In a time of economic doldrums, is there no place for an art gallery?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

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In the context of harsh economic realities, it is easy to gloss over the decision by the Mutual Gallery to cease operations at the end of June, after nearly 40 years of service to the arts in Jamaica.

The question can be asked: Who will blame hard-pressed donors for scratching an art gallery from their slimmed-down budget? Yet, at the same time, we must also ask: Is there no place for anything that nourishes the soul?

The Mutual Gallery, which opened in October 1975, has provided an invaluable outlet for Jamaican artists, art lovers and patrons of the arts.

The closure, we are told, is the result of the withdrawal of sponsorship by the two institutions which have supported the gallery since its inception. They are Mutual Life Assurance Society and AIC (Jamaica) Ltd which, among other donations, provided the space which accommodated the gallery rent-free. This was a substantial contribution sustained over a long time, and we salute them and thank them for this contribution.

Several galleries have closed their doors and those that have survived have stayed in business by severely scaling down their operations. The mainstay of some galleries is now the framing side of the business and the sale of prints and other reproductions. Given the state of the art scene where demand in the market is depressed, reflecting the economic difficulties of the country, the loss of the venture for display, exposure and sale will hurt artists.

The market is particularly depressed at this time because the supply of artwork has increased. The proliferation is a result of more people trying to make a living from, or supplement their income from the sale of art. The supply is further inflated by wealthy collectors willing to part with works by the acknowledged "masters" of the fine arts. In this milieu it is even suspected that there are forgeries of the paintings and style of famous dead artists.

The loss will no doubt discourage artists, especially the young, emerging and unknown. The Mutual Gallery has been in the forefront of promoting and introducing emerging artists by way of two well-established annual exhibitions: Art Fresh and the SuperPlus Under 40 Artist of the Year Competition.

These events and, indeed, the operation of the Mutual Gallery will be missed as a means of introducing the interested but uninitiated buyer to art. In this respect, the gallery performed an indispensable educational function.

At one time or another, the work of every great Jamaican painter and sculptor (and several foreign artists) has been on display in the Mutual Gallery. The gallery has mounted numerous solo and group exhibitions over the past 38 years. For many, attendance at the exhibitions was a fixture on the arts calendar. A visit to the gallery was the pause that refreshed the spirit and restored faith in the goodness of mankind and a realisation of the creative imagination of Jamaicans.

A considerable amount of credit must be given to the manager and curator Ms Gilou Bauer, without whose charm, knowledge and dedication the gallery would have ceased operating long ago. We thank her and her predecessors for their gallant efforts and hope the Gilous will not be lost to the Jamaican community of artists and art lovers.




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