Whenever I think about art fairs, the first thing that comes to mind is money. Like how Art Basel can cost a gallery well over $10,000 for a small booth, which means they have to sell at least $20,000 worth of art (based upon a 50/50 split with each artist) just to cover their upfront cost. Still leaving the ungodly debt of crating, shipping, handling, installing, flying, eating, driving, drugging, and stain removals to be paid for.
Most of the people who attend won’t buy anything besides an admission ticket. Unless they’re hungry and decide to shell out some dough on an overpriced salad that tastes like plastic, but comes in a well-designed container. Meaning the only thing that seems like it's winning at an art fair, is the art fair itself, strangely making it more akin to Las Vegas, where the house always wins and only a few lucky schmucks walk out rich, than the romantic notion of the art world that we’ve all cooked up in our brains at one point or another. Though it is that romance that keeps every gallery betting on the right collector to come to their booth at the right time to keep great art alive for all of us art-fiend-junkies.
Oddly enough, the paintings and sculptures in each booth also remind me of money. Acting as an abstract currency that rises and falls based on attention spans and the hunger of a powerful few. Where, in place of Indian head pennies and freshly printed green dollar bills from the US treasury getting passed around, you have Piccassos from 1904 and Koons from 2013 sitting amongst a maze of white walls and small signs telling you who they belong to. Plus, a bunch of red dots signaling they’ve sold, if the galleries are lucky.
Mircea Cantor, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 2013, Print on aluminium; Courtesy Yvon Lambert, Paris. At Art Basel, Hall 2.1/N8.
Yet with all that in mind, art fairs are really fun. Especially if you dance around while looking at all the art and take the piss out of anyone who tells you to stop. It’s like going to 400 art openings at once and playing duck, duck, goose at the same time. Stopping to tap your iPhone’s camera app for a photo of your favorite piece and then resetting it all to play again when you see something else you like.
I’ve never been to Basel, Switzerland for Art Basel. But my friends have and they say it’s nice. And if I were to go, I’d buy a giant bar of chocolate from the highest rated chocolatier on YELP just to offer to grumpy gallerists who took the leap of faith into a burning ring of fire.
(Image on top: John Wesley, The Signing of the Declaration, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 50 inches; © Photography: Fredrik Nilsen; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. At Art Basel, Hall 2.1/L6.)