created by artists, collectors, writers, etc. and our Experimenter Learning Program which takes place digitally as well.
Are there any changes in the art buying circuit, or new buying patterns which could affect the global market?
There have been some systemic changes. Some collectors do not prefer buying art without seeing them in person, because art is ultimately about the experience, but others are open to buying online. Not because they are out of options but because galleries worldwide are representing art in a more wholesome way, with video documentation and augmented reality that elevates the experience. We have met and developed relationships with so many new collectors during this time.
What are some of the functional changes you and your team have had to adapt in the last few months?
We have a fairly large team of co-workers and we miss working together. We work in small groups now, and each of us has moved to a 4-day working week from the gallery and 2 days a week, we work from home and this work plan has increased our efficiency.
Tell us about the kind of art that has been selling in the last few months. What is the discerning buyer looking for?
We have been placing a range of work from our program including videos, paintings, sculptures and of course photography. There has been an overall interest in all kinds of mediums but what stands out though is that collectors are spending a lot more time discussing work with us. Collectors are spending a lot more time looking at art, conversing with gallerists and making decisions based on quality. We really enjoy our collector interactions and the digital space allows us to have these conversations with time at hand.
Experimenter re-opened this August. Can you tell us how things are different vis-a-vis daily walk-ins or offline exhibits?
It was great to install a physical exhibition in 4 months. To live and work with art is a privilege. Casual walk-ins have gone down in number. However, we get a steady stream of visitors, who come by appointment and otherwise to the gallery. We have QR codes everywhere, so there is no handling of paper or printed material and the visitors can walk through the exhibition along with digital guides on their phones. Again an example of how the digital strength of our program is really effective in the on-site exhibitions.
How do you feel about the future of the global art spectrum amid all the unpredictability?
The world is going through changes at all levels. I think the future is all about collaborations and partnerships. There will be consolidations in the galleries as well. The art spectrum is coming to terms with the fact that large gatherings are not going to be an option in the near future, so many initiatives are changing. Art fairs, for one, are finding new ways of engagement. Museums that depend on public events and ticket sales are also under severe pressure and they are trying to collaborate with sectors that are not restricted to the arts. Humans learn to adapt and we continue to find new ways of navigating the situation. It is impossible to definitively say what the future holds. What is certain is that the quality of work will remain to be the only discerning factor.
Can you tell us anything about Experimenter's upcoming projects?
We will open a major solo exhibition at Experimenter, Ballygunge by Sohrab Hura (7 November 2020–2 January 2021). At Experimenter, Hindusthan Road, we will open an exhibition of Adip Dutta (5 December 2020–2 January 2021), who we have worked with forever, juxtaposing his work with his mentor, Meera Mukherjee—one of the most important women artists of her time, who would have been 97 today—to see how his way of seeing was defined by growing up with her. Next year too promises to be exciting with a range of exhibitions planned at both spaces and simultaneously on our online platforms.