Waiting for Gago: A tragicomedy in two acts – breaking Beckett’s cycle
– By Max Presneill
A city street. A bus stop.
Estragon (female, late 20s), sitting at the bus stop, is trying to get a signal on her phone. She moves it around with both hands, panting. She gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again. As before.
Enter Vladimir (male, mid 50s).
Estragon: (giving up again) Nothing to be done. Oh hi Vlad. (they air kiss)
Vladimir: Hey Esti. What do you mean, nothing to be done?
Estragon: (downbeat) Trying to get things moving. Set stuff in motion. Life is tough and time moves slowly. It is a game in order to survive. And my phone is acting up again. (sighs)
Vladimir: (proudly) Maybe it seems that way to you but we, the Museum I mean of course, have plenty to be getting on with. We never rest. Time flies when you are older though. The next exhibition has been four years in the making and is finally getting there. It is a group show featuring some of the world’s greatest living artists. It will be a blockbuster, I am sure. What about you and your little alternative space?
Estragon: (with enthusiasm) Well, we finish the three week run, this weekend, of our international exchange with another artist-run-space like ours – they are from Budapest. Said Buddha-Pesht, you know – just found that out. Next show is a three person one, about gender, that will open next week. You probably never heard of the artists, but they are great! You should come to the opening!
Vladimir: Yes, of course, if I can find the time.
Estragon: I come to all your openings.
Vladimir: But of course you do. There is a lot to be learned there.
Estragon: (angry) Vice versa, you know. No need to patronise. You really should be expanding your knowledge of who is doing what out there. It’s your job after all. Just showing art stars means you are discovering nothing. Why not take a risk? See what happens … finding new voices is uplifting. We don’t need another old, white, male show.
Vladimir: Age, race and sex discrimination in one sentence. You disappoint me. And that is easy for you to say. You don’t have a Board breathing down your neck, pressuring you to show artists from their collections.
Estragon: At least you have money. Try doing nine shows or so a year, with no budget!
Vladimir: Yes, yes.
Estragon: Work, work, work for both of us.
Vladimir: Not exactly the same though, is it? What we do is important!! We are establishing reputations by upholding high curatorial standards and professionalism. We create the canon. We make history!
Estragon: Yeah – ancient history. Important is what we invest belief in as important. You take so long to show these artists – by then everybody knows who they are and what they do, who they sleep with and what drugs they take (laughs). They have been seen by our crew first. By the time they get to you the moment has passed. History should remember the adventurous, the ones who discover things, like explorers or scientists.
Vladimir: Who is everybody? And just what do you think you’re doing that needs the documentation of history?
Estragon: Taking risks. Responding to what artists are doing. Working in partnerships rather than mini-dictatorships, however benign. We are fast acting, like a snake, we can strike and our audiences may be smaller but they learn more on visits to our space. We build community. What do you do for the community?
Vladimir: What do we do? If you don’t know, I cannot tell you. What is community? The people in your little gang? Those from the neighborhood? Artists? Anyway, why are you waiting here?
Estragon: The bus. I am waiting for the bus. It’s twenty minutes late. And you?
Vladimir: I am waiting for my driver. Meeting with Larry later. Do you know Larry?
Estragon: Never met him. Not to be too aggressive but…Don’t you think it is about time to rethink the role of Gatekeeper? To join the greater community of artists and to support them through actual working programmes rather than lip service? There are a few things you could start with, you know…
Vladimir: Gatekeepers? We are not that! That’s absurd.
Estragon: Oh, you so are!!
Vladimir: Well, someone has to ensure quality..
Estragon: Maybe a new category of quality is possible. What about seeing the role of the Museum as more akin to a facilitator, reflecting on contemporary culture, not just reflecting the current power bases, the patriarchy, the same-as-everyone-else sense, as seen in museums and biennals all over the place.
Vladimir: (bored) What would you suggest?
Estragon: Oh, I don’t know. It would be great to see the Museum giving active support to alternative spaces. Doing something that shows there is a mutual respect, that recognises the importance of grass-roots activity. You could start with an open-look policy to allow artists to submit their website address to you and have curators review them. You never know – you might find someone brilliant.
Vladimir: (amused) I thought you didn’t respect the establishment.
Estragon: I respect what they think they are trying to do. And some of your shows have been great. It is just that there are so many talented artists doing amazing things that you never become aware of, as you just seem to shop at Gagosian and his other mega-gallery pals. Anyway, I will think about this and get back to you. (holds phone up and turns in a circle)
Vladimir: Tell me then. What is it you do that you think we should? What methods do you use?
Estragon: We use hybrid models of moving. Like your car, I hope. (laughs)
Vladimir: An example?
Estragon: Our aims differ, I know. But should they? We are looking to build artist communities, to diversify presented voices, to facilitate artist’s exchanges and development, and to democratise the relationship with artists and audiences.
Vladimir: All high and mighty, I am sure. But how?
Estragon: Numerous ways. Crowdsourcing, for example. We sometimes use social media to bring unknown artists to the fore, by recommendation by other artists and art lovers. What about allowing artist-run-space organisers to curate a show or part of a show with others from the alternative scene. We interchange like that all the time. It builds connection. Varies our shows. Maybe we could do an exchange with you! Art from your collection that we can show alongside our artists in our space. That would please the artists and bring a bigger crowd to our doors. Now that would be supportive!! And do the same in your Museum. Though I am not sure what alternative means in our context. An alternative to you, I guess.
Vladimir: To be honest that kind of thing might well help us diversify our audience somewhat – oh and the kind of artists we can present…
Estragon: See. A win-win situation
Vladimir: (discouraged) The Board would not go for it.
Estragon: I am sure you can find a way to sugar coat it so they will. Besides, nothing ventured, nothing gained. What do you have to lose?
Vladimir: My job? (laughing). Where is he?
Estragon: Who? Oh, your driver? Larry can wait. But think of what you could gain…..
Vladimir: Yes..let me get back to you about that.
Estragon: You know, there are little ways you could help.
Estragon: You could let the artists you work with select their own work so it reflects their practice, or at least their preferences, more than the curators’ aesthetic. Let them be the deciding factor in what represents their own work.
Vladimir: The curators already work like that, essentially.
Estragon: Good to hear. What about the choices for themes? We don’t always need academic approaches, you know. Every now and then it would be nice to see something that takes some content and presentation risks – that reflects the conversation we artists are having now. Art historians make boring shows.
Vladimir: Now that is an overgeneralisation too far. And there have been a few here today from you. Larry won’t wait. I bet he is gone, gone home.
Estragon: Whatever, Boomer. Do you have a phone charger?
Vladimir: Is Gen Z an insult yet?
Next day. Same time.
Vladimir: Still here I see. Streets are still empty. Nobody walks anywhere anymore.
Estragon: Yes, but I am getting tired of waiting and it is too far to walk. You thought about what we talked about? New horizons for you to host and for us to participate in? Did you meet with Larry?
Vladimir: No. He wasn’t there. You do realise that we host many things for artists and the public. We do panel discussions and film nights, lectures and workshops. It never ends.
Estragon: I know you do and I support that. You could also offer workshops in navigating the professional world, dealing with studio visits, working with a museum or gallery. There is so much that art school just doesn’t teach you. It’s like learning to balance a checkbook – necessary even if frustrating at times. You could help us with that.
Vladimir: mmmm (thoughtful). Good for the outreach division.
Estragon: Just think. If you saw exhibitions as the start of something, some dialogue with each artist, with some kind of follow up – not a one-off event – such as a mutating touring exhibition that changed with the location, with its own diversity in each place, wouldn’t that be phenomenal? You could engage with the local artist populations. That would be exciting.
Vladimir: We DO tour some shows. Your idea would be more work but it might engage the press and be a lot for our PR dept to work with, as well as establishing closer working ties with other institutions. But your lot would need to be more professional. You know, getting materials in on time. Act as partners. None of this get-round-to-it-when-I-feel-like-it stuff. Artists, especially younger or less experienced ones need to see how much of a difference it makes when they are professional and reliable to work with.
Estragon: I know that and yes, more of us could try and stop acting like it is a hobby. But you cannot wait around to be discovered these days. It’s another fine mess we have gotten ourselves into, for sure. We need to make it happen ourselves but it would be a lot easier with some backing from types like you.
Vladimir: (musing) I have often thought about how the Museum could extend itself beyond our walls. Do some real public outreach. Do some community building and diversification – you know, all the stuff grants are made of.
Estragon: Like how?
Vladimir: Well, I thought about finding an empty building, an office block or warehouse or maybe even a car park and doing a show based on the game, what’s it called….Chinese Whispers. Where each invited artist invites another until we fill the space!
Estragon: Racist – don’t call it that. Telephone is what it is now called. The Torrance Art Museum does something like that with their NOMAD and MAS Attack projects. Google them.
Vladimir: OK, Telephone, then. Unfamiliar with them but I will check them out.
Estragon: It is a great idea! You could enroll some of us from the artist-run-world to find 50% of the artists. What do you think of that?
Vladimir: Possibly. Let me get back to you on that one. There has to be a way to find compromise that fulfills us both.
Estragon: I think so too.
Vladimir: It is so hard to think outside the box sometimes. It is like we are stuck with horse blinkers on. But when one does manage it, it feels obvious. Here’s my driver, Samuel. Do you want a ride?
Estragon: That would be great, thanks. About time we got out of here. Let’s definitely do something together. Make it work. Find a way forward. I am so jazzed about this and I am sure everyone else would be too. After all, it’s a symbiosis.
Vladimir: I think you might be right. Let’s meet, sooner rather than later, to discuss possibilities. Best of both worlds’ stuff. After you…(opens car door)
Estragon gets into the limo followed by Vladimir. They drive off.
Max Presneill is an artist and curator based in Los Angeles. He has exhibited throughout the world and is represented by Patrick Painter, Inc (Los Angeles), and TW Fine Art (Brisbane, Australia), amongst several others and is currently the Director and Head Curator of the Torrance Art Museum in Los Angeles as well as the co-Founder of Durden and Ray.