Note: B’ah’sel for the purpose of this blog series always refers to “the main fair at Art Basel.”
Additionally, I changed my intention and will not chronicle day by day, booth by booth, genre by genre, period by period, available or not available, opinions on where an artist is taking their work artistically, who are the rising galleries to watch, why and what collector bought what for what reason, where to be seen and where not to be seen, who to see and who to miss, where to be and where not to be, and which are the coveted invitations?
I leave this to those with press passes hanging from chains around their necks, curator ID’s flashed from wallets and whatever else authenticates opinions. Those that are far more experienced and diligent than me or have had credentials bestowed upon them for reasons or no reasons.
Given this is art focused I take liberty to perhaps use terms inappropriatly. I decided that I am an impressionist and an abstract writer. I write more like Jackson Pollack paints not Vincent VanGogh. Documenting and rendering things for me is just getting words out of my brain.
While identifying my days and relevant experiences of my time here the tales will come from an eyewitness to contrast. Highlighting the people not being covered by anyone tethered to the floor plan of B’ah’sel or everything going on inside the electric fence protecting the ego of the privileged from those on the other side.
We were set up and now at I Never Read and it was the only time to make our visit to B’ah’sel. Starting at 6PM tonight and for the next three and half days if either of us were not at our table there would be no one to show Billy’s work.
We were now headed about six blocks from the passion driven art fair to the price driven one. For us, sorry Chelsea, B’ah’sel was a satellite fair.
One question asked two ways with only a subtle variation of one noun drives the selling intensity and attitudes at B’ah’sel or for that matter the other ‘significant’ fairs including the Armory in NY and Art Basel Miami.
“Where is the artist work going?” “Where is the artwork going?
While sounding similar perhaps the same to some depending on how each is answered can make careers, millionaires and put images into history books.
Simply said, 1. what is the artist making and planning to make?
2. most important, who is buying it aka where is it being placed?
Unless, you are one of those “real collectors” who came through two days before the fair opened as one gallerist hound told me as she sniffed my potential you might as well as come off a cruise ship. No doubt she already decided from my shorts, t-shirt and cheap faded red canvas shoes that I’d best be off to Ikea to buy a print.
I love this and am offended by it at the same time. What she did not know was that I already owned a piece from the artist she was sold out of. My t-shirt came from a Guggenheim exhibit that in-the-knows traveled from around the world to see. (I only came from San Francisco). It had no logo, just a simple sketch of the installation blueprint on it. To her it might have just as well said Hard Rock Some City.
The shoes? They came from the vendor just outside of the tenement from where my mom had grown up in the lower east side. She had died recently and I wanted to visit this place down the block from Whole Foods which had now stood on the ground where some remade shtetl village shops probably stood which is a good idea maybe for an Art Basel installation next year..
The shoes were $9 and sold to me by the grandson of the immigrant shopkeeper who worked there when my mom played in the streets and my grandmother probably yelled “Ruchel” out the window telling her it was time to set the table. For me the comfort they provided was far greater than any of the ones on the Prada parade going on in around me.
The gallerist with her double definition plastic smile had no idea of this. No interest. So, I showed mine intentionally.
“How’s the fair going for you, “ I asked.
Totally not wanting to talk even though I was the only one in the booth except for one woman talking on her cell phone not quite in or out of the booth probably checking on her little moppy type of dog back at the hotel doggy daycare. The “dealer” replied with “Well the real collectors all came through already.”
Since I knew of the 115 private jets flying in on Sunday carrying representatives from the wealthiest 1% in the world, maybe with their consultants, I continued with, “Wow, that must’ve been crazy since the fair is only open for an hour!”
She hmphed somewhere from inside her neck which was mismatched with the lack of wrinkles on her face even though she was maybe 20 years younger than me. “Oh. Not today, today is for the public.”
So, my story on B’ah’sel is not about the art hanging on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, sticking up from the floor, locked in showcases, playing on video, installations mimicking rooftops and storefronts, concrete piles.
I loved and engaged with a lot of it.
It is not about what’s cutting edge. It’s not about the art “in your face” as much as for me it is the art “in the faces.” Everyone squeezing through the mazes crowded with the “open-to-the public” types. This is the “art” that blew me away. The contrast in culture. The profiling. The assumptions. The attitudes. The selected who can buy or who cannot buy because of who they are or who they are not. It is a performance of contrasts and metaphors and I soaked in it, participated in it and played with it while getting angry at it, humbled by it and “excitigusted” by it.
I am sure the folks peering over the top of their bifocals at stripes never before painted “this way”did not find the time to mingle with the folks 10 minutes away on Saturday at the flea market in the park where “the public” rummaged for their ‘find’ through socks and lunch boxes for their kids from vendors selling from blankets on the grass to wobbly tables supporting used dishes and silverware.
A suggestion I would have to the B’ah’sel architects is to use the city planners of the city, Basel. If the event was planned the same way pedestrians, cyclists and trams navigate seamlessly though-out the city and integrated with each other then maybe the crashing into people, the squeezing through out of synch floor plans on pamphlets with floor plans on feet could be avoided.
I saw contrast everywhere.
If I were recognizable, wearing shorts would be fine. Sellers looking for a bulge in my pocket not being of the erotic kind. Maybe if I had tattoos where the storytelling continued on my nicely trained and toned arms out from below the cuff of my D&G black crew neck shirt would get buying potential attention. Maybe if I was traveling with a translator.
It is also sad in a way are some of those that surround the artist think they have the right to be the artist or worse yet interpret the artist success as their own.
I like art. I even buy some when I can. I’ve been lucky to acquire some works at a time when it was easy to talk with the artist at their group shows. The emerging artist world is a small community and when the few do emerge they don’t forget you and find it refreshing when you say hello to them with no agenda.
I introduced myself differently than from in my earlier emails. A big so-what expression responded. I asked about the current work.
She replied not surprisingly. I told her that I try and buy work by this artist. This is where I get offended and hold back spontaneous words following her “Oh, many people say they are collectors of this work but it is very hard to get” probably thinking that what I had was a Xerox copy of something.
It is important to know that the art world in this context especially is driven by supply and demand of an artist. However, what I find not typical in the usual model of supply and demand found in basic consumer transactions where lower supply means higher price here I see the lower supply means higher attitude. Availability is not given to the first in line but to those and who may actually be “selected” or “should” by the work pushing demand even higher. B’ah’sel
This is what I mean about assuming success or assuming the brand of someone or something else. I learned this when I started my professional career. Having the good fortune to “sell” for iconic brands I was always reminded that I was not the brand. Once through the doors that the brand name opened I had the privilege but more importantly the responsibility and humility to represent my company well and make the passion contagious.
Unless you ARE the artist, you are NOT the artist. The way I look at things is that there is nothing that I must have that makes me want to fund the attitude of a seller. I since learned the preferred name of art dealer is gallerist. It’s not even a word in spell-check.
While I was standing up and eating my $20 cheese sandwich watching the panorama around me suddenly I chuckled to no one as I had my epiphany for the day.
The reason people in these situations kiss once on one cheek and then on the other is that each time they look over the person’s shoulder it is so they can see who is coming down the hallway behind them . Kissing each cheek doubles this opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong. I had fun but after two hours navigating Halls 1.0, 2.0, 2.1 and A-1-20-Z1-20 cubicles, the side installations, stairways and going in what I thought was the right direction, the art was becoming white noise. The crowds increasingly unaware of the etiquette of people traffic flow with head on preoccupied cell phone conversation collisions and swinging backs packs like airbags in my chest from gawkers stopping short in front of me had become enough.
It was nearing 4PM. We wanted to see Max speak from Printed Matter (side story to follow). At 6PM we needed to be back at I Never Read for our showtime where it didn’t matter if you were public or not, just as long as you come. But it was not on the agenda of the crowd I was engulfed in and “being seen” did not include being seen at the I Never Read Fair. Not quite a 10 minute pleasant walk away this was way to far for this population even though by 6PM, mostly everyone here would be clinking glasses from their hotels or bistros much further away than the fair we came to Basel to participate in.
My companion in the bus back after B”ah’sel summed up the experience best.
Is it art of the day?
No, it’s the robot grass mower at bnb sevgelhof.
next up: Opening Night at I Never Read